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Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


Br Octave, who responded to an internal Christian Brothers questionnaire relating to various issues regarding the management of Tralee, said that Br Ansel: was the best Principal and disciplinarian. He didn’t tolerate disobedience in word or act. Returned runaways had to “walk the line” for longish periods until they were broken.


Br Ansel left Tralee in 1945 and went to Carriglea at a time when it was known to the Congregation authorities that there were considerable disciplinary problems there, and his time there is discussed in the chapter on Carriglea. Br Ansel received a Canonical Warning in the mid-1950s because of an involvement with a woman, and he was granted a dispensation some 10 years later.


Br Octave described this colleague as being intolerant of any kind of disobedience ‘in word or act’ it is significant that this attitude is perceived, even today, by a member of the Congregation as being the mark of a good Principal and Disciplinarian.


The Investigation Committee heard complaints about Br Maslin, who served in Tralee at the same time as Br Ansel. A witness said that Br Maslin ‘just enjoyed beating me and beating a lot of the boys’. He was only beaten by him for ‘lessons in school’. The beatings were ‘severe ... regularly the cane, regularly the strap’ and he was ‘walloped across the backside’.


On one occasion when Br Maslin asked him a question he could not answer, Br Maslin ‘kept on hitting me here in the middle of the forehead. Eventually I had a big bump here’.


On another occasion, Br Maslin made the boys stand around the class and instructed them to hit the boy in front of them ‘across the face with the open hand’. When he hesitated in doing this, Br Maslin said, ‘This is the way that you do it’, and hit him, the witness, knocking him to the floor. When he got up again, he had to hit the other boy. However, ‘the beatings with the canes of course and the strap went on a lot longer than that’. He said that the strap was made at the cobblers, of several layers of leather about an inch thick and was more like a baton than a strap.


Br Maslin was moved from Tralee to Letterfrack in the early 1940s. It is not clear why he left Tralee in January and not August, the usual time for Brothers to move schools. He became the Disciplinarian in Letterfrack and, in the mid-1940s, one of his colleagues in Letterfrack wrote to the Visitor that Br Maslin, the Disciplinarian, ‘can inflict terrible punishment on children and the boys seem to have a awful dread of his anger’. The incident which gave rise to this complaint is discussed in detail in the chapter on Letterfrack. He was then moved from Letterfrack to Carriglea in January 1946, at a time when it was known to the Congregation authorities that there were considerable disciplinary problems in Carriglea.


This senior Brother was the subject of two complaints to the Investigation Committee.


The first witness said that he was punished by this Brother ‘but his was more the cane once or twice but nothing really to bother me’. The Brother would, however, give instructions for them to go and run around the field until he told them to stop, then he would forget, and the boys would run around the field until it got dark.


The other complainant said he was ‘a very dangerous man to get involved with ... very quick to punish’.


One witness gave evidence against Br Sevrin who served for a short time in Tralee. He recounted an incident in which he had not heard instructions forbidding boys to approach a statue. He did so and Br Sevrin refused to accept his apologies or the excuse that he had not heard the instruction. He told him to get across a chair. When he refused, Br Sevrin ordered six of the other boys to get him across the chair. The witness then got into a corner and was ready to fight the boys if they approached him. When the other boys backed off, the Brother tried to put him across the chair himself and beat him all the time with the strap. A struggle ensued and he said, ‘I fell on the floor and he was astride me on the floor, he was over me and he was trying to belt hell out of me with this thing’. The Brother then suddenly ‘seemed to come over funny and he got very pale’ and backed away. Later that evening, he woke the complainant and gave him a bag of sweets.


Br Lafayette was in charge of the refectory for a period of nine years during the 1950s and 1960s. One Visitation Report referred to him as being ‘somewhat independent and headstrong and somewhat difficult to manage at times’.14 Another Visitation Report criticised his inclination to interfere in charges other than his own, particularly on the farm.


The Investigation Committee heard from a number of former members of staff and ex-residents who remembered him in Tralee.


Br Aribert felt that Br Lafayette was ‘strict ... harsh maybe on occasions’ and ‘ran a very tight ship’. He recalled a day when he was given the task of supervising the boys during a meal. He was ‘nearly terrified going out there’, but a boy whom he described as Br Lafayette’s ‘right-hand man’ made him ‘completely redundant’ and ran the whole show. He could not say, however, whether this was due to Br Lafayette’s good organisational skills or an element of fear. However, he did recall one particular act of kindness, when Br Lafayette procured apples and biscuits for the boys.


