Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 10 — Newtownforbes

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Emotional abuse


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.


The death of a child that Rachel used to look after had a very traumatic and distressing effect on her. One morning, the child was not well and she knew there was something wrong with her: because she was just lying around and I took her on my lap and I hugged her and tried to comfort the child, although I was only a child myself. I sent up word to say that the child wasn’t well, but nobody came down.


She heard that the child had died when she returned from school: So when the school was over that day we heard that she was after dying, and I still see her on the bed with her little long dress laid out and we all queued up to see her. That lasted with me for my life, I always wondered where the child was buried.


The death of this young child was very distressing for her, particularly because of the lack of information provided and the fact that she believed no funeral took place: It haunted me all my life wondering where that child was buried because there was no funeral.


Another source of distress was that she was never told the cause of the child’s death. Records of the Sisters of Mercy noted that the child died of cardiac disease. Another note recorded the name of the child, and the fact that a nun and a senior girl were with her when she died. The Sisters of Mercy at the hearing of this witness apologised for this traumatic event in her life. They said: The Sisters of Mercy would like to apologise to you for the trauma you must have suffered from witnessing her in that state of ill health.


They gave an undertaking to the witness to inform her of the location of the grave subsequently.

General conclusions


General conclusions 1. Prior to 1954, numbers were adequate to ensure that Newtownforbes was financially viable. However, the Department of Education Inspector in the 1940s was very critical of the health and living conditions of the children in the School. It is clear that children during this period suffered serious neglect. 2. Complainants spoke of poor food and clothing in the period after 1954, although there is no evidence that the children were malnourished or starved. Without a large farm or a profitable industry to supplement the capitation grant, the management would have had to struggle economically, resulting in the poor provision of basic needs. 3. The day-to-day care of the children was undertaken by just two or three Sisters. Management ought to have recognised the inevitable consequence of such a system. It was abusive for the Sisters, who had a heavy burden of responsibility and work placed on them, and on the children, who could not have received adequate care and attention. 4. In order to control such large numbers of children, the Sisters resorted to a strict regime, depending to a large extent on corporal punishment. It became extensive, and used for minor misdemeanours, and even though it may not have been abusive in terms of severity, it did result in control through fear. 5. Transferring the Industrial School children to an external national school to be educated alongside children from the local community should have been a positive development, but real integration did not happen. Teachers treated them more harshly and the headmistress ‘had no interest’ in the Industrial School children. They felt different, isolated and inferior as a result. 6. Instead of getting more encouragement to learn, the Industrial School children experienced a more punitive regime, and therefore became more disadvantaged. A Sister who taught in the national school admitted that she used more corporal punishment on the Industrial School children because they ‘had less sense’. She described them as ‘slower and more indifferent and hadn’t their heart in it at all’. Such children needed encouragement and not a punitive, oppressive regime. 7. Heavy physical duties were required of children from a very young age. These chores were unsuitable because of the physical demands they made and the responsibilities placed on young shoulders. Children were required to do onerous chores before going to school, which affected their ability to learn. 8. Residents were required to provide care for infants without adult support or supervision. This was an unreasonable burden of responsibility, inappropriate to their age and was neglectful of the residents and of the infants.

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