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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Alleged sexual abuse by a foster family


Sr Klara came under increasing pressure from the Laceys, who were indignant that Mr Wade, when he interviewed them, had information to suggest that they were not Catholics. Mrs Lacey denied this and said they attended Mass every Sunday. Sr Klara remained very doubtful about them.


On 15th December 1960, in an internal memorandum to the Inspector in the Department of Education, the author advised that he had spoken to the parish priest in Terenure, who recommended that the child should be allowed out to the Laceys for Christmas.


In a letter dated 15th December 1960, Mrs Lacey wrote to the Department: Dear Sir, As requested I herewith make an application for permission to have Annette the child from St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny for the Christmas period. My husband and I have already had her out for one day and we have asked the Mother Superior to let us have her with us, as we are giving a children’s party at our café, and the Mother Superior said as far as she was concerned it would be alright. The child having no parents or relatives we are both willing to help her in every way possible, by giving her a good home, with a Mother’s and Father’s love, bringing her up in the Catholic faith, and educating her in the best possible manner. We are quite aware on account of her age that we cannot adopt her legally, but are more than willing to be her Foster Mother and Father. My husband being Managing Director of a large firm tells you that we have the means to do the very best for the child. Trusting you will grant us this permission. Yours Faithfully Mrs Lacey


A note on the letter said: ‘Phoned Sr Klara and informed her of our inquiries. She is now satisfied to release child for Xmas holidays and we are to [make] ... inquiries regarding Lacey couple with a view to advising mgr on question of release on supervision certificate TOR 16/12/60’.


On the same document, the particulars with regard to her release for Christmas were recorded, together with a note of an interview with the Laceys on 16th December 1960: Interviewed Lacey couple – wife claims to be a convert and husband to have been reared a catholic but has not been assiduous in the practice of his religion. He undertook to produce their marriage certificate.


In a letter to Mrs Lacey dated 8th January 1961, Sr Klara informed her that Annette was safely back in Kilkenny and had been telling the Sisters about the wonderful time she had with ‘my Mammy and my Daddy’ and thanking her for giving her such a good time.


The child obviously had an accident whilst with the couple, because Sr Klara also noted that ‘on the following day she would take Annette to the Dr. to have the stitches removed D.V’.


It appeared from the documentation that followed that the Laceys travelled to the UK in early January 1961, to expedite references and other matters required for the adoption of Annette. Mr Lacey had written to his parish priest in Oldham in England, seeking confirmation that he was married in the Catholic Church. The parish priest was unable to provide this, but said he saw no reason to doubt Mr Lacey’s word that he had been. There was also a short note from another parish priest where the Laceys resided for six years, which said the couple were known to him and well suited to have care of a child.


On 8th February 1961, the Laceys contacted the Department to press for the release of Annette, citing the fact that they had purchased a new house and were anxious to purchase furniture with Annette in mind. This prompted Mr McDevitt to write to the parish priest of Oldham to seek confirmation that the Laceys had married in the Catholic Church sometime in 1928, possibly around May. He could not provide the exact date.


He did not receive a reply and followed this up with another letter on 9th March 1961. This letter was returned to Mr McDevitt with the following handwritten note by the parish priest: St. Mary’s Oldham Dear Sir, As far as we can ascertain the facts given by Mr Lacey are true and to be believed. Sincerely yours, P.P


The Laceys followed up with another letter to the Department on 16th March 1961, pressing the Department for a decision about releasing Annette to them. They felt they had provided more than enough information to the Department about themselves and asked the Department to give the matter urgent consideration.


In a detailed report in April 1961, concerning the Laceys’ application, Mr Wade wrote to Mr McDevitt, Inspector. He set out the circumstances of how the couple came to Ireland in 1960 and immediately contacted the Adoption Board with regard to taking a child into their household. They had been referred by the Adoption Board to St Joseph’s, Kilkenny as an institution that might be able to ‘supply their want’. Sr Klara understood from this referral that they had been vouched for by the official in the Adoption Board, and she introduced the couple to Annette. Mr Wade had met the couple on several occasions as they had called into the Department. On the surface, they appeared pleasant but he had a number of concerns. First, Mr Lacey admitted to being lax about his religious duties; secondly, Mrs Lacey protested that she was a convert to Catholicism but was hazy as to the date of her conversion from the Protestant religion; and, finally, although she could give the location, she was not sure of the exact date of her marriage to Mr Lacey. Added to this, Sr Klara had her own doubts about the couple’s religious persuasion and had been warned that couples were going about the country seeking to adopt infants – therefore, she was not prepared to make the decision on her own authority. Mr Wade concluded that the application should be refused on the grounds that the whereabouts of the child’s mother were unknown and her consent would be needed for final discharge, coupled with the vague replies by the Laceys about their marriage.


This report was passed on to the Secretary of the Department by Mr McDevitt on 26th April 1961, with a long handwritten note attached. He described the case as somewhat difficult, because the Laceys appeared on the face of it to be the ideal couple to be given the care of the child, were it not for their difficulties in verifying their pasts so far as religion was concerned. He had spoken with them and felt they were not being frank about the matter, although very anxious to get custody of the child. The clergy in Britain had not been helpful in clarifying the matter. He concluded his report with the following: Considering (1) that the child’s parents may still be and probably are alive; (2) that the child was committed on grounds which are now invalid and that some doubt may therefore be entertained as to whether the Minister has power to discharge her on supervision certificate (’tho I think he has), and that there is the possibility of endangering her faith, the balance of argument appears to be against acceding to the application and I so recommend. If approved, I suggest that refusal be communicated in interview.


In an internal memorandum to the Minister dated 28th April 1961, the author (T.O R) also expressed some reservations but, overall, was in favour of letting the child out to the couple. His reasons were that, in the first instance, it was against the Constitution for the child to be detained by them under any circumstances. Secondly, two parish priests were satisfied that the girl’s religious affairs would be catered for, and so the Department was covered from the moral point of view. As for his own conscience, he would be guided by the fact that nothing but good could come from her being with this couple. He recommended that the child should be allowed to live with them on the understanding that either parent could come forward to claim her back at any time.


She was discharged by order of the Minister to Mr and Mrs Lacey on 5th May 1961.

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