Tralee native Edward Walsh recalls the terrible abuse inflicted on boys in primary and secondary schools in the 1950s by Christian Brothers. Edward believes much of this abuse has never been spoken about, and he is encouraging people of that era to report what they saw.
Tralee native Edward Walsh (76) has lived in Nottingham in the UK for almost 50 years since leaving Dublin in the late 1970s.
Tralee is still a big part of Edward’s life as he enjoys charting the vast changes that have taken place in the town since he attended primary and secondary school in the 1950s.
His memories of that time are not all replete with affection. This is the era when abject cruelty and punishment was perpetrated against those unfortunate to incur the wrath of religious orders.
Edward explains that while abuse suffered in industrial schools and Magdalen laundries has gained most of the attention in recent times, abuse doled out in Tralee’s primary and secondary schools is seldom discussed openly.
Edward talks about the Christian Brothers and how they brandished their authority against pupils, usually against those from poorer, socio-economic backgrounds.
In 1956, Edward witnessed a classmate in primary school at Edward Street being badly beaten by a Brother.
The boy was beaten for saying he wanted to work as a messenger boy for £1-a-week rather than progress to secondary school.
For this, the boy was viciously kicked and punched. Even to this day, Edward regrets not intervening.
“He beat him all over the room and nobody objected. If one of us had just stood up, the rest of us would have followed. It taught me later in life that if someone is being bullied, I must stick up for them,” he said.
He describes some of the Brothers as ‘deranged’ in their abuse of boys, and that lay teachers would not engage in abuse. The exploitation of pupils was a daily occurrence that included sexual abuse.
“For some reason I would often be called to the Brother’s office where he would hug and press himself against me. This happened a few times,” he said.
"It wasn’t until later when I left school and got talking to some friends that they mentioned they had experienced the same. Nothing was ever done about this.”
Edward believes many of the Brothers behaved inappropriately because they were institutionalised at a young age, and were often forced into the Brotherhood because it boosted a sense of social pride for their parents.
“Society at that time is to blame. They ignored what was happening, simple as that. No one would believe you. If you took it to the guards, they wouldn’t take you seriously,” said Edward.
“Think about it: there was no way the abuse was going to get into the media. And a lot of people left for England at a young age and left that life behind them. What happened then wouldn’t happen now,” he said.
“The Brothers could be very violent. I was off sick one day and my father wrote a sick note for me on a piece of cardboard. He had lovely writing.
“The Brother said, ‘do you expect me to believe that? ‘ And he battered me.
"In the Green, there was another Brother who was insanely violent. He would go around the corridor punching pupils in the back of the head.”
Edward says the discrimination and stigma against boys from Tralee’s council estates was endemic among the Brothers.
He tells of how the sons of prominent businesspeople in Tralee sat at the front of the class and were never subjected to abuse.
“There was a lot of humiliation at that time of the poorer boys. But, of course, the Brothers could be very selective about who they hit. The boys from big houses, whose fathers had good jobs, weren’t touched,” said Edward.
“I remember applying for a job at a garage in town and my address was the first thing asked. He said at least I wasn’t from one of the council estates as he found the young workers there useless.
“He denounced them. But when they discovered I was 16, they wouldn’t give me the job as he had to pay a stamp for me. People were stigmatised,” he said.
When Edward was in second year, he remembers the Brothers giving pupils forms asking if they wished to join the Christian Brothers.
A simple yes or no answer box was provided. Edward recalls some of the boys being intimidated into ticking the yes box.
“There was no parental consent, they simply dropped the paper on our desk and more or less told us what to do. I told him I didn’t want to participate. I stopped short of saying I didn’t want to become one of ye, but I knew I’d get beaten for that.
“I’m not sure how many ticked no. But to have no parental permission, we were only 14,” he said.
Edward remembers seeing the boys from St Joseph’s Industrial School in Tralee being walked through the town.
“I used to see them on their crocodile walks every Sunday where they were supervised at either end of the queue. They couldn’t talk to anybody,” he said.
“You could see from their clothes they were hand-me-downs. They could be awfully cruel times.”
The reason why Edward decided to share his recollections is because he wants more people his age to come forward and tell of the abuse suffered in schools.
“I definitely hope more people would. I think if they were encouraged to reach out, they would. I’m not bitter about that time as I’m not that kind of person,” said Edward.
“But there are many untold stories of abuse attached to Tralee schools at that time. It was carried out against boys who had parents and families.
“How it ever went under the radar is beyond me. Maybe it’s now time it was spoken about,” he said.