Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


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.


At this remove, it is not possible to state whether the beating Robert Moore received at the hands of Br Lafayette had anything to do with his death. What this story tells us about the general atmosphere in Tralee is significant. It is accepted that the Brother in charge of the refectory struck Robert Moore because he was not eating or because he was not eating quickly enough. It seems particularly cruel that the children could not even eat their meals without violence or the threat of violence. It is clear from the evidence of individual Brothers that Br Lafayette’s harshness to the boys was known about in Tralee but nothing was done to stop it. This incident in the refectory fits into a pattern of behaviour in the institution whereby violence was used to enforce discipline on the boys. The fact that this boy died after being hit was sufficient reason to warrant a full inquiry, no matter what the cause of death on the death certificate. Only an immediate independent inquiry could have sorted out the issues arising out of this case. If the boy was already seriously ill, the inquiry could have investigated why he did not receive care earlier. If the beating contributed to his death, it could have established why that information did not come to be generally known and investigated as a possible causative factor. This case has become controversial and subject to speculation because the circumstances of the boys death were never properly investigated.


Complainants used the word ‘flogging’ to describe particularly severe punishment in Tralee.


A complainant accused one Brother, Br Boyce, of flogging him. He got a flogging from this Brother and half an hour later got one from another Brother, Br Cheney. He did not know why. Br Boyce hit him with a ‘leather’. ‘These leathers weren’t just light pieces of string, they were severe actually’. The complainant stated that the attack was a painful moment for him as Br Boyce was ‘a very nice lad actually and I was surprised to be attacked like that’. It was uncharacteristic of the Brother. Br Boyce, who gave evidence to the Committee, denied flogging the boy.


Another witness said that Br Bevis: flogged a young boy ... [The boy] was a classmate of mine and he actually done something wrong with the bandmaster, I don’t know, and he was reported to Br Bevis who flogged him. That’s all I know. He put the boy’s head in between his legs and he flogged him ferociously, beat him very badly. This boy actually eventually ended up in the mental hospital in Killarney.


Br Bevis denied beating this boy.


Another witness also recalled an occasion when about 12 boys were ‘picked up’ for masturbating in the dormitory and lined up and bent over the beds with their nightshirts up. Br Bevis and another Brother took turns in giving the boys ‘the hop’, i.e. pulling up the nightshirt and hitting them straight across the bare bottom, six to a dozen times. The witness stated that this happened quite a lot and the boys were all ‘frightened to death’.


Another former resident claimed that Br Cheney would ask him to stay back after class and to drop his pants. Br Cheney would then ‘leather’ his bottom. This happened ‘many times’ until he was 16. The complainant thought Br Cheney did it because of ‘madness’. This also happened to other boys in the class. He said that he also had to receive hospital treatment after Br Cheney hit him. He thought he hit some part of his brain. This same complainant said that Br Cheney gave him the second of two floggings half an hour apart from each other and that he ‘feared’ this man.


One witness made allegations of physical abuse against a Br Roland. He said that the boys were playing in the schoolroom one day, and one boy got hit in the eye. Br Roland asked who did it but no one answered. The Brother then pointed to him. Later that day, Br Roland took him into an empty classroom and asked him if he was the culprit. He said no. The Brother got a strap out of a glass cupboard containing different straps and told him to get on his knees and put his hands out. He continued to deny his involvement in the incident but Br Roland said he was telling lies. He said he received 44 strokes on each hand, the second 44 so that he would not lie again. He remembers waking in the dormitory some days later with bandaged hands. They were very painful.


Br Bevis in his evidence said he was aware of one occasion when Br Cheney and Br Chaunce punished a boy in a dormitory when he was caught abusing a younger boy. He acknowledged that he had heard that it was a particularly severe punishment.


Witnesses gave evidence that punishment was unpredictable and unavoidable. Punishment was a feature both inside and outside the classroom. Even Brothers with whom they had a reasonably good relationship could suddenly turn and lash out with the leather or their fists.


One former resident recalled an incident where a boy in the farmyard had an argument with Br Toussnint who then picked up a pitchfork and threw it at the boy, pinning his jacket to the cowshed door. The boy ran up to the yard and the boys hid him when the Brother came looking for him. This was a Brother who was not regarded as severe in his dealings with the boys as a rule.


Brothers against whom there were few complaints could flare up and lose their tempers, and in such situations were not restrained. The culture of the school allowed them to lash out against boys.


One complainant gave evidence about Br Archard who taught boys in second class who would, if the boys did not know an answer, ‘give you the knuckles on the head. It was very, very sore’. He did not know if other people got the same treatment, although he did not regard it as out of the ordinary: ‘corporal punishment was there anyway so they were only doing what was being done’.


One witness said Br Bevis physically assaulted him in the classroom, schoolyard and recreation hall. He was slapped with the strap that Br Bevis carried, not just on the hands. He does not know which classroom this was in, but it could have been any as he did chores for the Brothers. Br Bevis did not teach him. Br Bevis acknowledged that he may have slapped this boy, but denied beating any boy over the body or head or breaking bones. He only punished boys on the hands or maybe gave a clip on the bottom, on the trousers.

  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.