Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


Although none of the respondents spoke of a climate of fear in Tralee, Professor Tom Dunne, a former Brother, referred in an article he wrote to such an atmosphere: It was a secret, enclosed world, run on fear; the boys were wholly at the mercy of the staff, who seemed to have entirely negative views of them.20


A number of former residents who gave evidence spoke of the fear they lived under while in the School, which was caused by some individual Brothers and the atmosphere of the School in general.


One witness, resident in the school in the 1940s, spoke particularly about the climate of fear in the school. He said: No, it was a constant fear of them really. It was a constant fear. There was no “how do you do, well met” kind of thing. There was no “how do you do, how are you this morning?” whatever, there was never a kind word.


Another witness said that the environment was one ‘of constant fear and that fear overrode everything else for me’. He said that it was a ‘frightening’ place and that he was ‘terrified of the place’. This witness was in the school from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s and had spent all of his earlier life in other institutions.


Former residents made allegations of physical abuse against some lay staff. One witness, who was in the school in the 1940s, told the Committee that the night watchman would give him a ‘wallop’ for having wet the bed.


Another witness made a number of complaints against lay staff. First, he mentioned a lay teacher who tried to get him to march properly and threw chairs at him and hit him. He said that one of the lay teachers would be ‘on the prowl’ where the boys went to darn socks with the nurse or to the tailor to get measured. ‘If he saw you you were dead unlucky because he would grab you by the knackers and squeeze you until you scream for mercy’. If he could not catch you, ‘he would chuck a chisel at you or something’.


Brothers who gave evidence made some admissions regarding the extent of corporal punishment in Tralee.


Br Bevis was Principal in the primary school from the mid-1950s to early 1960s. In his evidence to the Committee, he said he accepted that he may have given a boy a clip on the bottom with the leather strap or on the ear. He also said that he never saw marks on any boy from abuse or excessive corporal punishment by any other teacher. He would have noticed marks ‘when they were coming up to be examined before going to bed’ if the marks were on the upper body or, if they were wearing short pants, on their legs.


Br Aribert told the Committee that it was never addressed when a Brother acted in breach of the guidelines on corporal punishment that were set down in their Acts of Chapter. He acknowledged that some Brothers probably overstepped them at times.


Br Mahieu acknowledged that from time to time he would have used a strap on the boys in Tralee, in particular for bed-wetting: I had my six hours teaching day job to do. I was then put in charge of the dormitory ... I now discover that there is such a thing as bedwetting, persistent bedwetting. I was not able to cope with that. Partly the reason I wasn’t able to cope with that was that there wasn’t sufficient back-up facilities or persons to help me with that ... sheets are wet. How do you dry them? There was some kind of a laundry there, to me it was very old fashioned looking, just full of steam and things like that ... I found it very difficult ... The result with not coping with it would be that it was a headache. It was something which wore me down after a while. It would mean that I could hit somebody, beat somebody ... using the strap didn’t work either. But I would just physically at times get tired, get frustrated and would use the strap and I bitterly regret that. I have always said that and admitted that a way back. I regret it, that that’s the way I tried to cope. But it was putting me into almost an impossible situation.


He regretted using the leather, he regretted overusing it, but only recalled one occasion when he used it excessively, i.e. unduly severely.


Br Bevis told the Committee that he never discussed the carrying out of corporal punishment with other Brothers. He said: No, I never discussed it, because if I was I was in charge that particular time. If the other Brother was in charge that was their duty.


Bullying amongst the boys occurred in Tralee and, although this bullying involved physical beatings and sexual assaults, there was no procedure for reporting such behaviour to the Brothers in charge.


One complainant referred to boys who left at age 16 but returned ‘because things didn’t work out for them’. They beat and bullied the smaller boys. When asked whether he could go to the Brothers for protection, he said no, that there was no system for protecting boys from that kind of bullying.


Another complainant, reiterating this, said that the Brothers never asked him questions about bullying. He said that the Brothers: were always standoffish, you did what you’re told and that was it. They didn’t make you feel like you could come to them with a complaint because you were frightened to go near them in case you got a beating for making a complaint.

  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.