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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Alleged sexual abuse by a foster family


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.


The next piece of correspondence on file is four months later, dated April 1963, and was a note from the Laceys to the Department advising them that they were returning to England on 9th April 1963. They explained the short notice due to delays in finalising deals. They expressed their intention to send Annette to a Catholic boarding school as soon as they were settled in England and gave their new address. They told the recipient not to worry about her, as she would be brought up as a good Catholic and with a good education.


A break in the documentation then occurred, but Annette’s evidence was that, throughout this time, she was subjected to severe, continuing sexual abuse by Mr Lacey, both in Ireland and in England.


Four years later, the following letter was received by Rev Mother in St Joseph’s, Kilkenny from a Church of Ireland Vicar based in Northern Ireland dated 22nd May 1967, and read as follows: Very Rev and Dear Mother, I wish to make enquiries about a child who was possibly fostered or adopted from your Orphanage some years ago. I have only the scantiest details concerning her and I would be grateful if you could assist me in disseminating the facts. 1) Childs name: Annette – Surname unknown Age: 14½–15 2) Party who fostered or adopted her: Mr Lacey and his wife Roman Catholic and Church of England respectively. Occupation: Café caterers since 1966, formerly Industrial Caterers in England or Wales some years ago. The child has not practiced her religion since coming here nor has she been encouraged to do so. She has been absent from school since February at her “parents’” connivance. I fear she may be in real danger from lack of proper supervision. “Parents” unsuited to the task of properly rearing the girl. If this child has ever been in your care, and if you still have any legal authority over her would be grateful if you would let me know. The local Divisional Welfare Offices are also interested in the child and have left the matter in my hands to see if something could be done for the child before it is too late. Please forgive me putting such a problem before you – If you have any facts concerning her I would be grateful if you would let me know at your earliest convenience. Respectfully yours Vicar


The Resident Manager sent a copy of the letter to Mr McDevitt on 4th June 1967, reminding him of their reservations about the couple at the time and recalling that they had done their best to prevent her leaving St Joseph’s.


In January 1968, concern for the welfare of Annette moved from Northern Ireland to the UK. The Children’s Officer in the UK wrote to the Education Officer in Belfast, reminding him to follow up with the Department of Education in Ireland concerning this child. The inquiry was forwarded to the Department sometime after 15th March 1968.

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