In the late 1950s, Robert Moore, a pupil in the Industrial School, died in Tralee County Hospital. His death certificate recorded that he died from ‘Bilateral Pleural Effusion. Senility. Certified’.17 He was 16 years of age at the time.
This controversy first began to emerge in 1995, when former pupils made allegations in the media that Robert Moore had received a severe beating from Br Lafayette in the refectory for refusing to eat his food, and that he had died some days later in hospital.
Br Bevis, who served as a teacher in Tralee for almost 10 years from the mid-1950s, told the Investigation Committee that one morning he was waking the boys when he noticed that Robert Moore had been sick during the night and that his vomit was blood stained. He summoned help from another Brother who used to look after the boys. The next time Br Bevis saw the boy was when he visited him in hospital. He recalled that it must have been on a Saturday as this was the only day he could go. He took the boy a copy of The Kerryman newspaper. He remembered that Robert Moore clung to his hand and, with hindsight, he realised that Robert appeared to have some sense that he was going to die. Br Bevis tried to console him by telling him he was not as ill as others in the hospital, as he did not realise at the time that the boy was near death. Robert Moore died on a Sunday and, although Br Bevis thought it was some days after his visit, it is more likely that he died the next day.
He told the Investigation Committee that he did not recall any discussion at the time about Robert Moore being beaten by Br Lafayette, the Brother in charge of the refectory, and he did not know at the time that this beating had happened.
Br Chapin also told the Investigation Committee about going to see Robert Moore in hospital, he thought about a week before he died. The boy was ‘not very lively’ but did not appear to be frightened. He did not think the boy had any insight into how ill he was. He said he did not hear any talk at the time about an incident between the boy and Br Lafayette. He did, however, remember one of the boys saying that Robert Moore was hurt. He thought that Robert Moore had something wrong with his lungs.
An internal report prepared in recent years and disclosed to the Committee by the Congregation entitled ‘Information relating to Robert Moore’ detailed the stories and allegations that began to emerge in 1995 surrounding the boy’s death and the steps that were taken by the Congregation to enquire into the matter. The following extracts are of particular interest: As part of an internal enquiry, the Provincial Council approached a number of brothers who had been in Tralee in or around the time of the Moore incident. Br Bevis remembered Robert Moore well and visited him several times in hospital. He was able to recall the incident of the beating in the dining room but did not link it to the death of Robert Moore. Br Bevis was of the opinion that Robert Moore died from some form of cancer. It would appear that the time between the beating and the death of Robert Moore was at most a few weeks. The Provincial Council also went in search of Robert Moore’s Death Certificate. On the Death Certificate, the cause of death is given as a “Bi-lateral Pleural Effusion”. As an addendum to this cause of death, the phrase “senility certified” appears on the certificate. This seemed a rather strange addendum given Robert Moore’s age, and a medical doctor was asked to explain the matter. The medical opinion was that pneumonia was the likely cause of death and that a beating would not cause a bi-lateral effusion, even a severe beating. Further enquiry unearthed a story that Robert Moore had an abscess on his neck, and that in the course of the beating he received, the abscess may have burst. There was no hard medical evidence for this story of the abscess, but it appeared to be part of the folklore around the event. The possibility of a flu epidemic in St. Joseph’s at the time also surfaced. It was the month of February and flu epidemics were not an unlikely occurrences in institutions such as St. Joseph’s at that time of year. A heavy dose of flu could lead to the bi-lateral effusion reported on the Death Certificate.
A three-day Visitation Report conducted one month after the death of Robert Moore made no mention of the death of a pupil in the previous month and described the boys as ‘exceedingly happy’.
Br Lafayette was interviewed by the Gardaí. The following exchange was recorded: A number of former pupils have stated that you assaulted Robert Moore and he died a few days later. What do you have to say about this. I gave him a few slaps, but the medical evidence from the hospital would suggest that he died from some sort of lung trouble ... Is there any reason why different pupils would make these allegations against you? I don’t know.
The Congregation have admitted that Robert Moore received a beating from Br Lafayette, but the severity of the beating was stated to be unknown.
One former resident said that Robert Moore had a boil on his neck and that Br Lafayette, who he said did not mean to hurt anybody, was hurrying the boys to finish their meal. He therefore hit the boys, including the complainant, on the back. He said that it was a ‘mild beating’, not one that would ‘kill you’. He said that Robert Moore got sick from that beating, as the boil was hit. He said: Because he hit him in the neck where the boil was. He had a boil in the back of the neck which never healed and he went to bed that evening and he told me he was sick and the following morning he couldn’t get out of bed because he was sick. The doctor came and the nurse was there and they were dressing him for a few days. The doctor decided to take him to St. Catharine’s hospital when he was not recovering so quick.
He praised the Brother in charge of the infirmary for the way in which he tried to look after Robert Moore, but felt that he did not know how to do it properly as he was ‘doctor and nurse and everything’. He thought that about a week or two passed before Robert Moore was eventually brought to hospital. He said that this was ‘an accident that went wrong, a beating that went wrong’. Robert Moore was ‘not murdered’.
Another former resident stated he was in bed sick when Robert Moore was being helped up the stairs into bed. He was ‘whimpering feverishly’ and the boy helping him told this witness that Br Lafayette was ‘after killing him’. He dozed off and, when he woke up, Robert Moore’s bed was empty. He died some days later in hospital.
At this remove, it is not possible to state whether the beating Robert Moore received at the hands of Br Lafayette had anything to do with his death. What this story tells us about the general atmosphere in Tralee is significant. It is accepted that the Brother in charge of the refectory struck Robert Moore because he was not eating or because he was not eating quickly enough. It seems particularly cruel that the children could not even eat their meals without violence or the threat of violence. It is clear from the evidence of individual Brothers that Br Lafayette’s harshness to the boys was known about in Tralee but nothing was done to stop it. This incident in the refectory fits into a pattern of behaviour in the institution whereby violence was used to enforce discipline on the boys. The fact that this boy died after being hit was sufficient reason to warrant a full inquiry, no matter what the cause of death on the death certificate. Only an immediate independent inquiry could have sorted out the issues arising out of this case. If the boy was already seriously ill, the inquiry could have investigated why he did not receive care earlier. If the beating contributed to his death, it could have established why that information did not come to be generally known and investigated as a possible causative factor. This case has become controversial and subject to speculation because the circumstances of the boys death were never properly investigated.