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Chapter 10 — Newtownforbes

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Rachel said that there were three girls looking after the babies and toddlers, one for each of the three dormitories. In the mornings, she had to wash and dress the babies, and give them their breakfast of porridge, all before she went to school. No adult, lay staff or nun slept in the dormitory with the babies. When she went to school, two nuns, one of whom was very old, would look after the babies. Once school was finished for the day, she had to go back to look after these young children and take them out to the yard to play. At 5 o’clock, she had to get the children washed and ready for bed before she had her own tea. From 7 to 9 o’clock in the evening, the witness described that she had her study time and then, at 9 o’clock, she went back to the children. At midnight, a nun rang the bell and she got the babies up to put them on their potties. The routine was the same at weekends. Rachel commented that a doctor had told her that she was a mother before she was a child, ‘I find I am living my childhood through my little three year old granddaughter’.


This witness’s favourable comment about the education that she received, because it was ‘an escape from work’, becomes understandable when seen against the background of chores she had to do.


Hannah gave detailed evidence of the daily routine, involving the various chores which she was required to do. From the age of 11 or 12 years, her job was to make the bread in the bakery, early in the morning before going to school: A particular day, would be you would be up fairly early and you would have to get up to make the bread in the bakery. We were quite young at that time, I am not quite sure of the age but we used to have to make bread at quite an early age. Some of the girls were quite small. They had to stand on stools to go in to make the bread, like troughs, to make the bread.


After working in the bakery in the morning, they then went and had their breakfast before attending school. Other chores included washing and scrubbing the floors in the dormitories, staircases and in the convent. Even during holiday times, there was work to be done. She recalled that they had to tease mattresses during the holidays. This witness also worked in the laundry from the age of 14 or 15 years. Contrary to what the nuns asserted, that the girls were happy whilst doing this type of work and were singing, she said ‘We were always quiet and the nun would be saying the rosary around you or whatever, especially in the laundry’.


Hannah described the chores they had to carry out as ‘hard labour’. She alleged that they had to wash the nuns’ clothes and do the ironing.


1.The care of the children was seriously neglected in the early 1940s. In particular, the health and hygiene of the children suffered. 2.The children received a basic primary education, but their career opportunities were predominantly limited to domestic service. 3.The Industrial School children were treated more harshly in school than pupils from the town, and this impacted on their ability to thrive educationally. 4.Children from a very young age were required to undertake heavy physical chores which exceeded their capabilities. 5.Children over 14 years were required to carry out heavy physical labour under the guise of industrial training. 6.Children were required to provide care for infants, without adult support or supervision from a young age.

Emotional abuse


The Sisters of Mercy, in their Opening Statement, conceded that ‘the individual needs of each child could not be addressed; that each child’s potential could not be known or realised’. They acknowledged: It is undoubtedly the case that the children being placed in industrial schools were a particularly vulnerable population, not merely because they were children, but also because, in many cases, of the deprived circumstances from which they were coming. We recognise that there was no identification or understanding of many of the special or particular needs these children must have had, and that this lack of understanding showed itself in many aspects of the running of the schools.


Sr Casey at Phase I referred to the limitations of the system which, she said, did not and could not give individual attention to the children. She pointed out that the School catered for large numbers of children and there was only a handful of nuns to take care of them. She said that they had no childcare experience.


The system was that two nuns worked full-time in the School, with others stepping in for supervision purposes. These nuns worked long hours, seven days a week, which in itself put pressure on them and ‘would have had a huge impact on the children that were resident at the time’. She said that the ‘complaints made by former residents brought home to us in a very vivid manner the experience of the children, and how this kind of a system just couldn’t meet the needs of children’.


Sr Francesca noted that the children in Newtownforbes did not get many visits from their families. It was rare that a child would get a visit. They did not get letters from their families on a regular basis, and some of the children did not hear from them at all. She said that, when she was working in the School, she was not aware of this need to belong to a family. She only realised with hindsight the yearning the children had to belong to a family: in hindsight again, we tried to give them everything, we’ll say, materially, spiritually, physically, but we couldn’t give them what they were longing for and that was family.


Sr Elena commented on the longing for a family and the effect of the break-up of the family unit on the children. The industrial school children ‘longed for affection’: Well, I remember school time, 3:15 or whatever, when we’d close the school, they’d hold on to you and hold your hands and come along with you. To me, that was they were yearning for affection.


She also noticed that: I saw all these children confined, you know, to a very small area and they looked forlorn, many of them.


She added, ‘nobody seemed to claim them’.


Rachel referred to the break-up of the family and the fact that, although the family home was in Dublin, she and her sister were sent to Newtownforbes: I was taken away at three years of age ... My sister was eight and I was three years of age ... I want to know why we were sent, myself and my sister were sent 80 miles away where we had contact with nobody, no family, no nothing. So with the result I lost out on a family.


She had contact with her older sister in Newtownforbes and said that she seemed to bear the brunt of the regime on her behalf. There was no preparation for leaving the School when her time came at age 16. She remembered that she was not even informed that she was going home. A dress and a coat were made for her, and a lay person who worked in the School brought her to the train station, where she was met by two boys who delivered her to her parents.

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  4. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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