Br Burcet was both a teacher (1954-55) and a principal (1956-69) in Artane Industrial School. In his evidence he describes the large numbers of physically and mentally disabled children in Artane during his tenure and contends that there was a change in the type of boy sent to Artane in the late 1950s and early 60s. It is his belief that with the development of social welfare services in Ireland the demographic of the resident population of Artane began to change ‘I had a sense that more disturbed children were coming into us in the 1960s, certainly in the 1960s.’
Br Burcet attempted to introduce a special needs programme within the school. He described the resistance from the Department of Education in relation to any deviation from the National Schools curriculum. His belief was that the physical welfare of the children was the primary concern of the Department So, if you are asking me how did the Department see Artane, they were looking at it from a physical care philosophy. I would say they were quite happy.
No such training was undertaken by the Christian Brothers until, in the early 1970s, Br Burcet17, who had worked in senior positions in both Letterfrack and Artane, attended the course in the School of Education in Kilkenny in 1973, and implemented some of what he had learned in the last remaining industrial school operated by the Brothers, Salthill. He recalled his frustration in Artane in the mid-1960s when he was trying to change teaching methods and to introduce psychological expertise. He felt that he was engaged in an uphill struggle and that there was no understanding of the importance of this kind of approach among the Leadership of the Congregation.
Br Burcet,46 who had two spells in Artane, in the mid 1950s and then throughout the 1960s, told the Investigation Committee how one witness had moved him to recall an incident. The former resident gave evidence that the first time he received the strap was from Br Burcet when he was one of the youngest boys in Artane, aged eight or nine: The first experience I have with a strap or a leather as they are called, it was from Br. Burcet. again there is a lot after that but because it was the first one it stuck with me ... I remember retracting my hand ... and then receiving ... the strap around that area (indicating) and then on the buttocks area. That was for retracting my hand ... All I remember, and that’s why it stuck with me, was the stings, the stings in the actual body areas. It was more than two or three [strokes].
Although Br Burcet had denied beating the boy in his statement written in 2002, when he simply wrote, ‘I did not abuse [the complainant]’, he changed his evidence. He said: When I heard him describing it in evidence I was very taken and I was very conscious of how credible it was ... When he was giving his evidence and as he described it, it made a very, very big impact on me ... to hear it in his own words as he described that ...
Br Burcet was singled out for praise by some of his colleagues, and many of the boys listed him among the more kind and fair Brothers. He described to the Committee how the experience of Artane had affected him: In my last year in Artane I was Disciplinarian. I didn’t like the job, I didn’t want the job ... and I wouldn’t say I was very good at it. But during that period there was a fire and part of the building was burnt down ... I was in charge then and that had a huge effect on me ... I became paranoid about where kids were ... if I found boys in places where they shouldn’t be ... I punished them more severely than would have been necessary.
When Br Burcet was asked if he punished more in Artane than in other schools, he replied: Yes, I did punish more. I would say that it was more true of when I went there first than when I started to find my feet there ... In the latter part I probably punished less, until I was made disciplinarian ... it did change me, because when I left Artane ... I didn’t use corporal punishment at all.
Br Burcet later taught in Letterfrack and Salthill.
Common physical punishments were ‘the clatter’ and lifting boys by the hair at the temples or sideburns. Br Burcet said, ‘My interpretation of clattering would be to give a fellow a thump or a clip behind the ear’. These punishments were often used either as a rapid chastisement or as an immediately available alternative to the strap.
Br Burcet was more precise. He said: I recall once using a dowel, yes ... I became paranoid about where people were. Now, I was under a lot of pressure and I was often frustrated and so on when boys went missing because I had this fear that we could have another fire. On one occasion, when a boy was missing and we had to spend a lot of time looking for him, the dowel was – a baby’s cot, you know the little thing? I hadn’t a leather that happened to be handy, and I slapped the boy on the hand with that. The thing broke and that was it.
In an interview given in the late 1980s, Br Burcet described how hard he had to work there. He said that, on one occasion, 100 boys contracted influenza, and he was on his own in the dormitory looking after them. He described the utter exhaustion he felt at the end of the outbreak. Looked at from the perspective of the boys, one Brother in charge of 100 seriously ill boys was not an adequate standard of care. Whilst the tireless and selfless endeavours of the Brother in question are to be commended, the system that placed both him and the boys in such a situation must be condemned.
A number of staff approached Br Burcet27 in the late 1980s, expressing concerns they had in relation to a care worker who held a temporary position with the Christian Brothers and who had himself been a resident of the home during the 1970s. They recounted an allegation, made by a boy residing in the School, that Mr Nolan had attempted a serious sexual assault on him the previous summer. The boy alleged that Mr Nolan targeted loners and used bribery as part of his modus operandi. Another staff member also recounted a recent incident when she discovered Mr Nolan and a pupil alone in a room, supposedly practising for the school concert. When she entered the room, the boy was sitting on the care worker’s knee and immediately jumped up. She also expressed concerns for another child who was close to Mr Nolan.
Mr Nolan brought proceedings against the School under the unfair dismissal legislation. In correspondence regarding this litigation, Br Burcet noted that ‘it is most likely that Patrick Nolan in his defence will point out that he himself was sexually abused while he was in St Joseph’s’. Br Burcet expressed concern regarding the potential damage that publicity surrounding the court case could do the School. The case settled on the day of the hearing. In the mid-1990s, Mr Nolan made a statement to the Gardaí alleging sexual abuse by three Brothers whilst he was a pupil in Salthill.
Br Ames and Br Burcet were also responsible for introducing professional childcare workers and male and female house parents in the Institution. They adopted modern methods to meet the different needs of the children. The Brothers revitalised the Managers’ Association, which brought together the Resident Managers from all industrial schools and reformatories in the country, using it to meet regularly and to discuss the work that they were doing with the children in their care. Br Ames worked on a draft Charter of Rights for children in care. The Association organised an international conference that was held in Ireland in 1979.
The impact of this professional approach to the work in Salthill was reflected in the 1974 Visitation Report, which was entirely different in tone from those that had preceded it. In particular, the Visitor noted the effect of Br Burcet’s arrival: His [Br Burcet’s] coming to St Joseph’s last August has been a tremendous boon and blessing. He is the Manager’s guide, philosopher and friend in creating an improved atmosphere of care and relationship between the children and the Brothers. His Kilkenny Course in Child Care has brought a new dimension and an added empathy to his work and, slowly but surely, the communication barriers are being removed, the children are becoming much more friendly, open and amenable and are relating much better with one another and with the staff.