Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — Cabra

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St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys, Cabra (‘Cabra’) was founded in 1856 by the Catholic Institute for the Deaf as a residential school for deaf Catholic boys. The Catholic Institute invited the Christian Brothers to manage the School and, after some persuasion, they agreed. The School opened in 1857, and the Christian Brothers managed it until 2000. The School today is under the trusteeship of the Catholic Institute for Deaf People, formerly the Catholic Institute for the Deaf. The Archbishop of Dublin is the Patron of the School.


St Joseph’s, Cabra was not like any other residential school run by the Christian Brothers. They stated in their Opening Submission: St Joseph’s was first and foremost a school for deaf children from all parts of Ireland. It had a residential component for those children who could not travel on a daily basis to the school. All children who came to school did so voluntarily and it is this feature of electing to come to school that differentiates it from any other residential service that the Congregation ran for children such as the Industrial Schools in Artane and Letterfrack.


A number of Brothers who had experience in industrial schools were appointed to Cabra and served there at some point during their careers.


In 1929 the School at Cabra was recognised by the Department of Education as a national school and, in 1952, as a special national school. In 1986, a secondary school was opened on the premises. Both the national and secondary school are administered by a Board of Management and one school Principal. In 1986, six residential houses were built, and these are managed by a Director of Residential Care. The move was designed to change the School from an institutional character to a smaller ‘family’ unit facility, and it introduced lay staff with responsibility for the care of the boys. It was a well-equipped and impressive facility that offered education and care to children who might otherwise not have benefited from the ordinary national school system.


The following photograph has been made available to the Committee: Source: Congregation of the Christian Brothers


Boys were admitted to the School on the basis of direct application by parents or a referral by a doctor, priest or an education inspector. The School also accepted boys from Northern Ireland who were referred by the Education Board there. Others progressed from Mary Immaculate School for Deaf Boys in Beechpark, Stillorgan, County Dublin which accepted boys up to the age of 10. That school closed in 1998.


In the 1930s and 1940s, boys as young as four years of age were admitted, as the prevailing view at that time was that it was in the interests of children with hearing loss to admit them as young as possible. These trends changed over time, and the age of admission rose to six or seven. The boys remained in the School until 18 years of age.


Cabra was both a boarding school and a day school, but the majority of children who attended were boarders. They came from all parts of the country including Northern Ireland. The numbers of children boarding fell from almost 100% in 1938 to less than half in 1998. In the mid-1970s, funding was made available which made it easier for pupils to travel home at weekends. Prior to that, boarders would generally only go home during the school holidays. The authorities in Northern Ireland organised escorts for the children on their journey home, but the same facility was not available for children from the State.


Between 1930 and 2003, approximately 2,018 pupils attended St Joseph’s. In 1938, there were 164 pupils in the School. In 1948, there were 154 and, in 1958, this had increased to 206. Numbers peaked in 1979, when there were 314 boys in attendance. By 1998, numbers had fallen to 164. The number of admissions from Northern Ireland peaked in 1949, when 29 were admitted.


The head of the Institution was the Superior, and the primary and secondary schools were managed by a Principal who was usually the Sub-Superior.


Between 1935 and 2000, the total number of Brothers who had served in the School was 103. There were 13 Superiors during the period 1935 and 1991, seven of whom served a six-year term. Between 1935 and 1991, eight Brothers served as Principal. Because the pupils were either totally or partially deaf, a lower pupil-teacher ratio applied than in ordinary schools. In 1950, this was 14 to 1 and, by November 1955, it improved to 10 to 1 and, by 1987, to 6 to 1.


In 1986, a new management structure came into being with the opening of the post primary school with a Board of Management with a Chairperson. In 1987, a lay Director of Residential Care was appointed to manage the day-to-day running and supervision of the residences. In 2000 the Christian Brothers relinquished the management of the School.


The primary and, secondary school were inspected by officials of the Department of Education. However, no inspection of the residential areas was conducted by the Department. The Provincial and General Councils of the Christian Brothers carried out annual inspections of the School, which included the residential quarters of the boys and the school premises in general. Details of these annual inspections are contained in the Christian Brothers’ Visitation Reports. Officials from Northern Ireland also regularly visited the School in respect of children admitted from the Education Board in Northern Ireland. The Hospital Trust Fund Committee was also entitled to inspect the School. There is a reference in the Visitation Reports of the Christian Brothers to a visit by this Committee in October 1942.


The only detailed reports available to the Investigation Committee were the annual inspections carried out by the Christian Brother Visitors from 1938 to 1989.


Although some parents did pay fees for their children in Cabra, most of the costs were covered either by the State or by the Catholic Institute for the Deaf. The Hospitals Act, 1939 made provision for deaf schools to get funding from the Hospitals Commission, subject to a number of conditions, one of which was the entitlement of officials in the Department of Health to inspect the School. Annual capitation grants were provided by the Department of Education and the equivalent department in Northern Ireland. The School today receives some funding from the Department of Education and the Catholic Institute.

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