Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

Show Contents

Physical abuse


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.


In the late 1950s, Robert Moore, a pupil in the Industrial School, died in Tralee County Hospital. His death certificate recorded that he died from ‘Bilateral Pleural Effusion. Senility. Certified’.17 He was 16 years of age at the time.


He had been transferred from St Philomena’s in Stillorgan when he was seven, and had spent the next 10 years in Tralee. He was due for discharge some 10 months prior to his death, but had stayed on until a suitable placement was found for him as an apprentice shoemaker.


There has been considerable controversy and media speculation about the circumstances surrounding his death, and the Investigation Committee heard evidence from a number of witnesses who were in the School at the time and recalled his death.


This controversy first began to emerge in 1995, when former pupils made allegations in the media that Robert Moore had received a severe beating from Br Lafayette in the refectory for refusing to eat his food, and that he had died some days later in hospital.


Br Bevis, who served as a teacher in Tralee for almost 10 years from the mid-1950s, told the Investigation Committee that one morning he was waking the boys when he noticed that Robert Moore had been sick during the night and that his vomit was blood stained. He summoned help from another Brother who used to look after the boys. The next time Br Bevis saw the boy was when he visited him in hospital. He recalled that it must have been on a Saturday as this was the only day he could go. He took the boy a copy of The Kerryman newspaper. He remembered that Robert Moore clung to his hand and, with hindsight, he realised that Robert appeared to have some sense that he was going to die. Br Bevis tried to console him by telling him he was not as ill as others in the hospital, as he did not realise at the time that the boy was near death. Robert Moore died on a Sunday and, although Br Bevis thought it was some days after his visit, it is more likely that he died the next day.


Br Bevis was asked whether he knew why the boy had gone into hospital, and he recalled that he did have a boil on his neck at that time. He later thought he had leukaemia, and only found out in more recent times that the cause of death was recorded as septicaemia.


He told the Investigation Committee that he did not recall any discussion at the time about Robert Moore being beaten by Br Lafayette, the Brother in charge of the refectory, and he did not know at the time that this beating had happened.


Br Chapin also told the Investigation Committee about going to see Robert Moore in hospital, he thought about a week before he died. The boy was ‘not very lively’ but did not appear to be frightened. He did not think the boy had any insight into how ill he was. He said he did not hear any talk at the time about an incident between the boy and Br Lafayette. He did, however, remember one of the boys saying that Robert Moore was hurt. He thought that Robert Moore had something wrong with his lungs.


An internal report prepared in recent years and disclosed to the Committee by the Congregation entitled ‘Information relating to Robert Moore’ detailed the stories and allegations that began to emerge in 1995 surrounding the boy’s death and the steps that were taken by the Congregation to enquire into the matter. The following extracts are of particular interest: As part of an internal enquiry, the Provincial Council approached a number of brothers who had been in Tralee in or around the time of the Moore incident. Br Bevis remembered Robert Moore well and visited him several times in hospital. He was able to recall the incident of the beating in the dining room but did not link it to the death of Robert Moore. Br Bevis was of the opinion that Robert Moore died from some form of cancer. It would appear that the time between the beating and the death of Robert Moore was at most a few weeks. The Provincial Council also went in search of Robert Moore’s Death Certificate. On the Death Certificate, the cause of death is given as a “Bi-lateral Pleural Effusion”. As an addendum to this cause of death, the phrase “senility certified” appears on the certificate. This seemed a rather strange addendum given Robert Moore’s age, and a medical doctor was asked to explain the matter. The medical opinion was that pneumonia was the likely cause of death and that a beating would not cause a bi-lateral effusion, even a severe beating. Further enquiry unearthed a story that Robert Moore had an abscess on his neck, and that in the course of the beating he received, the abscess may have burst. There was no hard medical evidence for this story of the abscess, but it appeared to be part of the folklore around the event. The possibility of a flu epidemic in St. Joseph’s at the time also surfaced. It was the month of February and flu epidemics were not an unlikely occurrences in institutions such as St. Joseph’s at that time of year. A heavy dose of flu could lead to the bi-lateral effusion reported on the Death Certificate.


The report concluded with some recent information about the death certificate: The Gardai were aware of the “senility” addendum and reported back some time ago to St. Helen’s saying that the Death Certificate had been officially changed and the word “septicaemia” substituted for the word “senility”.

  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.