Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 13 — St. Patrick’s Kilkenny

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Neglect and emotional abuse


In September 1940, the Bishop of Ossory, Bishop Patrick Collier, wrote to the Kilkenny Journal in support of an appeal by the Sisters for charitable funding from the people of the diocese. In that letter, he spelled out very clearly the high regard he had for the work of the Sisters: Without looking for a penny for themselves, these devoted Religious give their time and talents to their little Charges with a loving care surpassing that of natural parents. It is only just and right that their lives should be kept free from the nightmare of want, and the constant fight to pay their way.


The Bishop directed that his letter, together with a letter from the Reverend Mother, should be read at all masses. The Reverend Mother’s letter was also printed by the newspaper. She explained that St Patrick’s had 186 children aged between one and 10. Out of this, only 135 were in receipt of the full State grant of 12 shillings per week. Another 27 were aged between four and six, and were paid for at a rate of 10 shillings per week. In addition, the School had about 24 children under four years of age, for whom the Government did not pay any grant: These we admit when our room allows, to save them from destitution and the dangers of Proselytism.


The large number of additional children put a strain on the finances. Industrial schools were not intended for babies but this was a time of great poverty in Ireland and clearly the Sisters were faced with hard choices. The choices made impacted on the level of care available to the children who had been committed by the courts and in respect of whom funding was made available by the State. It was the children as well as the Sisters who made the sacrifices for the babies taken in by St Patrick’s.


The next record of a General Inspection was on 10th December 1943, over four years later. Although it referred to a previous inspection dated 29th November 1942, no record of Dr McCabe’s findings in 1942 have survived. She described the School as well conducted, clean and the children well cared for. Her next inspection was dated 5th July 1944, and she requested that the supply of milk to each child be increased to one pint per head per day, and butter to be increased to 6 ozs. She was concerned about the lack of an external fire escape.8 She also drew attention to the fact that the children were barefoot in the playground.


On 19th July 1944, the Department wrote to the Resident Manager pointing out that, although the School continued to be well conducted and the children generally were well cared for, they were not putting on sufficient weight: He is concerned, however, to note that a number of them have not been putting on weight at the normal rate. It is essential that each child should receive a minimum of one pint of milk per day and should be allowed the full butter ration of six ounces per week, and I am to request you to make the necessary arrangements to have this done.


It requested that the practice of allowing children go barefoot should be discontinued. Each child was also to be supplied with a toothbrush.


This letter appears to have called into question the suitability of the Resident Manager because, two months later, it was proposed to replace her with a Sister who was 66 years old. The Department wrote to Dr McCabe seeking her views on the suitability of this appointment. Dr McCabe replied that: I am not in favour of appointing as Resident Manager old or elderly women as they are too set in their ways and are very difficult to deal with regarding new changes and innovations.


One Departmental official shared Dr McCabe’s concern but felt that, in the absence of ‘any specific age rule’, it would have to be agreed to. A senior official suggested a solution: I agree with Dr McCabe that this lady is rather old (over 66 years) to discharge the active duties of Manager of an institution like an Ind. Sch. An appointment of this kind is not subject to the Minister’s approval, but he has power (Section 5(4) of the 1941 Act) to request the removal of a R. Mgr. on the grounds of unsuitability, and that power might be availed of in this case if it is decided that the appointment should not be approved.


The Minister suggested that this should not be framed as a formal request but should be suggested more informally. This action was followed, and a letter was sent by the Department to Managers of St Patrick’s in October 1944, referring to the proposed appointment: it is observed that this Sister is over 66 years old. It is considered that a person of that age would be unable to give the necessary personal attention to the duties which a Resident Manager of an Industrial School is expected to discharge. In the circumstances, it is requested that a younger member of the Community be appointed to the position as soon as possible and that the new appointment be notified to the Department.


The appointment of the older nun did not proceed, and a younger Sister, Sr Frida,9 was appointed instead.


In March 1945, two letters were sent to the Department defending the Sisters’ decision to allow the children go barefoot in the summer, and requesting that the Department should reconsider its direction to acquire sandals. One of these letters appears to be from a doctor or pharmacist living locally, and the other was from Dr Peter Birch, the Bishop of Ossory. In a letter which he claimed was unsolicited by the Sisters, Dr Birch asked that the edict in relation to the boys going barefoot be reconsidered. He suggested that the boys loved the freedom of playing barefoot in the summer, and most children in ordinary homes would be allowed this freedom.


This was followed by a letter to the Department from the Resident Manager, where she also took up the issue. The Department consulted Dr McCabe and suggested that perhaps a compromise could be reached, whereby children over six years of age could go barefoot. Dr McCabe was not willing to stand down on the issue. Her main reason for this was the danger of infections from cuts and bruises – in particular, tetanus.


The Department wrote to the Resident Manager on 14th March 1945, and refused to change its position on the matter. It suggested that sandals could be acquired from the boot suppliers. In an addendum to her General Inspection Report dated 14th March 1945, Dr McCabe made an additional note dated 11th April 1945, where she noted the difficulty the Resident Manager was experiencing in obtaining sandals. She conceded that, if they could not be procured, she would make an exception to the rule for the summer months only. Despite obtaining a number of samples, and several months of correspondence, it appears that no suitable sandals could be found, and the rule was relaxed for the summer of 1945.


From 1945 until 1964, Dr McCabe visited St Patrick’s annually and was generally pleased with how the School was run and the condition of the buildings. She repeatedly stated that the children were very well cared for and happy. Improvements to the buildings were being made constantly, and the accommodation and equipment were very good. In the late 1950s, the group family system was introduced and the children were divided into three groups. Dr McCabe described the new group system as very satisfactory.


For some of her inspections, Dr McCabe did not generate a separate report but simply made an addendum to the previous Inspection Report, saying that the School was running well. She appeared to visit the School very regularly. A single report covered the period from March 1961 to June 1963, and against each of four entries is stated, ‘Very well run school. Children very well cared’.

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