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Chapter 13 — St. Patrick’s Kilkenny

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Sisters and staff working in the Industrial School


Accordingly, in May 1966 the Superior General gave six months’ notice of the Sisters of Charity’s intention to resign their certificate as an industrial school.


Thirty boys were transferred to St Joseph’s, Kilkenny, some to Artane, and the rest were transferred to other industrial schools. The Sisters received a list of the transfers from the Department of Education, and they wrote back to the Department in July 1966, suggesting a few alterations to the list, as some of the boys had friends and wished to be placed together. The Resident Manager enclosed the modified list for the Department.

Allegations of abuse


The Investigation Committee heard evidence from nine witnesses who were resident in St Patrick’s until they were transferred to another institution when they reached the age of 10.


The period of residence of the witnesses in St Patrick’s covered the period 1943 to 1966, when the School closed. Three witnesses were in the Institution in the mid to late 1940s; the remaining six were resident in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The majority of the witnesses were in the Institution from the age of 4 to 10 years.


Apart from the correspondence in the 1940s relating to children’s failure to gain weight and going barefoot, the Department did not appear to have had any concerns about this Institution. Each of the witnesses was transferred to another industrial school and had serious complaints to make about the later institution. All of them had been committed to St Patrick’s when they were nine years of age or younger. Their memories of life in the Institution were, therefore, vague. Nevertheless, many of them had very specific memories of incidents that occurred during their time there, which helped form a picture of St Patrick’s.

Allegations of physical abuse


A complainant who was in St Patrick’s in the 1940s recalled the Institution before it was divided into the group system: It was a kind of a – it was a real institution, like. You know, like an orphanage, that’s how I felt. It was a very harsh regime as regards discipline ... I remember we were in the – it was like an auditorium that we were in. First thing in the morning before school we would do our catechism. We had to learn our catechism ... I remember one little boy ... he forgot his catechism. He couldn’t remember what it was and the sister that was doing the catechism – I can’t remember, I wouldn’t be sure of her name. It could have been Sr Tyra.1 She gave him, like, a beating in front of all of the boys. We were all sort of sitting there. She said "I am going to make an example of this boy and this is what you will get if you don’t remember your catechism". She beat him with a billiard cue ... Full length billiard cue, yes. That was the one major incident I can remember at that school.


He said the beating took place in the front of a large hall where all the boys could see it: He was brought down to the front where everyone could see him and the nun got this billiard cue. She made him bend over and she gave him a hell of a beating. Obviously we were terrified of seeing this.


The witness believed the boy was about seven or eight when this happened: ‘We were ever so small. We were really tiny in size’.


This incident stood out in his mind: Well, I could still hear, even still today I can still hear the swish of a billiard cue. She swung it around with all her might. You could hear the wind going through the billiard cue and the little fellow screaming. It’s sort of something you wouldn’t forget.


That was the most severe beating he remembered in St Patrick’s. Lesser physical punishment was administered for failure at lessons. It was, he said, ‘Less severe, they would get the back of the ruler’.


This complainant recalled being fearful during his time in St Patrick’s: Well, it was a very harsh regime. The discipline was, you know, they were very – you were just frightened. You were just frightened because you would get a belt for any little thing. If you stepped out of line on anything or you were in the wrong place you would have to explain yourself. Just like, an atmosphere of fear, really, prevailed in the place, you know.


He recalled being punished: Oh, yes, you would get plenty of slaps. You would be slapped any time you stepped out of line. I don’t know what we would do to get it. I can’t recall why I would be slapped. You had to toe the line. It was a very strict regime.


He said that all the nuns were not bad and he recalled some good ones. Overall, there was strict discipline: The Reverend Mothers, they were generally austere people. You saw them just fleetingly. Of course, these places were run almost, you would say, military lines. You could feel that there was a chain of command. They were very organised, very precision running places; you know. Apart from there wasn’t much stimulation or there wasn’t – I wouldn’t say there was happy memories there, really. You were just there and that was it, like. Up against maybe the remaining orphanages we were probably living in heaven. That’s all I can say.


A witness who was there in the 1940s and 1950s differentiated between the lay teachers and the nuns: You see, the teachers didn’t used to really punish you. They were pretty good, the teachers were. The nuns used to come and repeatedly hit you if you stood out of line.


He said that this punishment was hard and frequent.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
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  8. February 1943: the Cavan Industrial School fire – 35 children died.
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