The Brothers grim: Confronting an ‘unpardonable’ past

Their defenders say they educated boys whose families couldn’t provide for them; their detractors say they were a byword for classroom brutality and abuse. Starting our series on Catholicism ahead of the visit of Pope Francis, our reporter explores the complex legacy of the Christian Brothers

Regret and sorrow: Brother Edmund Garvey. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Kim Bielenberg

August 05 2018

It is an unlikely headquarters for an age-old congregation that used to be one of the most powerful and feared institutions in the State.
The European Province of the Christian Brothers is run from a modern office block, built by the order in a leafy lane off Griffith Avenue in Dublin 9.
When I arrive to meet Brother Edmund Garvey, the leader of the Irish Christian Brothers, I am greeted by a woman in the reception area of a sleek modernist building with the atmosphere of a small multinational corporation.
In days gone by, lengthy conversations between Brothers and women were actively discouraged.
The rules of the order stated that Brothers “in all conversations with females, must observe great reserve and modesty and make the conversations as brief as possible”.

The Brothers have dispensed with the dark cassocks in which they patrolled classrooms up and down the land for generations. I am welcomed into a boardroom by Brother Garvey, neatly dressed and businesslike in a sky blue shirt and navy tie.
The modern Christian Brothers are a slimmed-down operation. They have had to adapt to a society in which vocations are non-existent – and their role as disciplinarian teachers has long vanished.
Louth-born Brother Garvey tells me that when he became a postulant, a trainee for the congregation, as a 14-year-old in 1959, the order was hitting its peak in terms of numbers.
In its heyday there were as many as 1,300 Christian Brothers across the country – and over 4,000 around the world – who had all taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Now there are no more than 170 brothers surviving in the whole of Ireland – and the average age is 79.
The Congregation’s Irish leader says the last Brother to join up was in 1995 – and he left after only half a decade.
The power may have gone as the Brothers disappeared suddenly from public view, but they have left a deep imprint on the male Irish psyche.
There is a legacy of resentment among many former pupils about their excessive use of corporal punishment.
Memories of beatings are still vivid among a cohort of middle-aged and elderly men, and there is a lingering feeling that all too frequently the punishment was indiscriminate and random.
At the same time, there is also an appreciation that the Brothers provided an education, particularly to the less well off.
Often, when you talk to ex-pupils, they may harbour both resentment and a certain level of gratitude at the same time. When I raise the difficult questions about the Brothers’ legacy, the response of Brother Garvey is one of studied remorse, and he chooses his words carefully.

The congregation’s founder Edmund Ignatius Rice was actually against the use of physical punishment, a point that is highlighted by Brother Garvey.
“He believed that where possible, it should not be used at all,” says Brother Garvey.
“There was a huge overemphasis on corporal punishment that crept into the schools, unfortunately.”
So why did the order go against the wishes of its founder, to such an extent that it became a byword of classroom brutality among a significant section of the population?
Pressure on exam results

He attributes this to the fact that schools were paid by their exam grades – so there was enormous pressure to get results.
Even more damaging to the congregation than the reputation for classroom severity were the damning findings of the Ryan Report of 2009, which found that sexual abuse was “endemic” in industrial schools for boys run by the Brothers.
The report also found that “a climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment” permeated the schools.
“Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” the report said.
Pondering the findings of the Ryan Report almost a decade later, Brother Garvey expresses regret about what happened. “The report was extremely severe on the industrial schools, on the Christian Brothers and the way those institutions were run.

“It’s a matter of extreme regret and sorrow and shame that people would have suffered to the extent that was described in the Ryan Commission in those institutions.”
Brother Garvey acknowledges that the most vulnerable in society living in industrial schools suffered “in horrendous ways”.
“That is unpardonable, unconscionable – and I would almost go as far to say even unforgivable, but I would perhaps not go that far.”
The Brothers leader says the State committed young people to these institutions.
He questions why the severity of the industrial schools was not spotted, inspected and eliminated.

“Somebody had to know, but nothing was really done about it.”
So is it hard for the surviving Brothers to come to terms with the damage done to the Congregation’s reputation?
“If people have a difficulty with us, it is difficult listening to their story and accepting it,” says Brother Garvey.
But he says that generally the local communities in which the Brothers live are extraordinarily loyal, and there are good relationships.
“By and large, they have not shown any animosity or aggression towards the Brothers.”

