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Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

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Sexual abuse incident of 1954


The Department officials were impressed with Fr Curran: Fr Curran is obviously a very sensible and shrewd pastor and on consideration for his years we felt that a visit on our part to the Bishop was not called for. We agree also to recommend that no steps be taken towards a prosecution of Jacobs.


The meeting then had to decide how to deal with the children involved. The whole matter had originally come to light because of a request for a transfer of two children because of immoral behaviour. It was decided that these two children, together with a third girl, should be removed – two to their families, and one to St Anne’s Reformatory in Kilmacud. It was felt by the Sisters that, with the ‘ring leaders’ gone, the rest of the children would forget the episode, although strict supervision would now be necessary, particularly during meal times.


The Reverend Mother then called in the four Sisters who had charge of the children and, in the presence of Dr McCabe and the Assistant Secretary, she praised their devotion but advised them and, in particular, Sr Stella that they needed to be much more vigilant and enquiring when it came to the children.


The Departmental officials recommended a course of action to the Department. By letter dated 10th November, the Resident Manager was notified that one girl could be transferred to Kilmacud Reformatory and two others returned to their parents and grandparents.


On 28th November 1954, the Mother General of the Congregation wrote to the Assistant Secretary of the Department to thank him for his kindness: I shall never forget your kindness during your visit to Kilkenny, and you may count on my poor prayers. Please God, the unpleasant affair is closed forever and we shall hope that there shall never be a repetition.


The matter of the children abused by Mr Jacobs was not addressed by that meeting. The Resident Manager continued to correspond with the Department about the four girls who had been identified as having been abused by Jacobs, in order to have them transferred from the School, in the interests of the other children. She wrote two days after the meeting: The other three children ... have still fresh in their memory the experience they had with Mr Jacobs in 1953. They also know about each other’s contact with him, which shows they must have and probably still are discussing this matter among themselves.


It does not appear from the records that the permission was granted, as three of their names appear seven months later in a report to the Chief Inspector by Dr McCabe dated 22nd June 1955. The Reverend Mother General had asked Dr McCabe to meet her in Milltown in Dublin, at the headquarters of the Congregation in Ireland, to discuss the situation in Kilkenny where, once again, she was concerned about the behaviour of six of the girls. These six girls were aged between 9 and 13, and two of them had revealed to Dr McCabe the previous November that they had been sexually abused by Mr Jacobs. They were now seen as a corrupting influence on the rest of the children, particularly their own siblings in the School. The Reverend Mother told Dr McCabe that she was concerned that the six girls were continuing to corrupt the little ones, by giving them bad example at every opportunity. Dr McCabe was surprised as to how this could be the case if the children were contained in one group. She was informed the problem arose at recreation time when the groups mixed. Dr McCabe’s report was summarised in the Department of Education submission: The Rev. Mother claimed that these children were “misbehaving themselves with each other and with the small children”. They were, she said, “giving bad example” ... They were said to have taken girls from another group, brought them up into the fields and taught them “wrong in the grass”. When the Sister-in Charge inquired into their behaviour, one of them remarked, “It was no harm”. Mr Jacobs, the painter dismissed by the school the year before, had said that he was “an old man and it was no harm” ... Much of the “bad behaviour” came to light as some of the girls were preparing for their first Holy Communion and though, when questioned, there were many “denials”, one child told the Rev Mother that [named child] was “doing it constantly”. For her part, the Rev Mother considered 11-year-old [named child] “the most hardened”.


This characterisation of the child as the most hardened was offensive and unjust, having regard to the brutal and invasive sexual assaults she had suffered.


Dr McCabe then visited St Joseph’s to investigate these complaints, and she made a written report on 24th June 1955. She concluded that two children (aged 11 and 13) were the ‘ringleaders’ and that another (aged 13) was ‘a good follower’. The two children mentioned by her had been identified as having been abused by Jacobs in her visit in November 1954; the third child was a sister of the 11-year-old mentioned above.


This 11-year-old child was described by Dr McCabe having ‘a very bad influence and I think the youngsters are terrified of her. She seems to have great power over them’.


Another child was mentioned as ‘one of Jacobs unfortunates’ although her name had not appeared in the November 1954 report. Dr McCabe reported: There was another child mentioned [child named](11) but she did not try tricks herself but had been one of Mr Jacobs unfortunates, but on discretely questioning her, I discovered that he had only started on his campaign when he was disturbed!


Dr McCabe discussed the supervision with the Reverend Mother and was told the staff would need to have eyes in the back of their heads to deal with the problem: I enquired about the playground – there is a small patch of grass on it and here some of the performance takes place and also in a shed in the playground. Apparently the little ones play “House” there (as the Sisters thought) but really this performance was taking place. I consider that the nuns have slipped up in their supervision.


All the girls were part of one group, although they did interact with younger children in other groups at recreation. Dr McCabe observed: The “good girls” are very alert and it is really through them that the nuns got to know about the behaviour in the grass. Now there is a kind of reign of terror there and if anyone of these girls (mentioned above) approaches a child she “runs a mile and screams”.


Following a meeting with the Chief Inspector of the Department, it was decided to transfer nine girls to Kilmacud, and the transfer was authorised on 28th June 1955.


In her General Inspection Report dated 22nd to 23rd June 1955, the entry under ‘General Observations and Suggestions’ stated: I visited this school to investigate a complaint made to me by the Mother General and Reverend Mother of the school about certain children’s behaviour in the school. As result of all this 10 girls were transferred to Kilmacud Reformatory. The chief cause of this outbreak was “lack of supervision” on the part of the community.

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