Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 11 — Dundalk

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Neglect and emotional abuse


Emmett was one of a large family, all but one of whom were sent to industrial schools. He was in St Joseph’s for five years, and was less than four years of age on admission. He went on to another institution, about which he was positive in his recollections, but described how he had become institutionalised, with consequent difficulties in maintaining relationships, including those with his brothers and sisters.


He described his need to form attachments, and he expressed this in a letter he wrote in 1986 to the Resident Manager: I was just thinking to myself, as I have always thought, of that I can never say that I never had a mother and father because I have had that, and that’s you and Fr Burke.8 Just like all mums and dads, you fed me, clothed me, taught me to read and write, brought me on holidays. I will never forget and loads more and I love you both and always will.


He was asked if he stood by those sentiments today and he replied: Yes, I would ... Fr Burke ... I wish he was my dad, because I loved him so much. He’s one in a million ... Sr Sienna as much as there is a lot of good fond memories, and I stand over the letter and those words I have said in it ... there is a lot of good but yet there is bad ... I thought she was so good and the next minute she turned bad, by locking me in the black hole and humiliating me and embarrassing me and hitting me in her office.


He was eloquent in describing his yearning for a family life he never had. He said: Father Burke was very affectionate and you would get a hug from him and so forth, but naturally children need ... more than that, more loving and to be wanted. As all children would, as anybody in general does. I felt I wasn’t getting that ... I felt that it was an uphill battle on my own against all the other environments ... just doing what father tells you to go to school at this time and you come back at this time, go to bed at this time. That’s fine, because one is institutionalised ... I find it easy to work in these environs, because I have been brought up in them. If I had joined the army I would have had no problems. But moving into ... the normal world, it is totally different. Naturally I would see the bond of family that [the family that befriended me] have with their daughter ... it is so beautiful that it is something that I wanted to express but I didn’t know where to express it. I just found that very, very difficult.


Even relationships with his fellow pupils from St Joseph’s proved transient. He explained: The funny part about it all, living so long in [another industrial school] and so long in St Joseph’s I am in contact with none of them ... all children were put into institutions but they weren’t made to feel together, to be integrated more so, so they can bond good relations. Now, when I try to bond relations with the children ... one would have been slowly doing it. Next minute ... you are cast right out of it. I have never seen any of the girls or the school since then, until the school closed down. The only contact that there would be with your peers, to the nuns ... The problem with this is that I am going through a third party.


He then gave a moving description of his ideal of family life, something he had never had. He said: (The family) is the foundation of their (children’s) life and if they have as many of their siblings and their uncles and aunts and moms and dads and grandparents and whoever else all round them, they will have so much love the strength that will come from that that they will be a much stronger person. The confidence will be very strong and the self-esteem will be very strong and nothing will hurt them. I believe that to the fullest.


While 21 written statements of complaint were submitted to the Investigation Committee, only three former residents came forward to give evidence.


There were no living respondents, and no evidence was heard from people who had worked in the School. The material that was therefore available was a limited amount of oral testimony and the information contained in the written records.

General conclusions


General conclusions 1. The relatively small number of children in St Joseph’s was an important factor in making this a less abusive institution. 2. The buildings were extremely cold, unfriendly and forbidding, ‘a barracks’ before 1960, and attempts to improve them made little impact. 3. The children were poorly educated and trained, and their full potential was not realised. 4. Family contacts were not maintained and children were deprived of crucial information that would have helped them form family ties and establish identity. 5. For most of its existence, recreational facilities were almost non-existent. The children were kept occupied by doing daily chores. The need for children to play was not considered by management. This regime harmed their emotional development. 6. The children came from deprived backgrounds and the conditions did little to help them. 7. The punishment book, even though it is not a complete record, is evidence of an attempt to control corporal punishment. 8. Problems arose from time to time in this Institution because of the incapacity of a Resident Manager, by reason of old age and/or infirmity. The management system of the Congregation was slow to remedy the situation. The Department of Education was limited to exhortation and threat, but was unable to effect the necessary change because the Mother Superior appointed the Resident Managers. 9. There was neglect of children in 1944 and 1946, including gross indifference to hygiene, where the children were left with ‘verminous and nitty heads’. 10. Despite the forbidding environment and the fear induced by some punishments, the children did not live in constant fear. The Sisters, particularly in the latter years, were more approachable and involved. A small anecdote told by Sr Ann Marie McQuaid illustrates this point: when Inspection Reports said the School needed painting, the Sisters ran bazaars and collected door to door in Dundalk and Dublin to fund the cost; they could afford the paint but not a painter, so four of the Sisters, including the Reverend Mother and the Resident Manager, two Sisters from the School and the caretaker of the convent, painted the building from basement to top floor at nighttime; a former resident told her that they used to creep out of bed to see the nuns without their veils.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Third Interim Report, December 2003.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
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  8. This is a pseudonym.