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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Alleged sexual abuse by a foster family


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.


The following additional particulars were recorded: Annette was discharged on May 5th 1961 by Order of the Minister of Education to Mr and Mrs Lacey, [address redacted]. Mr McDevitt and the Resident Manager (Sr Klara) were not in favour of this adoption.


On 11th May 1961, Mr and Mrs Lacey were informed officially in writing that, after very careful consideration, the Minister for Education had now ordered the release of Annette to their care with the condition attached that, if her parents at a future date claimed custody, they would have to immediately surrender the child to them. Mr McDevitt signed the letter on behalf of the Minister and also asked the couple to keep him informed of any change of address made by them. The Resident Manager in Kilkenny was informed in writing at the same time.


Precisely one year later, on 11th May 1962, Mr Wade received a memorandum from one of the Departmental officials who said he had called on Mr and Mrs Lacey at the address where they were living when Annette was discharged to them. He spoke to the woman who now occupied the house. She told him the Laceys had left a long time ago, had sold their business and now had either a pub, or a fish and chip shop in the Southeast.


Enquiries were made by the Department with the Gardaí in the Southeast on 22nd May 1962, and neither Annette nor the Laceys had ever been heard of. Eventually, the Gardaí located the Laceys. The Department noted that they should have been informed of their change of address by them, and it was felt that enquiry should be made in regard to Annette’s welfare, spiritual and otherwise. This note is dated 28th May 1962.


Sometime between June and September 1962, Mrs Lacey wrote to the Reverend Mother in Kilkenny from her address, expressing a wish to return Annette because she said Annette was lying, stealing and using bad language. They had had to remove her from her school in a local convent, as she was not making any progress, and she was a constant worry to them and clearly did not appreciate what was being done for her.


Sr Hanna,16 who had taken over from Sr Klara, informed Mr McDevitt about the letter and advised him that she had written immediately to Mrs Lacey to tell her the child would be welcome back in St Joseph’s and was expecting her back any day.


This prompted the following letter to be sent by the Laceys to the Department on 3rd September 1962: Dear Sir, Some time ago I wrote to the Rev. Mother at Kilkenny School stating that we were very disappointed in Annette, the way in which she had turned out, by stealing things, and above all telling lies, not thinking they would inform you in this matter. However, since we have warned her that she would have to go back to St. Joseph’s she has improved considerably, and is now attending the local school. I know in her heart of hearts she does not want to leave us, or to go back. Owing to my writing this letter we have had a visit from the Rev. Mother, and she advised us to have an older girl who was well moulded and whose character was well formed. She thought and we both agreed with her, that it would help Annette very much to have somebody like that, as we feel it would break her heart to be sent back now after 18 months and we do not wish to part with her unless she commenced her bad ways again. As you know we are in a position financially to have another girl, also good accommodation to accept an older girl like the Rev Mother suggested and we would train her to take a good position in life. Trusting you will be able to arrange this for us ... Yours faithfully ...


This letter was sent to the Resident Manager for her observations on the matters raised in it. Sr Hanna called the Department and spoke to Mr Wade, who noted her views in a handwritten note dated 18th September 1962: Sister Hanna called on 12/9/62 to discuss this case. She is very worried about Annette and would like her to be anywhere but with the Lacey’s, whom she considers unsuitable to rear the child. Her offer of a second girl to the Lacey’s was made in the hope of getting Annette back and she had no intention of fulfilment.


Following this memorandum, it appears that Sr Hanna and Mr McDevitt paid a visit to the Laceys and told them that Annette’s grandfather was seeking custody, and Rev Mother wished to have her returned to the School by Sunday 7th October.


The Laceys wrote to the Department on 1st October 1962, expressing this as a great shock to them, as they had been told 18 months previously by the then Rev Mother that she was the only child available in Kilkenny that had no parents. They insisted that she did not want to leave them and had come to know them as her parents. They said they had inquired about the grandfather, who was out all day and only returned late at night, so she would not get the care and attention she needed. They also said that Mr McDevitt had indicated that it was a matter between Reverend Mother and themselves, as he could not force them to give up the child. They pleaded with the Department to assist them in the matter.


The Department acknowledged receipt of the letter on 2nd October 1962 and advised that inquiries were being made. The question is whether anybody spoke to Annette. The person who was best placed to deal with any reservations about the Laceys was Annette. There is no record of any communication with Annette, either by the Department or by the Sisters.

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