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Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


The Christian Brothers no longer have a copy of the Canonical Warning issued to this Brother, but its ineffectiveness soon became apparent. Less than nine months after the Canonical Warning, the Superior had to report further transgression. He wrote to the Brother Consultor: My v dear Brother Consultor, Br Marceau is again in trouble. Last night, a [parent] called on me. He charged Br Marceau with pulling hair out of his son’s head. I brought Br Marceau to see the son and hear the charge. Br Marceau denied it and [the parent] called him a “liar”, and said he believes his son, who on being questioned would not admit the Brother did it until he was assured there would be no fear of consequences on telling the truth! [The parent] said on leaving, he would take his own action next time it happened – he would not go to the Superior or [text illegible] into Br Marceau’s room and deal with him, not with “Kid gloves” either. I intended investigating this matter to-day (Sat), but had not time, as Monsignor O’Byrne called in. I am inclined to believe [the parent]. I may be wrong, of course. Anyway Br Marceau told me to-day the two ... boys in his class should be put out until such time as their father apologises! I had reason a month or so ago to talk to Br Marceau on another matter and he accused me rather passionately of exaggerating things last year to you and the Br Provincial. In all, he is the “innocent” one, and we are all against him. He believes this and though he has zeal and works hard, he has no common sense. I mentioned some time ago when writing you, that I have still to face angry parents and submit to insults. I am not going to interview another parent who comes to complain about Br Marceau. I am sick and tired of it all. Please do not write to him on the matter. He will deny everything. And I shall appear a “greater” enemy in his eyes.


There is a note of despair in the letter. The Superior’s many pleas for action to be taken had come to nothing and now Br Marceau was shifting the blame onto him. His apparent helplessness is puzzling: faced with continued violence against his pupils, he seemed to have no power to do anything but complain. It seemed he did not even have the power to suspend Br Marceau.


He had also seen a young boy too frightened to blame Br Marceau for fear of punishment for telling the truth, yet his major concern was not for the boy. His letter was above all about his own dilemma of how to cope with Br Marceau and other potentially irate parents.


The Brother Consultor’s reply was also despondent and gave no expectation of prompt action. He wrote: My very dear Brother Superior, We are indeed sorry to learn that Br Marceau has occasioned more trouble for you. At your request, I shall not write to Br Marceau about the matter for the present. You are requested, however, to try to get, if possible, the correct version of the incident that caused the complaint. The matter can then be raised at Visitation time or before then if necessary.


Unable to deal with Br Marceau, the Superior’s one hope was to get the Visitor to take action. By return of post, he protested that he had already got the truth of the matter, and he gave further details. He went on to implore the Brother Consultor to remove Br Marceau from the School: My v. dear Brother Consultor, I thank you for your letter received to-day. I was indeed sorry to have to write you again about Br Marceau, but I could not help it. He will never learn his lesson. I interviewed this young boy ... aged nine, today. He states Br Marceau pulled hair out of his head, for doing the wrong sums. I asked him about other boys probably seeing it and he said that they may have. I don’t want to question other boys in Br Marceau’s class. I asked this young boy too if he was asked since Friday – the day it happened, about the matter. He told me Br Marceau said that he [the boy] was telling lies and he admitted it, but it was true that Br Marceau pulled his hair out, as he did in June, when his mother complained. Why should this boy make up the story or why should his father come here in such a violent temper? Br Marceau still maintains he did not pull his hair out, and wants me to take some action against the father of the boy for his “threats”! Incidentally, I warned Br Marceau not to talk to the boy about the incident and yet I have it from the boy as also from Br Marceau that he questioned him again yesterday. After this incident of punishing last year, the then Br. Provincial wrote me that he contemplated sending Br Marceau to Waterpark but there were difficulties. In view of the past history; I expected Br Marceau would be transferred in Summer. I wrote you on this matter since Summer. Believe me, there is nothing personal in this. I am writing in the interests of the School, as well as in Br Marceau’s interest. He would not make a good impression if there was a Court Case. I have forbidden Br Marceau to use a leather and it possible he is using his hands now. I heard him at times shouting at these unfortunate children. He has done a lot of harm to the School by his severity. He really is not responsible; for, his IQ is that of a young child. In conclusion; this is the fourth complaint and I hope the last here; but I doubt it. If there is another, I am not meeting the people concerned. They may go where they like with the complaint. I suggest transferring Br Marceau at Christmas; it may be easier then. If you have no Brother, I could try and get a lady teacher. Please do not take me as dictating to you, but I see no Solution except a transfer. You could ask Br Reymond or any Brother here about Br Marceau. Br Reymond also agrees with me that this Brother is not responsible. He is a bit mental. As I stated already, your writing Br Marceau will not help. He is denying everything; so it is his word against a boy’s. As regards the mark in the head of [the boy]. I examined it and it is about the size of a sixpenny piece. It is not noticeable with the rest of the hair pulled over it.