In 2009, the congregation promised to pay €34m towards a redress scheme for victims of abuse in residential institutions. Brother Garvey says the order still has to pay €8.8m of that amount, and he says he hopes the total bill will be cleared by early next year.
The Brothers may be diminished in number, but the congregation still has a high turnover of cash, tied up in a number of companies and charitable trusts.
Assets of €332m
In 2009, the assets of Brothers were valued at €332m – of which €262m was tied up in real estate and €70m was in financial assets.
On top of this, the congregation transferred school property worth €430m to a linked body known as the Edmund Rice Schools Trust.

It is not clear how much the assets of the order are worth now.
In the most recent accounts published by the charity regulator for 2015 and 2016, the European Province of the Brothers, whose activities are largely in Ireland, had a total gross income of €29m and it spent €33m.
Brother Garvey says the money helps towards the care of retired members of the congregation, most of whom are elderly. The order also funds adult education and summer camps for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, promising a “week of fun-filled activities in a safe and friendly environment”.
Richmond Newstreet, an Irish-registered company linked with the congregation’s international operations, has net assets of €20m, according to the most recent accounts. So, after the horrors of the Ryan Report, and the never-ending accounts of beatings inflicted on pupils in the past, what does Brother Garvey believe is the positive legacy?
“If it hadn’t been for the Christian Brothers, you’d wonder what kind of education system we would have had,” he says.

“They provided a good education and gave it freely, and laid down a good schools infrastructure that is going forward.”
While the abuse in industrial schools and other institutions was investigated in the Ryan Report, has the issue of violence perpetrated by teachers in Christian Brothers schools really been explored. Many ex-pupils still carry the emotional scars.
Professor Pat Dolan, director of the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, believes there should be a type of truth commission so that adult victims can tell of what they suffered in school.
Dolan, who suffered regular beatings at North Brunswick Street CBS, says: “The Brothers did a lot of physical harm and they got away with it – when they shouldn’t have got away with it.”
Brothers carried an exotic range of weapons, from bamboo canes, to chair legs and ruler sticks – and the familiar one-and-a-half-foot leather strap.

“In the classroom, if you got your spelling wrong you got slapped, and at one time I was slapped on a daily basis,” says Professor Dolan.
While this form of corporal punishment was still quite common in other schools apart from the Christian Brothers, many former pupils educated by the congregation report much more violent attacks that went unpunished.
It is the apparently random nature and frequency of these assaults that Professor Dolan finds disturbing.
He remembers one attack from a lay male teacher, who punched and slapped him repeatedly across the head when he tried to defend a classmate with a stammer.
“I was very fortunate in that I had a very protective mother who complained about this, and as a result after first year, it was not so bad.”

Dolan says there are three arguments commonly made in favour of the disciplinarian regime: firstly, pupils got slapped, but it did not do them any harm; secondly, not all the teachers were violent, and many were decent; and thirdly, there is the familiar defence, articulated by Brother Garvey, that the Brothers provided an education when no-one else would do.
Prof Dolan says the fact that some pupils did not feel that they were harmed by corporal punishment should not negate the suffering of others.
Corporal punishment
He acknowledges that there were kind Brothers, but he says many of these men worked with violent teachers – and did nothing to stop them.
By the late 1960s, campaigners were beginning to question the approach of the congregation to discipline and call for a ban on corporal punishment.

Frank Crummey, who was involved in the campaign group Reform, recalls the uproar in Ireland after he went on the Late Late Show in 1968 and accused the Brothers of abusing children.
Crummey had suffered beatings at Christian Brothers schools in Crumlin and Synge Street.
He says that on one occasion, an unidentified cheeky pupil called a Brother with a limp a “hoppy bastard”, and the teacher did not know who it was.
“The Brother took me to a glasshouse, and twisted my leg until I screamed – and told him the name of the boy.”
He remembers the regime at Synge Street as “cruel and vicious”. And he says he suffered more because he would not hold out his hand for a slap – or bend over for a beating. “I could never bring myself to do that, so one occasion, the teacher got another Brother and they kicked the shit out of me in a corner as I lay there.”

