Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Emotional abuse


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.


Some complainants gave evidence of kindness shown to them by different Brothers. However, one Brother described a failing in the Institution, when he said that the boys became institutionalised. He said that the ‘personal touch wasn’t there. Well, I suppose from men that is what you would kind of expect ... that the personal touch wasn’t really there’. He also pointed out that, when the boys left the School and ‘went out on their own’, they could not cope. ‘They lost the back-up of routine that they were used to’.


In 1947 the Visitation Report commented that, while the Resident Manager’s ‘intercourse with the boys is kindly ... it never sacrifices the distance that inspires respect’. In 1953 the Visitation Report stressed contact rather than a relationship. It wrote that the Resident Manager’s: main contacts with the boys ... are: Inspection every morning, the Store and distribution of clothing, etc. when necessary, and giving the boys a Religious Instruction on Sundays.


In 1957 the Report remarked on the quality of emotional support. It noted the Brothers were generally ‘sympathetic and considerate in their dealings with the boys and hence the Institution does, as far as possible, resemble a home’ and there was no attempt to run away.


The relationship between the boys and the Brothers in charge was very rarely described in positive terms by ex-residents of industrial schools, but many Brothers had a different understanding. Even today, some Brothers looking back at their time in schools such as Tralee do not appear to appreciate how the School impacted on the children who were sent there.


The Brothers who appeared before the Investigation Committee spoke of their daily routine and the stresses of working in Tralee. Four of the seven Brothers who worked in Tralee for other than holiday relief spoke about the busy days they had in the School, and one of them spoke about the stress it placed him under. This respondent, Br Mahieu, stated that he had a lot of supervision to do. It was generally the two or three teaching Brothers who organised and took responsibility for the daily activity, the timetables and the routines in the School. He also spoke about the arrival of boys from Glin and Upton in 1966 as causing a difficulty in terms of looking after them and trying to cope with them. He said it caused ‘an awful lot of extra vigilance’. He became less happy with his work there until they had ‘got to grips with the situation’. Other Brothers also spoke about the long hours.


Br Mahieu spoke of the difficulty of dealing with bed-wetters. He had nobody to help him, and trying to cope with it wore him down. The only resource available was an old-fashioned laundry. He acknowledged that he would get frustrated and would use the strap, which he bitterly regretted. He felt he was put into an almost impossible situation. There could be six or eight bed-wetters and soilers in a dormitory.


The 1966 Visitation Report noted that a number of older Brothers resided in Tralee, and advised that every member of staff should be able to take his share of duties and help to lighten the burden of the others, and this was going to be all the more necessary when the boys from Glin arrived. In the circumstances, the Visitor felt Tralee was not a suitable place for the old Brothers. With these older, more infirm Brothers unable to work, the burden of work fell unfairly on the younger Brothers. The evidence of Br Lisle confirmed that in 1966 there were only four Brothers, including himself, available to run the School, out of a total of 11 Brothers in the Community. He pointed out he was not trained as a teacher. Br Mahieu claimed that one of the remaining Brothers, Br Marceau, was not someone to whom supervision duties could be given.


Like those in other Christian Brothers institutions, Brothers in Tralee did not receive any training in childcare. According to the Opening Statement of the Christian Brothers, newcomers had to rely on the example and advice of senior colleagues. They also relied on the support of established routines and procedures. Six of the seven former permanent staff members who gave evidence to the Investigation Committee had all entered the novitiate at 14 or 15, and were no more than 18 years old after completing their first year in St Helen’s. All seven were aged between 24 and 28 when they arrived in Tralee. Br Bevis said that he did not believe early entry into the seminary affected his ability to cope with the boys emotionally, but he did concede that he needed more experience and that, if he had the chance to go back, he would do things differently.


Br Mahieu, when referring to the difficulties experienced when the boys from Glin and Upton arrived in Tralee, stated: Now, that made it extremely difficult for us. Like, when I was sent to Tralee ... I got no training whatsoever, not even one single word. All I was given was, I was given a leather strap. Nobody thought it worthwhile to give me training for residential care.


He said that they badly needed training when they had the mix of boys from Upton, Glin and Tralee. He was never given any direction in relation to the type of discipline he could administer to the boys, either by the Department of Education or the Christian Brothers. In their Final Submissions, the Christian Brothers said that a review of the entire transcript of this respondent’s evidence indicated that these comments were not intended as a criticism of the Congregation but were, with the benefit of hindsight, expressing regret that specialist training was not provided for persons in his position at that time.


Brothers were not given any induction course or training on arrival in Tralee. Visitation Reports, Department Inspections and the issue of emotional abuse


The Visitation Reports invariably described the boys as happy, and no comments were made about any emotional needs. They referred frequently to the good atmosphere in Tralee and the good relations between the boys and the Brothers.


The 1959 Visitation Report commented that the discipline was ‘satisfactory. The boys are at their ease and a spirit of cooperation and good-will prevails’.


There was little evidence that the Visitors or the Department’s Inspectors ever spoke to the boys in the schools.35 These failures to consult with the boys were flaws in both the management of the school and supervision by the Department.

  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.