Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 10 — Newtownforbes

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The inspection reports for 1941 and 1942 are missing. The next available General Inspection report of Dr McCabe is that of 30th September 1943. On that occasion, she found that the School had ‘much improved since previous inspections’. Her only criticism was the fact that many of the children had no shoes and were going around barefoot. She found that 12 small babies ‘had no shoes at all’ and noted that they ‘looked forlorn and cold’. She was of the view, however, that the medical care and supervision of the children had improved. Following on from this visit, the Department of Education Chief Inspector wrote to the Resident Manager on 13th October 1943 regarding the lack of shoes for the younger children. He requested the Resident Manager to take ‘immediate steps to remedy this matter’ and pointed out in the letter that the practice of allowing children to go barefoot was condemned ‘on medical grounds as exposing the children to the danger of infection from cuts’.


By 1944, conditions had deteriorated yet again in the School. When Dr McCabe visited the School on 15th June 1944 she wrote, ‘I regret to state that this school has gone back since my last inspection’.


In particular, the cleanliness and hygiene of the children was a great cause of concern again: The children looked and were very untidy, necks and hair badly washed and in most cases heads were verminous.


On this visit, she also found that 13 children had lost weight but this, it seemed, was attributed to their having home visits or having returned from hospital. She prevailed upon the Resident Manager to make a number of improvements, particularly with regard to the supervision of the children. From this report it seemed that the supervision was left to the girls themselves instead of members of the religious community.


Dr McCabe made a number of recommendations for improving the standard of cleanliness and hygiene in the School. She recommended providing additional bathrooms, a toothbrush for every child, and a nailbrush and more mirrors. She had also complained about the lack of adequate fire exits in one of the dormitories. One particular dormitory only had one fire exit instead of two, the number the Department felt was necessary ‘so as to obviate, as far as possible, the danger of the loss of life through fire’.


When Dr McCabe visited the School the following year, on 3rd July 1945, she found that there was ‘much improvement generally’. In particular, she was of the view that the children were ‘clean and well cared’ and there was ‘better supervision all round’.


On her next visit on 1st May 1946, Dr McCabe had similar comments to make, noting that the ‘children were much cleaner and tidier’ and the supervision was much better. Again, in 1947, Dr McCabe made the same comments, particularly that the children were cleaner and neater, and the supervision was better. In 1948, it was noted that extra staff were given over to the Industrial School.


In contrast with Dr McCabe’s report in 1948, where she recorded that the School had improved and the children were ‘well cared and supervised’, there is a contemporaneous complaint from a parent of children at the School. A father had visited and had found that his girls were ‘suffering from scabies for months past’. He made a complaint to the Department of Education in person on 24th April 1948. He said that ‘One of the girls hands is practically disabled from the sores between her fingers’.


He also complained about the ‘very bad condition’ of the children’s footwear and the fact they had no stockings. The Departmental note which recorded this complaint stated that the parent in question was asked to put his complaint in writing. It is not known whether he ever did so, but it would appear that he did not. The note ended ‘nothing further in this case’.


Conditions seemed to have improved considerably in the 1950s, and they never reverted to the neglect of the 1940s. This improvement was in spite of a significant fall-off in numbers, which must have had a serious impact on the finances of the School.


Declining numbers were a constant source of worry. The only issue raised by the Resident Manager with the Departmental Inspector was the decline in the number of admissions to the School and the resulting reduction in income. In 1954, Dr McCabe’s inspection report noted that the Resident Manager was ‘very anxious about falling numbers’. On every subsequent visit by Dr McCabe, the Resident Manager spoke to her about this issue and, in 1956, suggested taking in small boys. Dr McCabe informed her that it would not be possible, as the junior schools were also experiencing a decline in numbers and that there were three other schools in the locality who could take in little boys. In 1957 and 1958, the General Inspection Report noted that the Resident Manager was ‘very perturbed about the falling numbers’. In 1959, Dr McCabe again commented that the Resident Manager was ‘very upset that the numbers for admission are falling’.


Dr McCabe did not comment on the impact of the reduced numbers on the ability of the Sisters to deliver an appropriate standard of care to the children.


The issue of falling numbers continued to be a preoccupation of the Resident Manager throughout the 1960s. Each year from 1960 to 1964 the General Inspection Reports noted that the School was ‘very well run’. Each category of inspection was noted as being ‘very good’, particularly food and diet, health, clothing and sanitation. Dr McCabe commented in 1964: The Resident Manager is very co-operative and kind and anxious to make all the improvements she can.


The final Inspection Report for the School was dated 28th July 1966 and was conducted by Dr Lysaght. Overall, he found that the School was well run in each area of inspection.


The Sisters of Mercy were unaware of the contents of the Department of Education records in respect of Newtownforbes until they were furnished to them by the Committee as part of the discovery process in 2004. They said that, before their discovery, they were unaware of such dreadful conditions existing in the School in the 1940s. Sr Casey at the Phase I public hearing acknowledged that, once they had seen the documents, they had become very concerned: We were deeply disturbed when we received the Department discovery of those documents between ’40 and ’45. I immediately set about meeting all who had worked at any stage in the orphanage to try and see could they help throw light on these documents, because that was the first time that we were aware, and that we had sight of those documents.

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