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Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Emotional abuse


The physical care that was provided was at best a minimum standard. The children were not well fed and were not dressed properly for a significant part of the period under review. The buildings were cold and drab and badly maintained, and there appeared to be very little in the way of recreation for the children. Indeed, when writing closing comments about Tralee in the annals, the final Resident Manager, Br Roy, commented that ‘recreation facilities hardly existed’.34


Tralee did not present a particularly edifying picture, but even with all of these shortcomings, it could still have offered a measure of comfort and security to the children, as was shown when one Resident Manager took an interest in the needs and welfare of the boys. When the atmosphere was right, the Brothers and boys could interact in a positive and supportive way.


Both complainants and former members of staff gave evidence as to the nature of the relations between the boys and the Brothers. Complainants spoke of instances of gratuitous cruelty that indicated a generally negative attitude towards the boys on the part of the Brothers.


One complainant, who was in the school in the 1940s, described how he was treated by the Brothers: There was no such thing as being good to you, there was no such thing as being good to you. You were there, you were just there to be worked and looked after. I couldn’t say I ever had a kind word from a Brother.


Another complainant told the Committee that he wet the bed until he was almost 16 and he got ‘some atrocious abuse over that’. He spoke of how the Brothers, but mostly one particular Brother, Br Ansel, would hold up the sheet after he wet the bed and show it to the rest of the School, mocking him. This led to him being labelled a bed-wetter by the other boys. This was, at the time, ‘the lowest you could be’.


Another former resident said that you never went to a Brother and told him your problem. He was being severely abused by Br Marceau, who was well known to the Congregation for his excessive punishment of boys in his care, but he could not speak to the Brothers about it because he did not know if he would be believed. If he was not believed, he could get a ‘hiding’ from the Brother he told. Then Br Marceau would be told and he would get a ‘worse hiding’ from him for telling lies. ‘That’s the way it was, you didn’t go to a Christian Brother because you didn’t expect any help from him’.


He also said that, if two boys had an argument, the Brothers would put them into a boxing ring and ‘let them settle it that way’, regardless of whether one boy was older than the other. Br Bevis confirmed that boxing matches were organised, although he maintained that boys of unequal size were not pitted against each other.


A fourth complainant, who worked in the laundry, recounted what occurred when smaller boys were brought to the laundry with wet sheets from their beds. He said: Yes, I can remember it quite vividly. Any of the boys – it depended on who the Brother was. They would parade the boy with his sheets in his hands, his wet sheets, the sheets he wetted in, and this little boy would be woken up there. As I said, I was between 14 and 15, I was old enough to get a job there, and I was able to see who is able to come in the door. Quite often the boys would walk in and the Brother would follow to humiliate the boy with his wet sheets, all the other children would follow the Christian Brother laid on to humiliate this little boy there. They would all be giggling, like kind of kids would be doing, giggling there, not understanding what the nature of that was. Here is this little boy there, standing with his wet sheets and he’s terrified. The Brother would turn around and say “right, ... he has wet his sheets, you have now got to wash his sheets. Now there’s the belt, give it to him so he won’t do it again”. To look at that little boy’s eyes, to look at that little boy’s eyes ... I wouldn’t punish him, the boy was too frightened. I understood what he was going through because I was frightened that way so often. If I didn’t flog that little boy I got the flogging.


This complainant recalled that, on the day of his departure from Tralee, two Brothers stood at the gate and told him he was going to a job in Co Cork. When he asked them whether they knew where his mother was, they ‘kind of sniggered’ and told him that his mother did not want to know him, that he had been a failure in Tralee and that he would always be a failure.


Another complainant remembered that he was always crying and so was given a nickname by Br Bevis. The Brothers and the boys referred to him by that name throughout his entire time in Tralee until he was 16. He was beaten on a regular basis, mostly for crying. Older boys picked on him and it was humiliating. Br Bevis laughed at him while calling him this name. Br Bevis did not remember a boy with that nickname but admitted that it was possible he could have called him that name. Br Bevis apologised if it caused him any hurt, but he denied being complicit in the taunts.


The witness also explained how he had been put into the small dormitory and that the boys who were put into this small dormitory were perceived as ‘pets’, i.e. the Brothers’ favourites: Being the pets you were really the worst treated because the other boys used to hate you. They used to think that you were spoiled and you were telling them information and things like that. So both ways you were caught like, you know.


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.


He said in evidence that his memory of Tralee related mainly to the demeanour of the boys. He said that he did not beat any of the boys when he was there but, not knowing the culture that was there, he talked to them. He said that the culture in Tralee was ‘essentially you didn’t talk to them on an individual basis because that would encourage them to – that was too soft and I was going in very soft on lots of levels’.


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’.


He went on to say that he recalled it as a place where he intensely disliked the way the boys were talked about by the staff. He added, ‘I think there was a sense of them, you know, as being just simply a problem. I remember it as harsh in its general atmosphere’.

  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.