Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — St. Patrick’s Kilkenny

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Allegations of sexual abuse


He said he was followed some time later, when he was in another industrial school, to his home town, and Charles had got him into a field, but he had hit Charles and escaped on his bicycle.


The third witness to complain of being sexually abused was in St Patrick’s a decade later, between the years of the late 1950s and mid-1960s. He also described sexual abuse by a layman employed by the School. He recalled: The refectory was to the left as you walked down this corridor, to the right hand side there was this door out on to the yard. When you went around the corner there was a boiler house or something and there was a bedroom in there where [he] stayed. He brought me there on many occasions and he sexually abused me. This small one bedroom, just basic, there was a boiler house, very warm building.


He described what happened: he used to take his trousers down and he would have me playing with his penis and he would play with his own penis and ejaculate over me and he would play with my penis and kiss the lower part of my body ... [I was] Approximately eight years of age or possibly from seven up to ten years of age. I am not exactly sure of the year.


When he was asked if he ever mentioned this to anybody in the School, he replied: No, because I was terrified. He threatened me that he would throw me in the furnace if I said anything. I think his reward to me he used to give me sweets. There was a three wheeled tricycle, a big one. I could have a spin on this, this was something I never had before so this was my reward ... I knew it was wrong but I was terrified.


In their written Submission after the Phase I and Phase III hearings, the Sisters of Charity wrote: In relation to St Patrick’s, due to passage of the time the Sisters of Charity were unable to source any information to assist the Commission in its inquiry into allegations made by a number of former residents ... These former residents were at St Patrick’s between 1943 and 1965. None of them ever told anyone in authority of what had happened to them and the allegations only emerged many decades later. Although one of these witnesses suspected the Sisters knew of abuse by one of the workers, there was nothing in the evidence to suggest that they in fact knew or somehow ought to have detected the activities described by these witnesses. No-one was convicted of abuse at St Patrick’s. There were no records or documents of any kind found anywhere that might have assisted in an evaluation of this evidence. There was no corroboration. For the Sisters of Charity, responding to these allegations was a practical impossibility.


• There was no culture of facilitating disclosure. Children felt afraid of telling the nuns what had happened, ‘When nobody else is saying anything you don’t say anything’.

Neglect and emotional abuse


The witnesses gave varying accounts of their experiences as young children in St Patrick’s. They range from criticisms of the food, clothing and education to acknowledgments that life in St Patrick’s had positive features. All of these men had been separated from their families when they were very young, which affected them all their lives.


One complainant, who spent seven years in St Patrick’s in the late 1950s and 1960s, said: To this very day I still don’t have a relationship with my family ... As I was saying the nurturing wasn’t entered into our lives as children. I felt there should have been more attachment.


He found working with victims of institutional abuse of great benefit to him: It has, yes, because I suppose, in one way, [the organisation] makes me feel a bit – or maybe it’s the first time in my life I was doing something from here and helping others. I can see some people coming in and I can see myself within these people where I was stuck three to four years ago.


This complainant, who alleged that he was sexually abused in St Patrick’s, continued to feel isolated. He said there was no-one he could look up to in the School: It takes many years in your life to sort of pick up the courage to reach out and ask for help. The only help I ever received was when I entered the psychiatric hospital and that’s where, I suppose – most of my life I never trusted people in authority, I never trusted Gardaí, teachers, judges, anybody in authority, I would never have trusted them. I suppose when you trust somebody, this would have been because of the sexual abuse, when you trust somebody what do they need in return? That would have been a big part of my pain. Now, I have reached a stage where I am not afraid to reach out and ask for help if I need help, it’s okay. It’s a long journey and I am still on it ... There was no-one there – I suppose, I don’t know, I can only speak on behalf of myself, you can never trust anybody. I just couldn’t trust people. Anybody who was kind to you needed something in return and my experience within the industrial School it was sexual favours.


Another complainant, who was in the School in the 1960s, was asked if he developed an emotional bond with the woman who was in charge of his group: No, you were treated – you were all treated very much the same. You got into bed and got out of bed. You were told the various routines that were there. You were never given any instructions as regards privileges or anything like that. You were never told when you actually went there that you had privileges, if you were disobedient that these privileges would be taken away ... We never knew what the privileges were. We never got them to have them taken away.


This witness had been born to an unmarried mother, and he said that, although he never wrote to her whilst he was in Kilkenny, she did visit once a year to see how he was doing. He was asked whether he was shown any tenderness, affection or encouragement in St Patrick’s, and he said he had not been. He was asked whether he would describe his childhood in St Patrick’s as happy, and he said: It would be hard to describe what one would call happiness when one hadn’t had happiness, according to the previous situation I was in. I probably would have found it a little bit more comfortable. It’s very hard to describe what a happy childhood is when you come through the system up to that stage, one didn’t understand what a happy childhood is.


He tried to sum up the feeling of powerlessness: I suppose if one was to look back and describe the impact on the childhood within Kilkenny, it felt very much like – I am describing it from a different aspect, you were like the mouse in the corner of the room and the cat standing back a couple of feet away from you, and this cat is very powerful and tall, the mouse felt small, very weak and very vulnerable, you had no control over anything that was being applied. It would be the same with the cat, the mouse had no control when the cat was going to strike with the claw and kill it. That would be the basis of the regime.


He was asked if he could single out any nun as having been good to him: There was – let me think of her name now – there was a Sr Selma7 there, I remember. A round faced nun, wore glasses, she was very much into music. She would have taught a lot of bits of music, the melodica and things like that. She would have had a different approach in seeing things. She would have been a younger nun at this stage in her life and the others would have been a good bit older.


One complainant thought St Patrick’s was better than other institutions he went to: No, St Patrick’s compared to the other institutions I was in was not bad, but it was bad enough for me to remember various things. I do have flashbacks when I come across certain smells, certain farmyard things, I do think – and cocoa I can’t stand.

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  8. February 1943: the Cavan Industrial School fire – 35 children died.
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