This was not explained in the book but it seems to be a self-congratulatory and pejorative reference to the cries that the beating produced. The Prefect, Br Alfonso,6 who made the entry gave evidence to the Investigation Committee, and denied that the reference to Beethoven in the context of being conducted by Toscanini had anything to do with striking the boys, but was to do with making them sing.
The severity of punishment, as recorded in the book, is greatly in excess of what some respondent witnesses remembered. Br Alfonso was insistent that the amount of punishment was not excessive, and he was quite vigorous in defending his position. The numbers of blows recorded in the book, however, were wholly in conflict with his recollection, and counsel for the complainants suggested to him that the evidence of this book was more reliable because it was a contemporaneous record, and the Prefect or other person recording the punishment in the book had no reason to exaggerate the amount. The intention must have been to give an accurate description of what was inflicted.
Apart from Br Alfonso, the Investigation Committee had evidence in the form of correspondence from Br Giovani,7 who served in Upton for one year in the 1950s, a period covered by the entries in the book, which gave a different impression of the level of punishment from that indicated in the punishment book.
The 1952-1963 punishment book provides evidence of the severity of punishments that were inflicted in Upton in the 1950s and early 1960s. It contradicts the recollections of Br Alfonso and Br Giovani, who recalled that punishments were not excessive, and supports the accounts given by the complainants. The later book contrasts unfavourably with the one kept in the late 19th century. It is not comprehensive, it is not methodical and is often not chronological, and the severity of punishment is greater. Some of the comments in the book suggest that they were not written in anticipation of an official inspection of the book, and there is no record of any such inspection. The punishment book is not a complete record, but it is accurate in respect of the punishment that it records. The book does not demonstrate an ordered system of punishment that was properly supervised and recorded on all occasions. The punishment books are not a complete record of punishments administered during the periods they cover. It is highly likely that other beatings were also administered.
Br Alfonso was a dominant figure during his time in Upton. He held the position of Prefect for a number of years from the mid-1950s. He was physically strong, and evidence from former residents confirms this.
One former resident was asked to describe Br Alfonso. He said: He had a bubbly personality, he had a wonderful structure. He was a brilliant golfer and a brilliant hurler ... To me, I was his lap dog. If he hit a sliotar and it went into the woods or into the nettles, me in my short little pants had to go and look for it and bring it back to him. Likewise, with a golf ball. And if you couldn’t find it you stayed until you did.
Another witness described the strength of Br Alfonso when he administered the strap: He really physically forced (indicating). It was like a golf driver and he was a golfer. That’s what he used to spend his time, playing golf. He used use the straps like a golfer. I never got so much pain in my life.
Br Alfonso said that corporal punishment in Upton was an essential tool in the maintenance of order in the School. He was given no training or advice regarding its use, which was a matter solely for his discretion. Other members of staff would send boys to him for punishment, and he always knew the reason for the punishment. He said that he always recorded his punishments in the punishment book and that the Resident Manager inspected his book regularly. When the entries in the punishment book were first raised with Br Alfonso during the investigation into Ferryhouse, in questioning about absconders, he said: The most strokes on the seat of the pants they would get for anything like that, if it were that, would be 10 strokes, that was a lot but that was what it was, that would be the maximum.
Punishment was administered in the Prefect’s office, and it could happen, albeit rarely, that a boy would have to wait outside the office for punishment. Br Alfonso disliked the term ‘punishment’, and described his position as follows: Punishment would be administered – well, I don’t want to call it “punishment”, but I have written in that book which I have there that when boys were chastised, I will use that word, they were advised. So there would be lots of advice going on instead of punishment.
Counsel for three complainants referred to the entry for 19th September 1954, the day on which it was recorded that 18 boys were each given 20 strokes for ‘wretched immorality’. Br Alfonso was unable to recall the occasion when so many strokes had been administered, although it was simple arithmetic (but erroneous because counsel thought 17 and not 18 boys were involved).
On a number of occasions during his cross-examination, Br Alfonso appeared to find some of the suggestions made by counsel for the complainants derisory. One such instance arose when a witness gave evidence that he had felt children were being used ‘like lap dogs to collect your ball’. Br Alfonso was asked why he found this derisory: No, and the reason I laughed, excuse me, no, they were my children, I loved them. I had no approach to the children like that at all, they were wonderful and that is all and they are still my children and that so, just I could never treat any child like that as a lap dog, I could not do that.
He viewed his appointment as Prefect as an awesome responsibility for one so young. Br Giovani had just completed his religious instruction and had received no official training or instruction for his new job. The only advice he received came from his former Novice Master, Fr Cecilio,8 who told him, ‘Don’t be a police man’. These five words constituted his only introduction to a job which involved both him and his colleague, Br Alfonso, taking responsibility for the care and control of over 300 boys.
Br Giovani said that he was never furnished with a precise description of what it was he was supposed to do, but it did entail the coordination of the activities of nearly all of the 300 boys from morning till night. He said that there was very little in the way of recreational activities for the boys when he was appointed. Not surprisingly, in light of their youth, both he and Br Alfonso attempted to remedy this deficiency by instituting a range of games and activities for the boys. He described Br Alfonso as a talented organiser, who was considered totally devoted to the task of trying to improve the lot of the boys.
A witness present in the early 1960s recalled his very first experience of physical abuse. The boys were out for a Sunday walk and, on their return, they used the toilet and were talking to each other in there, unaware that it was against the rules. Br Alfonso overheard them and sent for them up to the office, where they were made to bend over a stool and hold the legs of the stool. Br Alfonso administered six “benders” on that occasion. The witness was not the first of the four to be punished: I wasn’t first, I don’t know who got the first one. Someone was first. Three of us would be standing watching this and believe me when you get one of these, if you thought you couldn’t jump, you would jump when you get one of these, six feet in the air, no problem, especially with Br Alfonso. He really physically forced. (Indicating) It was like a golf driver and he was a golfer. That’s what he used to spend his time, playing golf. He used use the straps like a golfer. I never got so much pain in my life. I remember the first one of those I got. I never thought anyone could go through so much pain as what we went through with them. I got six of those and you were that colour, all your hips would be that colour for weeks after and (indicating) you couldn’t tell no-one. If you told anyone you would get more.
Other Brothers, including Br Donato and Br Ludano,14 gave him beatings, but none were as severe as Br Alfonso’s.