Br Anatole described his arrival at Letterfrack with two other young, inexperienced teachers, Br Dondre28 and Br Iven.29 They were all in their early 20s and they had little more than one year’s teaching experience.
The other two Brothers implicated, Br Iven and Br Dondre, denied to the Investigation Committee in evidence that this incident ever took place or that they were involved in it.
He described its operation as follows: Well, the dormitory leader was the man who dictated what was to be happening. I was not a dormitory leader I was an assistant to Br Dondre so a decision to run around the yard was never mine; but if it was done I might be called upon to stand in the corner of the yard and be there to give moral support to the other Brother who was in charge – the Brother stood in the centre of the circle rather like a ring master and the running was done in silence. It was supposed to calm everybody down, I think it did have that effect actually on recollection, there was a sort of a silent running. When it was over the boys usually went off upstairs to bed, it was done late in the evening time.
Br Dondre worked as a teacher in Letterfrack from the 1960s to the early 1970s. He regarded himself as a sort of gaoler who was hated by the inmates of the school. This sometimes bubbled over in the form of attempted assaults on members of staff. The young Brothers were the front line and, if challenged, they had to take decisive action for fear of losing control over the group as a whole: ... we were the front line, we were the people responsible for keeping these kids in an industrial school, in a contained situation, as they called themselves in prison. Some of them would refer to the place as a prison. So we were the front line. We were the people who were sort of the easy targets for all their unhappiness and frustration and the stress and tension, and all the other things they were feeling.
Br Dondre said that he was physically assaulted on a number of occasions. On the first occasion, when he was supervising a group of 90 pupils, one boy was cursing at another boy and he called him over to chastise him. As the boy approached, he put up his two fists. Br Dondre put his own fists up and the situation was defused.
The next occasion involved the same boy, in the dormitory, when he pinned Br Dondre up against a wall and attempted to choke him. He flipped the boy over. Br Anatole came in and asked him if everything was all right.
Br Dondre described a fourth occasion as the most serious and upsetting incident. He was verbally chastising a pupil when the boy attacked him with the leg of a chair. Br Dondre picked up a stick and hit him on the head with it. The boy’s head was grazed from the blow. The boy dropped and he caught him in a headlock. He got control of the boy and brought him to the nurse who disinfected the wound on his head. He reported the matter to Br Malleville, who criticised Br Dondre for his inability to keep control and letting the incident occur. He was asked whether he understood Br Malleville’s criticism to relate to his loss of temper and he said: No it wasn’t that. It was the fact that the incident happened at all. That I let him get out of control.
He was never given any guidance or direction from Br Malleville or anyone else as to how that control might be maintained. Br Dondre said that he deeply regretted his conduct on that day.
He explained the circumstances in which corporal punishment could be administered in the classroom. The rulebook prohibited the administration of punishment for failure at lessons, but Br Dondre drew a distinction between two types of failure at lessons: the first was failure due to a lack of knowledge, the second was failure due to not having prepared the subject properly. In the former, he would not administer punishment; in the latter, he would. There was a grey area in which the second kind of failure could be regarded as a breach of discipline.
Br Dondre said that he often gave boys ‘a clatter’ for serious offences. He admitted to kicking boys, beating them with a stick or with his open palm. He said that he regretted using corporal punishment but stressed that it was essential for maintaining order. He felt that the boys had no respect for teachers who did not use it.
Br Dondre agreed with other Brothers that absconding was regarded as a particularly serious offence, and recalled an incident where absconders were punished with a fire hose. It was also punishable by the withdrawal of home leave, head shaving and by being beaten with the strap. It was usually dealt with directly by the Resident Manager.
Respondent witnesses confirmed this. Br Dondre said that it was a recognised punishment and it was done in order to stigmatise them. Br Francois had a similar recollection. He saw it done and presumed it was a ‘badge of disgrace’.
Br Dondre saw it happen once and did not approve of its use: The fire hose, I only ever saw it being used once. There were a couple of boys absconded and they were brought back. That night Br Anatole came to the dormitory and he took the two boys from the dormitory and put them into their bathing togs, they were taken from the dormitory and I went with them. I didn’t know what he was going to do; I didn’t know where he was bringing them. I followed them down to the yard, down the side of the kitchen and he took the fire hose off the wall and he hosed the two boys down with the fire hose. Then he gave it to me to continue on and I turned it off.
Br Dondre described Br Dax as follows: He was a sort of a witty sort of person, he liked having a laugh. He liked joking. He took his job; he took the kitchen thing very serious. He invited me in a couple of times to test the food, to taste it and that, yes. Didn’t see much of him because when he was on duty, when he was doing the kitchen work, I was doing something else. As a Community man, well, as a Community, the Brothers saw very little of each other in Letterfrack.
Br Dondre said that he was not aware of Br Anatole’s activities at the time.