In his report on Salthill, which was commissioned by the Congregation in March 2002, Br John McCormack cfc interviewed a past pupil who was there in the 1960s. This ex-resident acknowledged that ‘we had happy times as well as the sad times’ and recalled with pride participating in the band and the medal he won for hurling. He also asserted that he had received a good education in Salthill, as had most of the boys who were there with him. He arrived at the age of seven, and was fortunate to have an older brother there who could watch out for him. He mentioned one Brother, Br Michel,2 as being very humane but had no such praise for any of the other Brothers there: I was not terribly gone on the rest of the Brothers in St Joseph’s in my time. They were strict and always made you toe the line. Some of them never smiled that I remember, but they must have ... Even though the Brothers were strict, there was none of them vicious or cruel. They must have had a tough time too.
The boy whose arm was broken is now deceased. The only witness available to the Investigation Committee was Br Michel,26 who was involved in the incident with Br Cyrano. Br Cyrano made a statement at the time, in which he said: As I was asking Br Michel something about the Easter tests he mentioned that a boy ... had caused him trouble that morning. He asked me what should he do and I told him that it would be better to give some punishment as he would only cause trouble again. I closed my door and began writing on the black board. During this time I could hear the boy talking and saying “I won’t give in if you keep at me for a week”. The boy was making remarks similar to this but I could not hear them to make them out. My own class stopped their work when they heard the noise next door. I knew from this that the boy was resisting punishment. I continued writing on the board and suddenly the door was opened in a hurry. A boy from Br Michel’s class entered saying that [he] wanted me immediately. I dropped the chalk and went in. As I entered I saw Br Michel and the boy in a corner. Br Michel was holding the boy who in turn had a brush raised as if to hit [him]. I lost my temper and in the spur of the moment I caught the brush and hit the boy. But how often or where I hit him I can’t say for definite. Then I gave the brush to another boy and told him to leave [it] at the far end of the room. As I was going back to my own room again I noticed the boy looking at his arm. I asked him to bend it which he did. I then left the classroom and went back to my own.
Br Michel, the other Brother involved in the incident, appeared before the Investigation Committee and also expressed his remorse, describing it as ‘one of these things that I have to carry with me to the end of my life’. He said: ... a thing happened which I have found very difficult to bear ever since. It is 51 years ago now. In the classroom one morning, a young lad and myself – he wasn’t responding to the slaps that I was giving him, as far as I can recollect it now, and I was a young man, he was quite a hefty fellow. At any rate he decided to rush to the side of the classroom and grab a brush and went to strike me with it. Now I was absolutely nervous, didn’t know what to do and did the wrong thing, unfortunately. I called in another Brother, and he grabbed the brush from this young man and it all happened on the spur of the moment, regretfully. He did strike the young chap and he caused some injury to him. The matter was investigated at the time by the inspector for industrial schools and, regretfully, that other man was transferred out of the place.
This Brother did not know that the transfer was made at the request of his colleague and thought it followed the Inspector’s investigation. Under questioning, he added: It happened very very suddenly and in actual fact I didn’t realise there was any harm done, if you know what I mean, at the time until sometime afterwards, some days later.
Br Michel blamed himself for the incident. He said, ‘I was young, I was timid. I hadn’t the control I should have’. He then uttered the following apology, ‘I wish to apologise profusely to people that I offended and I feel I have done my best to put that before the Commission’.
The four Brothers testified to having heard rumours of colleagues being asked to leave because of sexual abuse in the School. Br Michel described the rumours as follows: There was a rumour as regards sexual matters, that some years previous to our time, there were one or two men dismissed from the Congregation. Now I didn’t know them. I cannot even name them because it was so long ago, but that rumour was about, that a few men were in trouble with boys and they were actually dismissed.
Br Michel was in Letterfrack in the 1960s during which time he was the Disciplinarian. He accepted that Letterfrack was a strict place but he stressed that it had to be: Well, it was a pretty strict place and I think that the children who came had a carefree life before coming. It was necessary to discipline them and unfortunately they had to be disciplined otherwise we couldn’t run the place.
Another variety of punishment which was confirmed by individual respondents was that boys were required to run around the yard as punishment. Br Michel described it thus: That did happen. What I can remember was if a boy, if a mature chap ran away, absconded, the Manager would say “give him a while running around the yard.” It happened during break times it didn’t go on for terribly long, a few days maybe ... it would be during play time and there was always a Brother in the yard during playtime, therefore he would be supervised. The rest of the students would be there as well.
Br Michel described the incident as follows: The young man’s name was Vallois, Br Vallois. He was sent to Letterfrack as a very promising young man, as a teacher and so on. He was very keen and very anxious to work. A few times he asked me – I was in charge of the senior dormitory at the time and he said to me once or twice, “could I take the boys to bed tonight because I would like to learn the ropes?” So I said yes, I was probably glad of the break. It transpires that there was touching going on in the dormitory. Now, I am not perfectly clear who reported it, I presume it was the boy himself. I can’t remember his name, but it went as far as I remember to the Disciplinarian first and it went from the Disciplinarian to the Manager who was Br Guillaume and within a day or two that young man was transported by car to Dublin. I am not certain if the boy concerned was brought also, I have an idea he was. So the Provincial interviewed them and I am not again certain if the offender was let back for a short time to collect his stuff, I can’t recall fully. At any rate at the end of that year that young man left the Congregation. I don’t know whether he was dismissed or whether he decided to discontinue as a Brother. That’s the story in brief.
The Congregation’s Submission stated that ‘the Congregation accepts, on the basis of the evidence of Br Michel and on the basis of its own records, that Br Vallois was involved in some level of sexual abuse’.
Br Michel confirmed that teaching in the school was very difficult: Well progress was very slow. The boys came to us and they were assessed for a class that best suited and then they went up as they progressed. I assure you it was a slog in the classroom, they didn’t want to learn most of them, they weren’t used to being in school they weren’t used to sitting at a desk all day long.