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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Alleged sexual abuse by a foster family


The Department did not respond until four months later and, in a letter dated January 1970, they stated: Dear Madam, With reference to the enquiry you made in September last in regard to above-named girl, I am directed to inform you that according to the records of this office, Annette was an illegitimate child, the daughter of [details redacted mother later re-married] ... The couple separated. It is believed they are in England, but the address of either party is not known. Annette was baptised a Roman Catholic. She was committed to the care of St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny by order of Court [date redacted]. She remained in that school until May 1961, when she was discharged to the custody of Mr and Mrs Lacey, then living in Co Dublin [address redacted]. The Lacey’s later went to reside in England. It was made a condition of the discharge of Annette to their care that should either or her parents at a future date claim custody of this child the Lacey family would have no option but to surrender her immediately to such parent. I am to express regret for delay in replying to your letter and that we have no more useful information to give. The Resident Manager of St Joseph’s School, Kilkenny, may be able to supply more details in the case, such as Annette’s progress at school, names and addresses of relatives or friends in this country. Your Faithfully


By this time, January 1970, Annette was almost 18 years old.


The documents in this case disclose that considerable thought was given to placing the child with the Laceys but they do not record that the essential requirement of supervision, namely communication with the child, took place.

Complainant account of sexual abuse by fostering family


Another complainant was five years old when she was committed to St Joseph’s with two of her sisters, and remained until she was 16. She was from a Traveller family and could remember many arguments between her mother and father as a young child. She did not remember the court experience, but her sister told her that she did not think the family understood that the committal would be for such a long period. Her brother was committed to another industrial school at the same time, and she never saw him during those years. Her father was killed in the late 1960s. She has since been told by relatives that he was disappointed and remorseful that he never managed to get his family out of St Joseph’s.


This witness’s main complaint was that she had been sexually abused by the father of a family to whom she was sent for holidays. She stated that children in St Joseph’s went out on holidays on a regular basis. They were sent to families for the month of August. A large group of them would go up to Dublin on the train to be met by their host families at Heuston Station. She was sent to a family who had no children of their own. Initially, she was sent with another girl from St Joseph’s and it was all very exciting. She was paraded around by the couple to their friends’ houses and shown off as the ‘child they had for the month of August’. The husband started to abuse her. It started with touching and eventually led to more serious abuse. She cannot understand how the family were not vetted. She was discharged to them, and the abuse continued when she lived with them full-time. When she started dating her boyfriend, she told him what was going on and he confronted the man’s wife and told her what her husband was doing.


She said she had been taken out of school because the couple permission to have her discharged to them. They suggested that she could work for them in their office in Dublin. She stayed with them for about a year.


She remembered an occasion when another pupil of St Joseph’s, who was staying with a befriending family, called to visit her. The father attempted to abuse the young girl, who had to lock herself into a bathroom. The girls discussed it afterwards, but the complainant was the only person the girl spoke to.


She had very few vivid memories of her initial period in St Joseph’s. She was committed with two of her sisters. The three of them were put into the green set in the charge of two nuns, one of whom she described as ‘evil’. The other would hit the children across the ears for no apparent reason.


She went to school in St Joseph’s primary school and then to the Presentation Convent in Kilkenny. She did well in school and was quite disappointed when she was taken out just before she was due to sit her Intermediate Certificate to stay with the foster family.


She believes that she was treated differently from other girls in St Joseph’s because of her travelling background. For example, she suffered verbal abuse, being called ‘tinker’ by other girls. Her sisters received similar treatment. The nuns knew it was going on, but there was no attempt to stop it by the Superiors or those in charge. She also felt her family were discriminated against when they visited her.


She has heard from other family members that her father often cycled from [another county] where he worked to see them but was turned away. She made inquiries about this from family members, and she found out recently that her father had tried on several occasions to get the children out of the School. For the past 30 years she had believed that her father did not care about his family. It was only when the documents were shown to her in the process of this inquiry that she learnt the true situation and it has angered and upset her greatly. She believed that, if he had succeeded in getting them out, they would at least have been loved. They never got any love in the School. As a result, she found it difficult to this day to hug her own children.


She maintained some contact with her friends from St Joseph’s, and has attended some reunions to see them. She does not regard it as her home nor does she go to see the nuns: she attends just to stay in touch with the girls, as they have a lot in common. Most of the girls in her set, the green set, have very bad memories but she believes that girls in other sets would have different memories. In particular she says that those in the blue set ‘were made’. The sets were segregated: every child in the green set felt they were nobodies, and she believed that was the reason why they were in that set. Most of the girls in it came from dysfunctional families. The red set was not too bad – they were ‘half right’. The blue set was a totally different scene, because they got all the extras. Sr Astrid had overall responsibility for all sets, but was specifically in charge of the blue set. Once assigned to a set, there was no possibility of moving to another.


She thought Sr Astrid would like to believe that she was close to all the children, but that was not the case. The children tried to keep in with her but Sr Astrid had her own cronies and pets, and she gave them extras.


It is difficult to see how the nuns in St Joseph’s could have known if a befriending family was abusive unless the child herself told them. However, they should have taught the girls to recognise inappropriate behaviour and to report it.


Differential treatment between the units is a major criticism of the institution.

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