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Chapter 9 — Tralee

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Physical abuse


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.


This Visitation Report contained all the criticisms that the Superior of the school in the Midlands had made some years before: Br Marceau was using excessive corporal punishment, he was causing actual bodily harm to the boys, and could not be disciplined as he could see no wrong in himself. In the follow-up letter to the Resident Manager, he was advised: It appears that it is still necessary to keep Br Marceau under surveillance and that his indiscretions are liable to give rise to embarrassing situations ... he must be absolutely forbidden to punish the children.


The next year, the Visitor observed that Br Marceau, ‘who has a small class (10), seems to have steered clear of trouble (corporal punishment) during the year. He is very painstaking in the preparation of his work but lacks prudence’. He was teaching second and third standards, and one class in fourth standard.


Subsequently, however, the problem recurred. The next Visitor found him ‘most devoted’ but he still criticised his behaviour and his potential for being a ‘danger’. He wrote: [He] had a few breaks re punishment, not TOO serious, but he is always a potential danger, and difficult to convince. I have warned of this danger and told him that there is to be no punishment except in the approved method and that as little as possible. He is inclined to lose control of himself and then anything could happen.


Br Seamus Nolan, at the Phase I hearing, commented on this situation: It was perfectly obvious that there was to be no more of this. He would have told the local person, the Provincial Superior, that [Br Marceau] would have to be removed from teaching. In the meantime I think the Provincial Superior already had that power and it wasn’t exercised unfortunately.


Contrary to Br Nolan’s interpretation of Br Marceau’s removal, there is no evidence that Br Marceau was prevented from finishing the academic year as a teacher. At the end of the school year, the internal national school closed down anyway. He was not removed from the Institution and still had access to the children for over a year after the Visitation Report mentioned above.


A later Visitor wrote that Br Marceau was ‘completely useless as an efficient staff member. He is not teaching and while the boys are at school he is free all day. He cannot be given any responsibility even in the evening time with the boys’.


Br Marceau was transferred from Tralee to St Helen’s, Booterstown in the late 1960s. According to the Christian Brothers, he did not teach again.


The inadequacy of the Resident Manager appointed to Tralee in the 1960s was discussed above. He was considered by the Visitors to be lazy, disengaged and mentally slow. Such a man was clearly unable to protect the children in his care from the unpredictable violence of a man like Br Marceau.


This Brother continued to teach and inflict extreme punishment on boys for 10 years. His behaviour was severe and excessive and was known at the time to the Leadership of the Congregation.


The Opening Statement said that the Brother’s ‘withdrawal from a teaching and supervisory capacity in the school was long overdue when it occurred’. At the Phase I hearing, Br Seamus Nolan acknowledged that this Brother should not have been sent to Tralee after what happened in Glin. He could not explain it. He accepted that Br Marceau should have been removed before leaving the school in the Midlands. At the Phase III hearing, he also acknowledged that it was ‘absolutely indefensible and extremely difficult to understand, impossible to understand how it [was] allowed to go on for so long’. He claimed the Brother was there ‘essentially as a supernumerary to help out, not in an official capacity, and maybe the idea was that perhaps some supervision would be enough for him. But he had also failed on that in other occasions’.


In short, no explanation could be proffered by the Christian Brothers as to why this individual was permitted to continue to have control over children in several different schools.


Br Nolan also stated during the Phase I hearing that he believed that Brothers in Tralee would have complained about Br Marceau, but that there were no written reports apart from the Visitation Reports.

  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.