A second Brother, Br Chapin, said he was a ‘stickler for a job’ and could have given ‘a few clatters if he found that the job wasn’t done’. Br Chapin recalled the boys talking about Br Lafayette occasionally. He said he did not hear the other Brothers speak about him, but put that down to the fact that Br Lafayette worked in the refectory where the other Brothers would rarely go. This Brother stated that he knew that, if Br Lafayette gave a job to the boys to do, they did it or else they paid for it.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period. See Department of Education chapter, Vol. IV.
  2. The Visitation Report for February 1960 records the total number in the primary school as being 119 and the Visitation Report for May 1961 gave the total number of boys in Tralee as 130, with 107 boys on the roll in the primary school.
  3. The 1969 Visitation Report refers to 35 boys being still in the School, and the Opening Statement says that by 30th June 1970, the School had closed.
  4. Prior to leaving, the Visitor gave the Resident Manager directions as to certain matters that should be attended to without delay including cleaning the entrance path and flowerbeds, employing a woman to take over the care of the laundry, teaching the boys table manners and providing them with washing facilities before dinner and tea time. These were reiterated in a follow-up letter to the Resident Manager, without the reference to the paths and flowerbeds.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. He said that he thought it was probably another Brother (Br Cheney, the Principal at that time) who made the decision that he was to be kept away from the dormitories but he ‘would totally agree with that’.
  7. ‘Strong hand’ in Irish.
  8. The two Brothers referred to were Br Mahieu and Br Cheney.
  9. The letters to Br Sebastien, Br Millard and Br Beaufort mentioned below.
  10. He had also worked in Carriglea in the early 1930s.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. The school annals note that the Brother resigned from the post due to ill-health.
  13. One of the others was Br Rayce. The complainant did not know who the third one was.
  14. Br Aribert accepted that this was a fair summary of Br Lafayette.
  15. Brs Archard and Kalle.
  16. This is a pseudonym.
  17. ‘Senility’ was subsequently changed to ‘septicaemia’.
  18. This is a pseudonym.
  19. He confirmed also that it was not the general rule that you would be punished if you failed in your homework or schoolwork at class.
  20. Professor Tom Dunne, ‘Seven Years in the Brothers’ Dublin Review (Spring 2002).
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This Brother worked in Tralee from the mid-1960s to 1970.
  23. There were three Resident Managers during Br Lisle’s time in Tralee: Brs Sinclair, Millard and Roy.
  24. Br Sinclair was Resident Manager for a period of six years in the 1960s.
  25. Question Time was a radio programme
  26. The annals refer to ‘this tax’ ceasing to be paid when Br Dareau came as Resident Manager.
  27. This is borne out by the Department Inspector’s Reports, which until 1950 categorised the food and diet as ‘satisfactory’. The 1953 Report said that food and diet was ‘much improved’ and, from then on, was always described by this inspector as very good.
  28. A later Visitation Report noted that there was no evidence of the pilfering of food that had taken place before this Brother arrived in Tralee.
  29. The 1940s Visitation Reports only commented on the standard of the boys’ clothing in 1940, 1941 and 1943, and then only in positive terms.
  30. ‘The School has improved out of all recognition’ and ‘excellent manager’.
  31. This complainant was in Tralee from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s.
  32. One complainant told the Committee about how the boys had to creosote the floor in hot weather, and without any gloves or goggles. ‘It was a very nasty job because it would get into your eyes and all over your hands and everywhere else’.
  33. There was a profit of £98 mentioned in the 1937 Visitation Report, and a profit of approximately £395 mentioned in the 1953 Visitation Report.
  34. According to the Opening Statement, the main recreational facilities were the hall, schoolyard, football playing pitch and the band room. When the primary school closed, the classrooms were converted into sitting rooms, with TV etc.
  35. The 1949 annals referred to Mr Sugrue, the Department’s Inspector, having made his first visit to the School and having spoken freely to staff and boys.
  36. This Brother to whom the shotgun was taken was the Brother who had the long history of physically abusing boys and spent two separate periods in Tralee.
  37. He also said this of Br Toussnint and of a lay teacher.
  38. St Helen’s was in Booterstown.
  39. 67 in 1945, 70 in 1946, 90 in 1947, 90 in 1949, and 45 in 1952. In 1960, the annals note that families were willing to take boys for three to four weeks, but there was no evidence of this actually happening that year. 68 boys went on home leave in 1968.