The letter was unrelenting in its criticism of Br Marceau. The Superior made it clear that the violence would continue, and that he had seen the physical evidence of the violence – the bald patch on the boy’s head where the hair had been pulled out. The facts were overwhelming. He implored that the Brother be speedily transferred. The Brother Consultor’s reply offered no quick solution: My very dear Br Superior, Thanks for your letter re. Br Marceau, received this morning. The whole matter will have to come before this Council in due time. There are only two here at present, Br Tavin and myself. Br Marceau did get a canonical warning early in the year and apparently there has been a recurrence of the fault. I suggest that for the present you should point out to Br Marceau the seriousness of his position at present. That may be a restraint on him. You mentioned his being removed at Christmas. You ought to investigate the possibility of getting a lady-teacher for the junior classes. Would Miss O’Neill5 be able for that work? When you learn of a satisfactory solution to the difficulty – without, however, making any definite arrangement – please communicate with us and there may then be the possibility of changing Br Marceau. ... I am hoping that you will be able to get a suitable person to look after the young children. That seems to be the best solution to the trouble.


The Brother Consultor could not remove a physically abusive teacher without having replacement staff. This fact suggested the harm and injury being inflicted on young children was secondary to the staffing problem. The dilemma of where to put Br Marceau, to avoid the wrath of parents and the threat of litigation, was solved when he was moved to an industrial school. Br Marceau was transferred to Tralee less than two months after the Brother Consultor wrote the above letter. There was no evidence to suggest that the Superior there was warned about him before he arrived.


Within weeks, it became apparent that the move to Tralee made no difference to the behaviour of Br Marceau. The Visitation Report soon after his arrival stated that Br Marceau did not seem to be ‘quite normal and would appear to be deteriorating mentally’. He was evidently ‘lacking in good sense’. This precisely echoed the criticism made several times by his previous school.


The follow-up letter to the Resident Manager noted that this Brother ‘may perhaps be inclined to be rather too exacting’ and, accordingly, the Resident Manager would have to ensure that his ‘zeal’ for the children’s progress did not get the better of him. The diplomatic choice of words reiterated the criticism that the Brother was too strict and would have to be watched to prevent him doling out excessive punishment to boys for not learning quickly enough.


Seven months later, Br Marceau was transferred to Glin, where he remained for over a year and a half, when he was transferred back to Tralee. The reason for the transfer, according to the Christian Brothers, was a staffing problem. They then suggested that it may have been to assist an elderly Brother, who also arrived in Glin at the same time. There remains uncertainty about the matter.


A full account of Br Marceau’s behaviour at Glin is covered in the chapter on that institution Briefly, he was involved in an incident where a boy called him a ‘Madman’ and, by his own account, he ended up hitting the boy ‘a few slaps on the hands’. That evening a swelling was noticed on the boy’s jaw, and he accused Br Marceau of hitting him on the jaw with his fist. An X-ray revealed the right mandible was cracked. Br Marceau was moved, within a matter of days, back to Tralee. He did not receive another Canonical Warning. The letter notifying him of his impending move warned him about his behaviour. It stated that he was wrong to repeatedly question a boy to force him to reveal the names of other boys who used the nickname ‘Madman’. His disregard for the Superior’s authority was ‘most reprehensible’. And he had made ‘a mockery of the Superior’s position of authority in regard to the boys’. The letter continued: I hope you will do good work in training the poor boys of Tralee and in making their lives happy. Certainly your supervision must be keen but let it not be too obvious or prying. Pray for patience to put up with annoyance without losing your temper --- a Christian Brother who has not trained himself to do that is a failure. And respect the Superior’s authority.


It appears that an inquiry was then carried out by the Department of Education into this incident, as there was a letter sent by Br Marceau denying that he struck the boy in the face and saying that he had nothing to add to the recent conversation (presumably with a Department official) in Tralee.


Br Seamus Nolan confirmed at the Phase I hearing that an inspector had been sent by the Department of Education to investigate this matter. He also said: The upshot I think for peace sake he was removed and I think the Department eased off, they didn’t really press the matter once they felt that he was no longer in that particular school.


Br Marceau arrived back in Tralee almost 18 months after having left. There was no indication on any of the material discovered to the Committee that the Resident Manager in Tralee was told why Br Marceau was being transferred there. One Visitation Report noted that Br Marceau was ‘doing well at present and the answering of his class in Irish was good’. He was teaching fourth standard at the time.


A later Visitation Report, however, expressed concern about him. It mentioned he was not on the ‘official staff’: [Br Marceau] is a problem and a constant source of worry and anxiety to the Superior. He has a persecution complex, among others, and is unpredictable. At the moment his chief preoccupation is trying to recover a set of tools which he believes the Superior has taken and his enquiries have extended to the men in the Shops. He has several tea chests and cases of nondescript “property” stored away under lock and key and is constantly adding to his store. The Superior has a big job in keeping him under surveillance ... Br Marceau has a class of eleven boys but his stock of visual aids would supply several classes. I counted seventeen blackboards in his classroom. Most of his charts deal with Irish – lists of verbs, nouns, etc. – and he maintains that much time is saved. The children are tense and answer mechanically and are “encouraged” to use the time before class and other recess periods for learning off these lists and other lessons. He has beaten one of these boys severely, with the usual “black eye” result and boxed the ears of the youngest boy in the place, who attends the Convent School, but, as always, he denies everything when challenged and convinces himself that he is telling the truth. He made a strong appeal to the Visitor to have the Canonical Warning he received for such an offence annulled and he has consulted priests about this. It is preying on his mind.

  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.