Damages of one shilling
Later, in his work as a campaigner for Reform, Crummey was involved when Kathleen Moore took a case against the Brothers when her son David was badly beaten. A jury found the punishment excessive, but only awarded damages of one shilling.
The former Labour Party senator and newspaper editor John Whelan can see two sides to the Christian Brothers story. In 1973, at just 12 years of age as a boy in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, he signed up to become a Christian Brothers postulant and left home for the life of a trainee in Carriglea Park in Dún Laoghaire.
That was in spite of some Brothers in his school meting out harsh punishment.
“At school, there was definitely an element that was sadistic and brutal. They did not pass up the opportunity to give you a dig in the ribs, a crack across the side of the head, or a box across the lugs.”

But Whelan does not go along with the idea that the Brothers were all brutal and says we should not apply modern-day standards to an era when corporal punishment was not only legal, but actively encouraged.
He says he found some of the brothers “extremely decent”.
In his period as a postulant, he says he learned a lot and prayed a lot, read Thomas Aquinas, and spent long periods with his fellow trainees in total silence. The only woman in his life at this time, according to his own account, was Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Gradually it dawned on the teenager that the life of a Brother was not for him.
“I could not see a life without girls – puberty came in the door and my vocation went out the window.”

Whelan says he was shocked at the revelations in the Ryan Report, but not surprised by them.
According to Whelan, if you take a coterie of young boys away from home and school them in a surreal, ​sexually repressed environment over a period of years, there are obvious dangers.
From the 1960s onwards, the authority of the Brothers was increasingly questioned, and their hold on the male population loosened. Brother Edmund Garvey says the cultural change happened from the moment The Beatles made their first noise in Liverpool.
“We began to feel the effects of a well-educated population,” says the congregation leader.
“We created a people who could stand up and question their lives. From the mid-sixties on there was a numerical and inexorable decline.”


Does Brother Garvey truly understand the global crimes his brothers have perpetrated?

Surely the evils perpetrated by his colleagues totally destroys the Brothers legacy?

They have beaten and raped generations.

They have violated children globally.

Their legacy is evil.

They still have multi millions.

But they are a global child rape organisation.

34 replies on “The Brothers grim: Confronting an ‘unpardonable’ past”

I don’t think that anybody can doubt that religious orders, and dioceses in some cases, contributed greatly to the education, health and social well being of the State in it’s first 50 years or so. The State by and large franchised out huge swathes of its responsibilities to the Church. Without that input Ireland would have developed and grown so much more slowly, and in all likelihood would not be the prosperous, young, dynamic, future leaning, europhile country that it is now. HOWEVER……as with most good things, there is a flip side, and that is what we are seeing emerging in the last number of years as we have glimpsed the grimy underworld of the Church and religious orders. It is important that we are able to see and understand both sides of the coin, But in doing so it is also important that we don’t deny either, the good and the bad, and we see them for what they are. Irish people, by and large, are doing a reassessment of what they think and believe, and the country is doing a good job of becoming a much more secular and socially liberal society that does not allow organised religion to dominate anymore the scene, but at the same time is able to find a right level of religious interest and participation which sits with the new Ireland that we all want. Balance in any assessment is important. It is neither one nor the other. There is good and there is bad. It’s not an excuse for any bad that happened, but it is realistic.




The good they did (if truly it can be called that) in terms of education was always a sideshow for these men: principally, they were evangelists and propagandists for Rome. Their educational role was always subservient to that one, overriding objective. It was an education in exchange for souls.

On balance, the Romanist religious orders were bad for Ireland.

The Free Staters didn’t franchise the role of educator to Rome, and its agents: it was too paralysed by the perceived supernatural character of Rome to tell it to go to hell.

Only in recent decades has that State come into its own, otherwise the Republic of Ireland would have remained stuck in its traditional, sectarian, bigoted Roman rut.


True to form, MC. You can never see anything in a balanced, nuanced way, which is often the truth of a situation. I could write the script for most of your posts. They always follow a contrary, negative, mean spirited, angry pattern. God help the people who have to put up with you day in and day out.




No, you couldn’t ‘write the script for most of (my) posts’; you have neither the nerve nor the objectivity.

I did not say that some good was not performed by these men, but I did say that it was subservient to their overriding goal: evangelising and propagandising for Rome. This is history, sir; this is fact. This was the mission of the Irish Christian Brothers, not just in Ireland, but wherever else they inveigled themselves. Education (and it wasn’t for the masses, but for the intellectually or financially privileged) was always a means to an end, not an end in itself.

