Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


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.


Br Bevis, when asked whether Br Lafayette was excessively severe towards the boys, said that he did not know, as he was not there when he punished the boys. One boy did, however, tell him he was ‘punished severely’ by Br Lafayette.


A number of former residents gave evidence about Br Lafayette.


One complainant stated that he ‘would have been great in the Nazis. He was the coldest, coldhearted person I ever came across ... He was cruel beyond belief’.


By way of an example, he explained that he had a job of bringing dinner to sick boys. One boy had refused his food and it was returned uneaten to Br Lafayette in the kitchen. When handing over the dinner to Br Lafayette, he told him that the boy ‘wouldn’t be having any dinner’. Later, the Brother called him out of his class and had him repeat what he said about the boy. After tea, Br Lafayette called him aside again, this time put him against the wall and asking him to repeat what he had said earlier. Once again, he repeated that the boy ‘won’t be having any dinner’. Br Lafayette then produced the leather and gave him six hard slaps on the hands. Again, Br Lafayette asked him to repeat the message, and he was given six more hard slaps with the leather.


This cycle continued until, after about 30 slaps, Br Lafayette said to him ‘You left him [the boy] having a fit on the floor, didn’t you?’, to which the boy responded ‘yes’. He was now willing to say ‘anything to stop him from hitting me’. Br Lafayette then ‘fisted’ him in the face. He was left pumping blood, and Br Lafayette told him that that would ‘teach you to tell me lies’. The witness said he still had no idea why he was being punished in this way, but could only presume that the sick boy must have had a fit after he left him. He did not make a complaint about his treatment because, if you complained, you would get into ‘deeper trouble’.


This same former resident told the Investigation Committee that, apart from Br Lafayette and two other Brothers,15 ‘it was a lovely school’. He felt the rest of the Brothers did the best with what they had.


He also stated that Br Lafayette regularly interrogated him and other boys about sex and matters relating to it in his back room. In particular, he was asked to name other boys who were involved in sexual activity: The first time it came on, he asked me, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. And of course I got six of the best for basically telling lies.


After being punished for not being able to answer, he gave another boy’s name: I can still think of that man to this day, because I put him through the same trouble that I was in. And someone else probably put me in the same trouble because of what was going on.


Another former resident said that, because he was working in the kitchen and was under Br Lafayette’s care, he was protected from beatings from other Brothers. On one occasion, Br Lafayette intervened to stop a severe beating from Br Bevis. He said that Br Lafayette went ‘out of his way to ensure that nobody else laid a finger on me’. While Br Lafayette was in Tralee, ‘nobody really beat me up or anything at all like that. But after he left then there were threats coming in from all sides’. He added that Br Lafayette had the reputation for being the ‘hardest Brother’ in the school. ‘If he said “Jump”, you said “How high?”.’


Br Lafayette had spent two periods in Letterfrack in the 1940s and 1950s and also served in Artane. He transferred from Tralee to Glin in the 1960s.

  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.