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Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Emotional abuse


Professor Dunne went on to identify what particularly bothered him about the boys in Tralee. He said that ‘they were pathetically grateful and almost tried to form some kind of ... bond with you’. He said that the boys in Tralee were ‘very ... surprised to be talked to in a way that wasn’t simply authoritarian and they were almost pathetic in their response. I think it affected me a lot. That I remember’.


He went on to say that he recalled it as a place where he intensely disliked the way the boys were talked about by the staff. He added, ‘I think there was a sense of them, you know, as being just simply a problem. I remember it as harsh in its general atmosphere’.


He said that he had no specific memories of Tralee and was not a reliable witness as to what it was actually like for individual boys there. He explained: The memory is simply of atmosphere and what it was like to interact with the boys ... I suppose they lived in a certain kind of fear of authority that was far in excess of what I was used to in schools.


In his article published in the Dublin Review, Professor Dunne was even more explicit: At this remove, I can only recall that it was a profoundly upsetting experience, not because I was witness to any particular horror, but because of the atmosphere of meanness, bleakness and fear. This was a different world from the excellent school less than a mile away ... and even more from our comfortable, normal life in community ... My clearest memory is of embarrassment at the harsh demeanour of staff and the cowed servility of the boys, so overwhelmingly grateful for any hint of kindness. Perhaps I put it out of my mind as soon as I could because of the overwhelming sense of human misery and my own inadequacy in the face of it ... 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.


Professor Dunne went on to say in the article that the Brothers ‘often left the far more needy boys of their industrial schools to the inadequate or the troubled, who were given no special training and little supervision’.


This disturbing view of Tralee was partially echoed by Br Mahieu. He stated that, when he first went to Tralee in the early 1960s, he noticed that the children ‘seemed to be crying out for a bit of love and a bit of attention and a bit of care’. He said that he felt sorry for the boys. They were a nice, decent bunch and seemed reasonably happy.


During Br Mahieu’s time, small but significant improvements to the quality of life of the boys in Tralee were introduced: a tape-recorder for music was acquired, and a projector was donated for the showing of a weekly film. There were books, comics and magazines available to the boys in the dormitory.


He said that, when he went out into the yard, 20 or 30 of the boys would immediately surround him and ‘link out’ of him. Looking back on it now, he would say that this linking was possibly a sign of emotional instability. He thought that they ‘needed somebody’, ‘they wanted somebody to cling on to’.


Br Aribert, whilst accepting only that one of the Brothers was maybe harsh ‘on occasions’ towards the boys, also identified a loneliness in them. He did not know if the emotional needs of the boys were adequately catered for. He said that, whenever he or any Brother was on yard duty, the boys came and linked with them (three or four on each side of the Brother) and he felt it meant a lot to them, ‘that at least they had someone literally to hang on to’. He felt that there was an element of the boys feeling rejection and loneliness, even though they did not say so in so many words.


Whilst these three Brothers were clearly identifying an emotional need in the children in Tralee, they were not able to say what might have been done to offer a greater degree of comfort to the boys there. The witnesses who spoke to the Committee were quite clear that it was not possible to report or complain to any other Brother about mistreatment or abuse.


Other Brothers who were in Tralee did not identify emotional deprivation in the boys there. One Brother who was in the School in the mid to late 1940s stated that, as far as he knew, the Brothers and the boys got on well. He did not know if the boys were afraid of the Brothers but said that they had more respect for the Principal than the rest, as he had power.


Another Brother, Br Boyce, who had also worked in Artane, said that Tralee was more relaxed than Artane, for both the Brothers and the boys. He said that the small numbers there meant that they could deal with the boys easily. He was able to talk to the boys more easily. The boys were the same kind as in Artane, although he thought the boys were more relaxed in Tralee. He felt that the boys were helped, i.e. emotionally supported, by the smaller numbers in the School.


Br Bevis said that he did not think that there were many boys who found it difficult to cope. He accepted that they had their own fears and that there were tears for being rejected by their parents, tears of loneliness and tears from probably being taunted by the other boys, but they could tell ‘most of the Brothers’. For his own part, he said that boys would come to him and tell him that someone was bullying them or jeering at them. He did not accept that the atmosphere was cold and indifferent to their plight. He said the boys could complain to the Brothers about excessive corporal punishment being meted out by other Brothers, but accepted that there was no system for making complaints and that no investigations into complaints took place.


Two Brothers, Brs Aribert and Chapin, stated that they felt that they had a good relationship personally with the boys, and both said that generally the relationship between the Brothers and the boys was very good. Br Aribert referred to the boys needing someone to literally hang onto, and also said that the staff who were there in his time were ‘very caring people’. He mentioned one particular Brother, Br Reve, who was like a father figure.


Br Octave, in a reply to a Christian Brothers’ questionnaire, said that some of the Brothers were very tough on the boys and punished them severely. Others were more equable. He said it was important that all staff established their own discipline.

  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.