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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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The children


During the period under review, 1,900 children passed through St Joseph’s, Kilkenny. Most of the children were committed through the courts in the earlier years, and the majority came from the counties Kilkenny, Tipperary, Dublin, Laois and Carlow in the period 1933 to 1966.


The Sisters of Charity also managed an industrial school for young boys known as St Patrick’s Industrial School in Kilkenny. It operated from 1879 to 1966. Between the period 1933 and 1966, the records of the Sisters show that 127 girls in St Joseph’s had brothers in St Patrick’s at the same time.


The children admitted to Kilkenny were very young. Between 1933 and 1966, 221 of the children admitted were under five years of age; 234 were aged between five and 10; and only 101 were over 10 on admission. The proportion of very young children increased between 1966 and 1999: 362 children under five years of age were admitted, and 261 were under 10; only 112 children were over 10 on admission.

Sisters and staff working in the Industrial School


There were 18 Resident Managers in St Joseph’s during the relevant period. In most cases, the Resident Manager was also the Local Superior. A number of Sisters from the Community were involved in the School, and a small number of lay staff worked in the School in teaching, farming and laundry.



The sources of information were: the evidence of former pupils; the evidence of staff members; the evidence of respondents; and the records in relation to the School which were furnished to the Commission on foot of discovery directions to the Department of Education, Sisters of Charity, Diocese of Ossory and An Garda Síochána.

The period 1933 to 1952


In the first record of a General Inspection dated 22nd April 1939, Dr Anna McCabe visited the School and was approving. The children looked happy and content, were well clothed and fed, and she was impressed with the large amount of home preserves that were used.


The next record of a general inspection was 9th December 1943, over four years later, and, although it recorded a previous inspection in November 1942, no note or record of her findings in 1942 have survived. She described the School as well conducted, clean and well kept. Food and diet were described as satisfactory, and clothing as fairly good. There was no fire escape, but fire drill was practised regularly and there were six ladders available for escape from the building, which was not too high. On 23rd February 1943, 35 children had perished in a fire in Cavan Industrial School, and fire safety was high on the agenda of the Inspector at this time.


On 4th July 1944, Dr McCabe paid another visit to the School and found a generally well conducted school. She did not think the children were getting an adequate supply of milk and butter and insisted that it should be increased. She was still concerned about the lack of fire escapes, and wrote in detail about the dangers for the children in the dormitories, particularly the one situated over the domestic economy kitchen, where a fire could start. Dr McCabe found the children’s health to be good on this visit.


Following this inspection, by letter dated 5th August 1944, the Department Inspector wrote to the Resident Manager and requested that each child should receive a minimum of one pint of milk per day, together with the full amount of butter ration allowed by the Department of Supplies.


Because of the tragedy in Cavan, the Department was very concerned that all children could be safely evacuated in the event of a fire. The Inspector expressed the Minister’s grave concern that there was only one exit from a dormitory accommodating 21 children, which led to another dormitory accommodating 57 children, which in turn had two exits close together leading to the same corridor. It was evident to him that children in all of these dormitories would be trapped in the event of the corridor filling with heavy smoke. He requested that the Resident Manager immediately set about providing an adequate fire escape.


The Resident Manager responded, by letter dated 7th September 1944, that the children’s diet had been adjusted, and she was working in conjunction with the Resident Manager in the nearby St Patrick’s Industrial School, Kilkenny to resolve the fire escape problem and, by March 1945, the Inspector was able to report that the fire escape was in place.


In her inspection report dated 15th March 1945, Dr McCabe described the newly appointed Resident Manager, Sr Irma,1 as excellent. She noted a nurse had been appointed to take charge of the younger children and thought it was a step in the right direction.


For the next 10 years, Dr McCabe visited St Joseph’s, Kilkenny on an annual basis. Her reports about the School indicated an exceptionally high level of satisfaction with all aspects, and she was particularly enthusiastic about the Resident Manager, whom she described as very capable and someone who had added much to the School. A very efficient nursery was established for the very small children and added much to their comfort.


Two witnesses, who were resident in the Industrial School in the mid to late 1940s, gave evidence. The witnesses were siblings who were placed in care after the death of their mother. This was a period during which St Joseph’s was still operating as a traditional industrial school.


Although both witnesses experienced feelings of rejection at being placed in care, they were also aggrieved at what happened to them whilst in St Joseph’s. They described the upset at being separated from their brothers who were placed in another industrial school.

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