Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

Show Contents

Physical abuse


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”.


The recollection of Br Bevis in 1995, as described in this document, is in conflict with the evidence he gave the Committee concerning the beating from Br Lafayette.


In their Opening Statement the Christian Brothers gave the following account of what Br Bevis had recalled to them: A former staff member, writing in 2001, recalls the occasion of Robert Moore’s death: “I recall the morning I called the boys. As they arise and dressed I walked up and down the dormitory. Noticing that Robert had not arisen I went over to see him. As I neared the bed – situated nearest the wall and about mid-way down the dormitory – I noticed he had been sick during the night and there was blood in his vomit. I asked him how he felt and on telling me that he had been sick during the night I told him to stay in bed and that I would inform Br G – he usually looked after the sick. I did so and the doctor, Dr Walsh,18 was called. Later that day I learned that Robert was taken to hospital. A few days after I visited Robert in hospital, bringing him the local paper. As I sat beside the bed he caught hold of my hand and asked me if he was going to get better. This surprised me – the question and the fact that he held on to my hand during the visit. I had no idea that he was seriously ill. I told him that he would be out soon and told him that another boy had gone to the fever hospital ... that was a worse situation than his. I learned of his (Robert’s) death shortly afterwards – not sure if it was the next day or a few days afterwards. Since then I have been wondering if Robert himself knew of his impending death – the fact of him holding my hand during the visit leads me to think that he did. I was always glad that I was there and tried to console him. May he rest in peace”.


The Congregation concluded with the following observation: The Brother’s recollections show the caring attitude of the staff towards the boys and the reciprocal friendliness of the boy himself. The same caring attention would have been shown to all the boys in the school and every effort would have been made to sympathise with the other boys who had lost a companion and would have been shocked by a death within their small community. Modern counselling has methods of helping people cope with bereavement and though the efforts of the staff in the 1950’s would not have been enlightened by present-day terms it would have been none the less sincere.


The Congregation did not allude to the incident in the dining room involving Br Lafayette in this section of their Opening Statement.


A three-day Visitation Report conducted one month after the death of Robert Moore made no mention of the death of a pupil in the previous month and described the boys as ‘exceedingly happy’.


Br Lafayette was interviewed by the Gardaí. The following exchange was recorded: A number of former pupils have stated that you assaulted Robert Moore and he died a few days later. What do you have to say about this. I gave him a few slaps, but the medical evidence from the hospital would suggest that he died from some sort of lung trouble ... Is there any reason why different pupils would make these allegations against you? I don’t know.


The Congregation have admitted that Robert Moore received a beating from Br Lafayette, but the severity of the beating was stated to be unknown.


A number of former residents gave evidence to the Investigation Committee about the incident.


One former resident said that Robert Moore had a boil on his neck and that Br Lafayette, who he said did not mean to hurt anybody, was hurrying the boys to finish their meal. He therefore hit the boys, including the complainant, on the back. He said that it was a ‘mild beating’, not one that would ‘kill you’. He said that Robert Moore got sick from that beating, as the boil was hit. He said: Because he hit him in the neck where the boil was. He had a boil in the back of the neck which never healed and he went to bed that evening and he told me he was sick and the following morning he couldn’t get out of bed because he was sick. The doctor came and the nurse was there and they were dressing him for a few days. The doctor decided to take him to St. Catharine’s hospital when he was not recovering so quick.


He praised the Brother in charge of the infirmary for the way in which he tried to look after Robert Moore, but felt that he did not know how to do it properly as he was ‘doctor and nurse and everything’. He thought that about a week or two passed before Robert Moore was eventually brought to hospital. He said that this was ‘an accident that went wrong, a beating that went wrong’. Robert Moore was ‘not murdered’.


Another former resident stated he was in bed sick when Robert Moore was being helped up the stairs into bed. He was ‘whimpering feverishly’ and the boy helping him told this witness that Br Lafayette was ‘after killing him’. He dozed off and, when he woke up, Robert Moore’s bed was empty. He died some days later in hospital.

  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.