There was no such thing as a free lunch with these nen: it was education at the price of intellectual autonomy. This was the modus operandi of Rome: absolute conformity to its teachings. And it was the modus operandi of the Irish Christian Brothers, who, in blithe imitation of Rome, often savagely and ruthlessly enforced such conformity. (The apple here did not fall far from the tree. ) It is the preferred method not just of theocrats, but of fascist and communist dictators.

Tell me one thing I’ve said that is untrue about these men, and I’ll apologise without a fuss.

And please do tell me of the nuances you speak. I love that word, ‘nuances’; it, or a variant of it, appears sometimes on this blog to express…Well, to express damn all, really, for none of the posters seems to know the meaning of the word and invariably they misuse it.

Perhaps you can break the mould.


There was good done. But the abused and murdered children was the price paid for the good done 😭


There’s nothing balanced or nuanced when it comes to abuse and it’s cover up particularly if a person has been at its receiving end. Thousands have been abused.


O Brother dear Brother Hi. Life is a mixed bag. Good and bad in one box. There is no excuse for the past butt the challenge now is to prove how the future might be better. Hi sure this takes takes more than a whistle and fluti


I prefer to weep for the children abused and murdered by the Brothers. They beat me but they didn’t kill me.




John 3:16-21
God sent his Son into the world so that through him the world might be saved

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’


Pat why is Fr Mullaney continuing to block compensation for Maynooth survivors. Pat have you ever made contact with Mullaney or his kittens.


—— I remember giving a talk on electrical security standards (being part of a small team, who, when required, give advice and talks to the local Association of Chief Police Officers ‘ACPO’ ((also known as the National Police Chiefs’ Council ‘NPCC’)) for implementation / changes to requirements and guidelines for the Alarm Policy Unit at our local Police headquarters, and other local forces and council authorities within our region.
I digress… the talk I had to give was on how the British Standards (BS kite mark) had been superseded by European Norms (EN50131 which had superseded good old BS 4737:1986 and BS 7042:1988 in this case).
This talk was specifically in the area of panic buttons / Hold-up alarms and Police responses to both Sequentially confirmed alarm signals and Non-confirmed alarms (known as ‘Key holder response, only’) signals – and how Police should respond! 🚨 👮‍♂️
Ahead of my talk before the ACPO I was asked to give a full feedback and implementation plan—taking into account both old and ‘new’ standards: with a realistic and frank detailed appendix on safety and security, from a ‘real’ world perspective.
European Norms/Standards surrounding panic button / Hold-up devices which were installed post June 2012, were now ‘required’ by European Norms/Standards, to have to be activated ‘’Twice to summon Police a Police.’’
So, during a hold-up, one would be expected to press down the two opposing red buttons, simultaneously, (which would cause a Local Alarm / Bells only response; However, to initiate a Police response, one would be expected to, upon releasing the two red buttons, to wait five seconds (5) then press the two red buttons again and hold them for five seconds. Or, if another panic button were to be pressed, anywhere on the premises, this would be sufficient cause a Full Conformed Police Response.
‘’Get down on the floor and put your hands where we can see them…’’ Shock! Terror! And frozen with fear!
Can you see where this is going… However, most UK insurance companies are a little stubborn—as are some of our knowledgeable and highly qualified security engineers—who take great pride in protecting those most vulnerable. While on that subject…
The guys and dolls at ACPO are very much the stickler for laws and regulations; but sometimes—them not being electrical security engineers themselves—rely wholly upon our skills to do the correct and safe thing to keep our society safe. Safety is paramount—who could disagree?
We have some of the best security standards in the world; and our boys and girls in UK Police force are some of the most highly qualified, sometimes off-putting (in appearance only!) and relentless investigators who are ARE the proverbial ‘dog with a bone.’ They would, and indeed have, made Lieutenant Columbine look like a blind lollipop man!
I would like to thank the real life, walking and talking, Detective Lieutenant Columbo, who is the epitome of good, sound, outstanding and unwavering character! It is not everyday one gets a chance to be struck with awe at such dedication and, frankly, outstanding detective work.
Wow! The skills and eccentricities we see in the likes of American crime thrillers and detective drama serious are not that far fetched at all!
—— A big thank you to Lieutenant Columbia, but not just from me, from all those who, during the hold-up, were genuinely afraid and and in great fear to ‘reach’ for the alarm!

