Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Emotional abuse


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.


Boys recalled acts of kindness very vividly, because they stood out in a world where they were not the norm. Brothers were expected to keep their distance, and boys learned to hide their distress, loneliness, fear and unhappiness.

General conclusions


General conclusions 1. The pattern of abuse in Tralee was broadly similar to that in other industrial schools for boys, particularly those operated by the Christian Brothers. 2. Physical abuse was systemic and pervasive, and cannot be explained as a series of discrete cases of individual lapses. 3. Abuse became a matter of concern when it threatened the interests of the Congregation but not when it endangered boys. 4. Br Marceau’s brutality continued for so long because of inept, uncaring and reckless management by the Congregation and the authorities in the institutions in which he served. 5. Corporal punishment became physical abuse because of the excessive violence used and its general application and acceptance as a means of control of the Institution. 6. A junior member of the Community reported Br Garon’s sexual misconduct with boys to successive Superiors, and the probability is that other Brothers were also aware of his behaviour, which extended over many years . More sexual abuse could have taken place in Tralee without being reported. 7. Br Garon’s behaviour was reported. The problem was the failure or refusal by three Superiors to deal with it. 8. Predatory physical and sexual behaviour by boys on other boys was a prominent feature of life in the Institution and a source of anxiety and pain for younger boys. 9. The standard of physical care varied greatly depending on the capacity of the Resident Manager. 10. Trade training offered limited opportunities and became irrelevant and obsolete over the years. 11. Witnesses complained of a climate of fear in the Institution, of humiliation by the Brothers, the fear of sexual and physical bullying by their peers, and of the isolation experienced by children who were separated from families. A former member of the Congregation who visited Tralee briefly in the 1960s described the atmosphere as ‘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’. The boys were ‘pathetically grateful’ for any act of kindness. 12. Department Inspections once again did not record the absence of a punishment book in Tralee and in one case that came to official notice Department unquestioningly accepted the proferred explanation.

  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.