Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

Show Contents

Sexual abuse incident of 1954


On 25th October 1954, the new Resident Manager, Sr Tova,3 wrote to the Department of Education asking them to give her immediate permission to transfer two girls. She described both of them as not fit to be with younger children, owing to their immoral conduct and bad influence. She wrote: Already they have taught – them sinful sexual acts, that makes it expedient to dismiss them from this school immediately.


The Department informed Dr McCabe about the application, and she left immediately for Kilkenny to conduct a general inspection.


She spent two days there and, in her General Inspection, she reported in the usual glowing terms with regard to the condition of the School and the facilities for the children. Under the heading ‘General Observations and Suggestions’, she wrote, ‘I had a long discussion with Resident Manager regarding this school’.


Dr McCabe made no further comment in that document as to what they discussed.


In a separate 10-page hand-written report signed and dated 1st November 1954, Dr McCabe gave a very detailed account of the investigation she carried out. This revealed that a painter, Mr Jacobs,4 who had been in the employ of the Sisters for a period of 30 years, had sexually abused some of the girls. Dr McCabe’s report was a revelation in what it disclosed about St Joseph’s and attitudes to sexual abuse of children at that time.


Dr McCabe’s report began with an account of her conversation with the Resident Manager, who had identified two girls, one aged 15 and the other aged 13, as having ‘corrupted the whole school’. Dr McCabe reported: Apparently the girls had got into each others beds and had invited other children into their beds and have “behaved immorally” with them. Also the Resident Manager informed me that other children in the school were also engaging in immoral practices and she named several girls.


Dr McCabe listed 11 children, one of whom was only eight years of age. Three of the children were 10 years old, two were 11, two were 12, and three were 13 years old. One child’s age was not mentioned. One 10-year-old was described as having ‘... indulged in immoral practices with another young child’. The eight year old ‘knew a lot’ as she had been associating with boys and girls before admission. Generally, these children were described as ‘associating with’ other children and being up to ‘immoral practises’. One 13-year-old, who had already been transferred to Limerick Reformatory, was described as ‘a very bad type’.


Dr McCabe acted promptly and appropriately. She reported: I asked the Resident Manager to round up all the children she suspected or knew to be behaving badly and I told her I would interview each child separately and also that she was to institute “one way traffic” so that they could not compare notes.


Dr McCabe’s account of her interviews indicates that she approached the children in a friendly, non-threatening manner. The little girls agreed that they had got into each other’s beds but did not admit any serious misconduct. One 12-year-old, however, was more forthcoming: I questioned xx and told her I had heard she was a naughty girl and had been behaving badly in the school, pulling up skirts and getting into one another’s beds. She said she had done these things and I said to her “now isn’t that a silly way to behave” and she agreed it was and that she would not do so again. I asked her who had taught her these tricks and she told me she had learned them in the school.


Dr McCabe continued to question the child and asked her whether anyone had pulled down her knickers. She said her mother had done it once to punish her, and then she said Mr Jacobs had done it to her. The girl then gave Dr McCabe a detailed description of what ensued, the particulars of which need not be included in this report. It is sufficient to say that the story told by the child showed that the behaviour of the employee was not a casual or chance encounter, but was the result of careful preparation by a calculating child abuser. The innocence of the child in sexual matters was apparent from her account.


Dr McCabe then questioned the two girls mentioned. They both described very similar conduct by Mr Jacobs. One child said that she had told Sr Stella5 ‘who put her to bed and shut the door’.


Dr McCabe then asked the Resident Manager about Mr Jacobs and was told that he was ‘a marvellous man and the mainstay of the Institution’, who had been employed by ‘Four Reverend Mothers’ over a period of 30 years. He was a married man with a large family.


Dr McCabe told the Resident Manager about the child [BB] who had reported the matter to Sr Stella: The Resident Manager told me that she was on holidays when that had happened but on her return she heard all about it but was inclined to disbelieve it “as these children are all so well informed before they come into the school and often tell a lot of lies that it is difficult to believe them”. When I mentioned XX and AA she was really shocked. I asked her why when she had heard about BB why she had not informed the Department and ask them to investigate the matter. She told me really she thought the child was imagining it.


A different account appeared in a statement prepared by the Sister in question, Sr Stella, which was taken after Dr McCabe’s investigations. She said that she observed a child in tears after coming from the School where Mr Jacobs had given her sweets. According to this account, the Sister asked the child whether anything had happened in the School, and the child said no, that she had only gone in to Mr Jacobs for sweets.


There was no explanation offered for the account given by Sr Tova to Dr McCabe, which corroborated the child’s story that she had told Sr Stella what had happened.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. This is a pseudonym.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is a pseudonym.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
  8. This is a pseudonym.
  9. This is a pseudonym.
  10. This is a pseudonym.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. This is a pseudonym.
  13. This is a pseudonym.
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is a pseudonym.
  17. This is a pseudonym.
  18. This is a pseudonym.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is a pseudonym.
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This is a pseudonym.
  23. This is a pseudonym.
  24. This is a pseudonym.
  25. This is a pseudonym.
  26. This is a pseudonym.
  27. This is a pseudonym.
  28. This is a pseudonym.
  29. This is a pseudonym.
  30. This is a pseudonym.
  31. This is a pseudonym.
  32. This is a pseudonym.
  33. This is a pseudonym.
  34. This is a pseudonym.
  35. This is a pseudonym.