Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


One complainant, appearing before the Investigation Committee, said of this man: Yeah, he would hit you, he would hit you in a temper. He wasn’t a cold, sadistic sort of man. He would hit you in a temper. He would lash out at you in a temper. But if you met him the next day he would talk to you quite okay like. What you done with Br Eriq is the best thing, try and keep out of his way in case he was in a bad mood ... He was just a hot tempered man from what I could see of him.


He added that Br Eriq was ‘a bit of hard man...but he wasn’t consistently hard. He could actually be quite reasonable’.


In their Statement to the Committee responding to the allegations of this complainant, the Christian Brothers said that they were in no position to respond to the allegations by the complainant, but the Brother was ‘known to be over severe in class and was transferred at the end of the school year at the Superior’s request’.


Three Visitation Reports revealed that Br Eriq had failed to heed warnings about excessive punishments. There was no reason to believe that moving him to another school would have had any effect on his violent outbursts. A Brother with a known propensity for violent behaviour should not have been sent to another industrial school where he could inflict such punishment on other children. Documented cases of physical abuse: Br Marceau


Br Marceau was acknowledged by the Christian Brothers as having been ‘in serious difficulty’ regarding excessive corporal punishment before being assigned to Tralee in the early 1960s. He had had a long history of inflicting excessive corporal punishment and had even received a Canonical Warning because of it before arriving in Tralee. Although he was not a trained teacher, he taught in several schools, both day and industrial, between the late 1940s and the late 1960s. His extraordinary progress from one Christian Brothers’ school to another, despite his severe problems, was an illuminating one, and can be accurately followed because of the rare amount of explicit detail and criticism found in the correspondence about him.


After Br Marceau was professed, his first posting was to a day school in Dublin, where he taught the infant class for seven years from the late 1940s.


One Visitation Report for that school noted that he was ‘doing most efficient work’ and without ‘any apparent severity’. When he left this school, the annals noted that he had given ‘wonderful service to the College having been in charge of the Infant dept. during his period here’.


He was then transferred to a school in the Midlands. A Visitation Report for that school in the late 1950s gave the first indication of a potential problem about his over-severe use of punishment: Br Marceau is a most energetic teacher and his pupils have made unusually good progress, nevertheless, the parents do not seem to have sufficient confidence in him. He was a little too severe, but he has overcome that difficulty and realises the ill-effects severity could have in a school of that kind.


The next Visitor, 10 months later, found further fault with him. He wrote: The Superior considers him as lacking in common-sense and to be unpredictable. He has been slack in carrying out directions given by the Superior. In this he does not seem to act through malice but through lack of understanding ... It is difficult to persuade Br Marceau that he is at fault in any way. He has, however, promised to do his best to comply in every way with the Superior’s wishes.


A letter written in the early 1960s to the Superior followed up these criticisms by offering advice on how to deal with him: In the case of Br Marceau we consider that encouragement from time to time will help him. He feels isolated in the sense that he is not a qualified teacher. He does useful work but it seems he has not much common-sense. While encouraging him and being kind to him, which you are, it will be always necessary to be watchful lest he act foolishly. Insist on his carrying out your directions and curb his tendency to excessive interest in matters outside the scope of his own duties.


These criticisms were vague, but the unease about his behaviour, his lack of common sense, his lack of understanding and his inability to accept that he was at fault, was a persistent theme.


This advice, however, had been overtaken by events, as the Superior had written to the Provincial about Br Marceau the previous month and, in this letter, more specific complaints were made. The letter referred to two complaints by parents about excessive corporal punishment of their children, and went on to express the belief that the Brother would not change, and therefore should not be in charge of boys at all. The details contained in the letter were so explicit and disturbing that it merits being quoted in full: My v dear Br. Provincial I regret to have to report to you a case of excessive corporal punishment by Br Marceau. The mother of one of his pupils, aged 8 years came to me to-day and showed me the back of the child’s hand with lumps on it caused by a stick. She had already brought him to the Doctor for a certificate. The Doctor, she said, told her it was not the first case he had come across of excessive punishment administered by this Brother. The mother also told me she was awaiting the return of her husband from Dublin, before taking action, I presume - legal action. Last year, I had the humiliating experience of seeing the father of another boy, whom Br Marceau marked, take down his son’s pants in our parlour and show me the weals on the buttocks and legs. I did not report to you at that time as the father said he would let the matter end there and through charity, I gave Br Marceau a severe lecture and he promised me it wouldn’t happen again. On the present occasion, to-day, I have again spoken in no uncertain manner to the Brother. He told me he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again! I fear this Brother won’t be taught a lesson until he finds himself in Court. I don’t think he is fit to be in charge of boys at all, much less boys of five to nine years of age. I shall be grateful if you will advise me on this matter.


The evidence against Br Marceau was mounting. Not just parents but the local doctor had also come across cases of severe beatings by him. The Provincial’s response was immediate. In a letter dated the next day, he wrote: My very dear Br. Superior, I very much regret the trouble that you are having over Br Marceau. There is little excuse for treating children as he has done. I sincerely hope that the parents will not bring on a court case. You must prevent that at all costs. We shall have to deal with this case as it deserves. This is the third such case that we had to deal with in recent times, and any one of them could have done very considerable harm to the Congregation if publicised. Please send Br Marceau here on Friday evening and if in the meantime anything further transpires you can let us know.


The main concern expressed was not the severity of the punishment inflicted on the children but the considerable harm that publicity would do to the Congregation. A court case was an outcome to be avoided ‘at all costs’.


The Superior arranged for Br Marceau to report to the Provincial, but also sent the Provincial a letter the following day to warn him that Br Marceau would try to minimise the whole thing. It pointed out that Br Marceau had deliberately cut his cane in half to make it appear it was a light cane, and again reiterated that the Brother ignored instructions and remained a danger to boys. Again, the detailed nature of the criticism warrants the letter being quoted extensively: My very dear Br Provincial, I thank you for your letter received to-day. I shall send Br Marceau on the train, leaving here at 3pm. He should be in Dublin at 6.30 pm. I have not heard anything further from ... the mother of the boy in question. She told me that her husband ... was in Dublin and would not be back until Friday. Meanwhile the boy has been kept from School. I should like to point out that Br Marceau will probably try to minimise the whole thing, with you. He has always adopted this attitude with me. “I only gave him a tip”. I consequently insisted on his coming to the parlour on each occasion and seeing the results of the “tip”. If I didn’t, he would say I exaggerated the whole thing. I assure you, I saw the weals on the body of the Solicitor’s son and now on the hand of [this boy] I demanded the stick from Br Marceau and when I received it, it had been cut in two. I got half a stick. I may be wrong in thinking he deliberately cut it to make it appear it was a light cane. Finally, Br Marceau has not much sense or judgment and is capable of doing the most foolish things. As I stated in my last letter, he is a danger to boys. He will tell you he is sorry as he told me, but it happens “again”. Br Cheyne (ex novice master) told me of another case of a boy here in [name of town] who was severely punished by Br Marceau. He asked me not to say anything to Br Marceau about it but warned me to be careful in watching Br Marceau in this respect. I have forbidden Br Marceau on more than one occasion, to use a stick or leather. He ignores my directions completely.

  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.