Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


Seven weeks later, the Department wrote to the TD as follows: Dear Deputy ... I refer again to your representations regarding William ... who is detained in St. Joseph’s School, Tralee. The Matter has in the meantime been investigated by an inspector of my Department, who interviewed Br [Millard] who inflicted the punishment and Br ... who witnessed it and also young William himself. The inspector’s investigation has established that the facts of the case are substantially as stated in Br Millard’s reply ... to you and that account was confirmed by young William and his companion in absconding, who bear no resentment to the Brothers for their treatment.


No documents, such as interview notes relating to the investigation conducted by the Department Inspector, were discovered to the Committee. Notwithstanding the fact that the punishment meted out was clearly in contravention of the Department’s own rules (in that it was not punishment on the hand but on the buttocks), there was no evidence of any action being taken against the school for breaking these rules and regulations.


Although the Department of Education addressed this incident in its Phase III Submission, it did not clarify the nature of the investigation that resulted in the exoneration of the Brother.


It was accepted by Br Seamus Nolan during the Phase III hearing that the punishment meted out to this boy was an impermissible punishment. He did, however, point out that it was partly within the rule, insofar as the punishment was administered in the presence of a witness.


The question was also raised at the hearing as to why the person entrusted with the investigation of the matter was the person against whom the accusation had been made. Br Seamus Nolan said that the matter may have been dealt with by him so as not to leave a ‘nasty job’ for his ‘successor’. In fact, the ‘successor’ had been in office at the time of the incident. Br Nolan further said that this individual had been appointed Resident Manager and after a short while resigned, and it ‘could well be on account of this, that he resigned from that appointment, though he remained on in the staff as assistant manager’.12 Again, this explanation does not accord with the dates in the documentation.


There has been no documentation furnished to the Committee by the Christian Brothers that would shed light on whether there was any investigation within the Christian Brothers into the matter. Br Nolan acknowledged that it was a pity that the allegation did not go directly to the Provincial, to be dealt with as a ‘completely outside matter’. He said that it was clear that the School at the time felt that it was satisfactory to deal with the matter in this way.


The boy at the centre of this allegation was transferred to another industrial school early the following year.


The correspondence was dealt with by Br Millard, who was the Sub-Superior and the person who had inflicted the punishment. The Department should have questioned the propriety of such a response because of conflict of interest. The Department did not question the unapologetic response of the Brother about his flagrant breach of their regulations. He showed no concern about confessing to such a breach. Where rules for the protection of children in care could be flouted, it is not surprising that abuses occurred. This incident illustrated the difficulty in making complaints about corporal punishment. When regulations were ignored, there was no objective standard by which harshness could be judged and so no behaviour could be criticised or condemned. Documented cases of physical abuse: Br Raynard


In the late 1940s, the Department’s Inspector made the following comment: Generally well run school ... I also stressed the necessity for just corporal punishment and told him of the complaint in the Remand House and the boy who had been whacked with a shovel in the turnip field.


It is not clear what this reference was and it did not appear to give rise to any follow-up letter from the Department. It was similar to an incident described by a complainant who also told of being hit with a spade across the back by a Brother in the mid-1940s. The farm Brother at the time was Br Raynard. This complainant explained that he was hit with the spade when he was working on the farm. He was untacking a horse and forgot to open one side. The horse got a bit flighty and did some damage to the cart. The farm Brother lost his temper and hit him with the spade. He said that he did not hold it against the Brother, however, because he should have been a bit more careful with the horse. This same complainant said that this farm Brother and the two other farm Brothers, Br Madelon and Br Sauville, could be quite severe but fair as well.


Br Raynard was granted a dispensation in the mid-1950s, although it was not clear why this was granted.


The letters from the mid to late 1930s to the newly professed Brothers indicate a concern on the part of the Provincial at the time to ensure that excessive punishment would be avoided, but it was not a systematic approach and does not appear to have been continued by his successors. Restraint could have been achieved by the application of the Rules and Regulations for Industrial Schools, including use of the punishment book. The Congregation’s own Rules set down clear guidelines for the use of corporal punishment, and a proper adherence to these would also have controlled excesses. The Brothers referred to in these letters were unsuitable for work in an industrial school where the duties and responsibilities of caring for the children were more onerous than in a day school.


Contrary to the Department’s regulations, no punishment book was maintained in Tralee. To explain this fact, Br Seamus Nolan told the Investigation Committee during the Phase I public hearing: There was an understanding that a punishment book was for special punishments where the so called crime was very severe and it needed a special punishment, but for whatever the reason there wasn’t a punishment book.


He acknowledged that it was a requirement but, he said, it was one that ‘went into disuse I am sorry to say’.


In the Phase III hearing, Br Nolan accepted that there was no record of a punishment book ever having existed in Tralee. He added that, if the Department had brought up the question of a punishment book, it would have ‘got a result’. He said, ‘apparently the impetus just didn’t arrive, to undo the situation that was there’.

  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.