Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


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.


Br Bevis said that he never hit any boy on the bare bottom and never saw any other Brother do so.


One other witness confirmed that Br Kalle ‘often used the leather and his fists’ and that he received both forms of punishment on a lot of occasions, mostly in class but once outside class. Boys were punished for getting questions wrong.19 It was done routinely, in second and third class. Once, he was punched for talking and his nose bled. He did not remember seeing the Brother punch other boys.


Another witness said that Br Cheney would ask him a difficult question that he was unable to answer, and then he would call him to the blackboard. He would be too frightened to answer and Br Cheney would then get his head and beat it across the blackboard. He also beat him on the legs. This happened ‘quite often’. He urinated with fear on the way up to the blackboard and Br Cheney called him in front of the class about it and made him clean it up. This has remained in his mind over the years.


On another occasion, this witness stated that he and two other boys went to the cinema without permission. He busked for the money. When they returned, a Brother lined up all the boys in the yard and asked the three of them where they got the money for the cinema. One said the complainant had sung for it. Then the Brother said that there would be no film for the school that Sunday as a result. For the rest of the weekend, he and the other boys with whom he went into town were beaten quite badly by the other pupils. The Brothers watched the beatings.


He went on to say that this Brother was a ‘very dominant person’ and a ‘very large man’. A lot of his experiences with him ‘were never very good; very, very brutal’.


Br Bevis and Br Cheney were described in a Visitation Report as zealous, devoted to their work and quite happy at it, and they and other Brothers were ‘excellent men’ carrying ‘the lion’s share of the supervision of the boys’ and only ever having the welfare of the boys as their interest. Br Bevis was described as ‘an ideal Brother for Industrial School work’ and another Visitation Report noted that an inspector to the school had commended Br Bevis for his work.


It was usual for Brothers to carry straps at all times. According to one witness, one Brother used a strap that had been stiffened with coins. He said that he saw a Brother flogging a boy with a belt, and suddenly coins came flying out of the belt when the stitching on the belt had come undone. He said that he knew that it was a ‘continued practice’ of putting coins in the leather strap, because another boy who worked in the shoe shop said that it was his job to put the coins into the belts.


Another witness recalled how he was in the cobbler’s shop one day and somebody who worked there pointed out Br Cheney’s leather strap to him. He told the Committee, ‘The whole front of it was all loaded down with washers. That was Br Cheney’s leather strap. We used to wonder why it was so hard’.


He said that Br Cheney used the strap on him once only, but he would use it on other boys ‘quite frequently’ on the hands.


The leather could be used at any time of the day or in any place. It was used first thing in the morning, during classes, during recreation, during meal times, and in the dormitory at night. Brothers carried the strap around with them at all times and therefore could use it instantly without accountability and without a cooling off period. This led to frequent excessive punishments and to the boys having a pervasive expectation of receiving punishment.


The regulations and guidelines issued by the Department of Education and the Christian Brothers for the protection of boys in the care of these institutions were not followed. Punishment was not just inflicted on the hands, but was inflicted all over the body, including the bare bottom and even the feet.

  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.