—— Sorry to be crass, here are some funny quotes from Her Honor, Judge Judy Shiendlin…
“This is my courtroom and I can say what I want. When you become a judge, we will talk.”
‘’I want first-time offenders to think of their appearance in my courtroom as the second-worst experience of their lives – circumcision being the first.‘’
And not least of all, our very own His Honor, Judge Robert Rinder…
‘’ Never trust people; always trust paper. I’d marry a piece of paper if I could.’’
‘’ I loathe people who are disingenuous or inauthentic.’’
And, the famous…. ‘’I can smell a lie like a f@rt in a lift.’’
+Pat, please feel free to alter, adjust or omit as you see fit. I literally trust you with my life.
Ps I will take any slack — I’m like that you see!


One flew over the cuckoo’s nest 🐦 ⏰ 🧚‍♀️ 💊 - and God help the other poor bugger! At least this side of the water is a lot quieter, now...says:

Am I well in the head? Well… apparently, I am suffering from ‘‘Serious and deteriorating mental health, with onset of psychosis, accompanied with delusions and hallucinations and, am in dire need of psychiatric attention.’’
According to a Narcissist, this is…!
Strange; see, my GP has never even suggested anything of the sort… Ever… Hmm 🤔


5.47: What the hell do you mean? Think You’ve misused the word “tarnation”!! Act of damning or being damned. Why can’t you use correct words?




You thought wrong (‘wrong’ as complement rather than adverb 😆).

‘Tarnation’ here is an American interjection, to express anger or annoyance.

Now go and look up ‘asshole’, another Americanism. 😅


The dog muzzle is still active. For now, but if it is not removed, very soon, I feel we may have another tumultuous tornado!
I AM willing to go to prison, no two ways about it; certainly if it means protecting vulnerable people from boogeymen. And anybody who knows me knows I ain’t messin’ around.
Could prison be a perfect ground for some good Christian evangelisation, no? That is where Our Lord found Himself, among sinners and those who broke the law.


Incorrect, MC.

Your ability to parse is as defective as your ability to reason.

‘Wrong’ is not the complement but rather the object of the verb ‘thought.’

More pontificating!




I don’t know why I’m bothering to correct you, yet again, because nothing got through in the past.

‘Wrong’ here is a noun complement, since I was expressing the past tense of the verb ‘think’ (‘thought’) intransitvely.

Had I expressed ‘thought’ transitively, then you would be correct. But I didn’t.

In your case, it would be wiser, and less embarrassing, not to presume such things, but rather to ask cleverer heads for advice.


It’s essentially the same quandary as for diocesan clergy. What do you do if you joined a religious institute years ago, at school age, went along with the institute’s abusive culture of the time and are now dependent on the institute but incapable of life outside? You use various dysfunctional coping strategies such as drink or focussing on any kids you and your confreres managed not to give PTSD, and try to justify your life to yourself as best you can.
Should the men in this position have done it differently? Totally. But the tridentine ideal of catching them young means they didn’t. It’s abuse within abuse within abuse.


More bravado and pseudo theory from MC.

“Wrong is a noun complement.” Hahaha.

A complement has to be in the same case as its antecedent. While I is nominative, wrong is objective.

So, incorrect yet again – but continuing bluff and bluster.




If you could read, you could look up the word ‘wrong’ in a dictionary and discover, among other things, that it is indeed classed as a noun.

You’d also embarrass yourself less.

So learn to read.


And in this case (‘you thought wrong’), ‘wrong’ does indeed relate to the predicate, ‘you’, since it completes the statement.

Hence ‘noun complement’.

I should be charging you for these lessons in English Grammar.

Your ignorance of it is appalling. 😀


Institutionalised or not, abuse is abuse. Raise the alarm, anonymously, if you are in Genuine fear.
But don not standby and watch it happen! You then become apart of the abuse; the abuse becomes systematic; you too become part of the evil. The ripple effect.
It takes just one ‘good’ person to do nothing which, in turn, allows evil to flourish.


At the time in 2009, the Christian Brothers were described as “Ireland’s nightmare from hell.” Others went further and described events as “Ireland’s Holocaust.”


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