Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Emotional abuse


Professor Dunne said that boys showed extreme gratitude for any act of kindness, which he thought was one of the most disturbing aspects of life in Tralee. Complainant evidence tended to confirm his observation. Even if the kindness shown was no more than ordinary human respect or consideration, it made an impact on the children who received it, and they remembered it with gratitude some 50 years later. Some complainants contrasted the harshness of some Brothers with the kinder treatment by others. Individual Brothers could have an impact on the lives of these children but they were powerless to protect them from the excesses of their colleagues. Although Brothers could not change the system, they could ameliorate its effects through individual acts of kindness.


An important element in the emotional well-being of children in institutions, which was recognised by the Cussen Report, was their contact with the outside world. For the majority of children in Tralee this was not a significant feature of their time there. It was not until 1968, some 32 years after it was recommended by Justice Cussen, that the primary schooling of the children in Tralee was integrated with that of the children in the town. This was all the more regrettable because the outside schools, both national and secondary, were run by the Christian Brothers, which should have facilitated an easier and speedier transition. Professor Dunne wrote of the isolation of the Industrial School from the other Christian Brothers establishment in Tralee. He said that although ‘The Monastery’, as the Industrial School was called, was less than a mile away from the school in which he taught, he was only dimly aware of its existence before being assigned to help out there for the summer. He said that the Monastery and the Brothers who staffed it lived apart from the other Brothers who staffed the day school in Tralee town, who enjoyed a ‘comfortable, normal life in community’. In 1960 the Visitation Report noted that ‘the townspeople are very good to the boys and interested in their welfare – this is especially evident at Christmas time. There is no undue familiarity with outsiders’.


In 1963 the Visitation Report referred to the School band and dancing troupe rehearsing for the St Patrick’s Day concert. The Visitor mentioned that the School had some good friends among the townspeople but remarked, not disapprovingly, that otherwise the Brothers had little or no connection with the town.


In response to the questionnaire he received, Br Octave, who was in Tralee in the 1940s, said that the local people did not like them, that they regarded the School as a place of no consequence. He said that one local man promoted visits to the cinema and games with local football teams, but that ‘Booterstown took a dim view of this’.38


When well-trained, the band was a source of great pride. One complainant recalled that the band members were the only boys allowed out of the School, other than to go on the school walk on Sundays. The band was in many respects the public face of the Institution, and it would have presented a reassurance to the local people that the children in St Joseph’s were receiving a very high standard of care. A follow-up letter to the Resident Manager after the 1963 Visitation remarked that the band and the dancing troupe were: a credit to their school. Their public appearance should be sufficient answer to those who make disparaging references to Industrial Schools.


For boys who were sent to Tralee from Dublin, contact with families would have been very difficult, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s. Even boys who were from Kerry had limited contact with family members, although there was no evidence before the Committee that such contact was discouraged. In fact, one witness told the Committee how he used to visit his sisters in the local girls’ industrial school across the road. This happened when he got to about 12 years of age and, when he reached 14, he was allowed over almost every Sunday.


The School annals record in various years that boys went home to their families for holidays.39


The fact that boys were separated from their families created major problems and had an emotional effect on the boys. They felt alienated from their roots, their family and friends, and suffered a loss of personal identity. For example, one witness told the Committee: The biggest abuse really is being denied any information about my family. Outside, the abuse I suffered, that has gone. You have your abuse, you have your beatings, you take it and you go. But the abuse that stays with me, and it stays with me to this day, I am now 76 years of age, is that I can never prove ... I don’t suppose there is one here in this room who doesn’t know who their mother was, right? I never knew who my mother was and why take me away from my mother, take me away from my brother or my sister and my friends and, take me and put me away? I had done no wrong to anybody and I have been put away, sentenced to all those years for nothing.


This complainant explained how he never got to know his parents, having been put into a school in Kilkenny when he was three. He was 20 before he found out he had a brother and sister. All of the birth certificates that they had been given were wrong. This complainant told about the difficulties in meeting new people and not having a medical history. It was submitted by the Christian Brothers that these factors were the ones that have had the most impact on the former residents of industrial schools during their lives.


The Resident Manager was central to the efficient running of the School. A poor manager affected every aspect of life for the boys: the quality of food, clothing, and care deteriorated rapidly if the Manager was inadequate.


Brothers were their own arbiters as to when, where and how to punish. There were no systematic restraints on them to prevent excess. Rules and guidelines, whether provided by the State or their own Congregation, were blatantly flouted and there were no sanctions imposed on those who broke them.


Control was mainly through corporal punishment. Brothers imposed their will on the boys, and the bigger boys in turn imposed their will on the smaller ones.


Children in Tralee were susceptible to harsher treatment because they did not have parents to protect them. Troublesome Brothers, some known to be a danger to children, were posted to Tralee.


There should have been more able teachers, trained for the job of dealing with educational disadvantage, and care staff trained to look after needy children. Some complainants did, however, express their appreciation for the education they received in Tralee and, in the latter years, efforts were made to give some children second level education.


Trades offered limited opportunities and became more irrelevant and obsolete over the years. Boys worked for the school, and in the process learned little or nothing to improve their prospects in life.

  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.