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Although none of the respondents spoke of a climate of fear in Tralee, Professor Tom Dunne, a former Brother, referred in an article he wrote to such an atmosphere: It was 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.20
One ex-Brother, Professor Tom Dunne, who left the Congregation after seven years and has written articles on his experience of being a Christian Brother, spent a short period in Tralee doing holiday relief work in 1963. He said in one of these articles that he had been shocked, while watching ‘States of Fear’, by the testimony of one man who claimed to have suffered appalling abuse whilst in Tralee. Professor Dunne said that he had spent several weeks on relief duty there in the summer of 1963, but had subsequently suppressed all memory of that time. He told the Committee he believed that he had psychologically wiped the memories of his time there from his mind because it was such a distressing experience.
Professor Dunne went on to identify what particularly bothered him about the boys in Tralee. He said that ‘they were pathetically grateful and almost tried to form some kind of ... bond with you’. He said that the boys in Tralee were ‘very ... surprised to be talked to in a way that wasn’t simply authoritarian and they were almost pathetic in their response. I think it affected me a lot. That I remember’.
In his article published in the Dublin Review, Professor Dunne was even more explicit: At this remove, I can only recall that it was a profoundly upsetting experience, not because I was witness to any particular horror, but because of the atmosphere of meanness, bleakness and fear. This was a different world from the excellent school less than a mile away ... and even more from our comfortable, normal life in community ... My clearest memory is of embarrassment at the harsh demeanour of staff and the cowed servility of the boys, so overwhelmingly grateful for any hint of kindness. Perhaps I put it out of my mind as soon as I could because of the overwhelming sense of human misery and my own inadequacy in the face of it ... It was 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.
Professor Dunne went on to say in the article that the Brothers ‘often left the far more needy boys of their industrial schools to the inadequate or the troubled, who were given no special training and little supervision’.
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’.