Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 14 — St. Joseph’s Kilkenny

Show Contents

Sexual abuse incident of 1954


The Submission further asserted that, had the Sisters themselves discovered Mr Jacobs’s abuse, they would have acted as decisively as they did when it was brought to their attention by Dr McCabe. The documents indicated the abuse was indeed brought to their attention by one of the little girls, and she was not believed, and her complaint was dismissed by both Sr Stella and Sr Tova.


The Submission concluded: In these circumstances any adverse finding against the Sisters or criticism of them would be unfair and unwarranted.


This Submission was prepared in 2006. It did not address the appalling plight of the children who were abused by Mr Jacobs; it did not examine the attitude of the Sisters in seeking to remove the victims to a reformatory; it did not question the integrity of Sr Tova, who gave one account to Dr McCabe about the complaint made to Sr Stella, and a completely different one to the Department officials and the parish priest; it did not acknowledge the damage done to these children by the sexual abuse and its consequences, which included the children being isolated from their friends and removed to reformatories. Far from trying to help these damaged girls, the Sisters chose to dispose of them as bad influences. With their removal, the whole episode was expunged from the history of St Joseph’s.


The nuns investigated the sexual behaviour among the girls and identified those involved, but did not take the next step of asking why this behaviour had happened. They blamed the children for immorality but did not follow up the inquiry as Dr McCabe did. This abuser had been employed in St Joseph’s for 30 years before his activities were revealed, but the 1954 episode was treated as a single episode, and the full extent of the sexual abuse of the children was not established and no attempt was made to do so. Notwithstanding the more progressive attitude the Sisters had towards childcare, they were still unable or unwilling to believe the child who complained about Mr Jacobs. Dr McCabe uncovered the serious sexual abuse going on in St Joseph’s by listening to the children. The attitude of the Sisters appeared to be to blame the children for having been abused by Jacobs, and they sought to have them transferred away from the Institution. No lessons were learned from this incident. The risk that unsupervised access posed to the children, particularly by male employees, was never acknowledged or addressed. No procedures were put in place and no warnings given to staff about listening to children who complained of sexual abuse. This was to have serious consequences less than 20 years later, when two dangerous sexual abusers were employed in the School.

Alleged sexual abuse by a foster family


Annette13 was resident in St Joseph’s, Kilkenny from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. She was three months old when admitted into care.


She described growing up in St Joseph’s as a sad and lonely existence. She was never treated with kindness or respect. The nuns told them they were the children of prostitutes. The staff were cruel. She was often locked up in a cubby hole as a punishment for talking in the dormitory at night, so she learned not to speak. It was a frightening experience, and she was afraid to do anything other than pray to get out. She was often hit with a leather strap.


She was in the ‘red set’, a less favoured group in St Joseph’s. She thought the food was horrendous: she described getting cocoa, and lumpy porridge for breakfast. She never felt full and was always aware of being hungry. She liked school, however, and was a good student.


In May 1961, she was released by order of the Minister for Education to Mr and Mrs Lacey.14 She was nine years old. She remembered being sent to the Reverend Mother’s office and there was a couple sitting there. They seemed quite old to her and they were introduced to her as her uncle and aunt. She went out with them for day trips initially, and then she spent a couple of weeks over Christmas. The Sisters asked her how she got along and, at that stage, she thought it was fun being brought to the seaside and given treats. She recalled the food they gave her was very rich and, because they gave her toys, she thought she had landed in heaven.


She testified that, when she was released into the care of the Laceys, things changed. She was sexually abused by Mr Lacey. He built a corrugated shed in the garden which he used solely for the purpose of raping her. He told her it was a playhouse. She believed Mrs Lacey knew what was going on as, after being raped, she told her to have a bath. It happened two or three times a week in various places, wherever they were living at the time, until she managed to ‘get away’ from them at the age of 15.


The couple travelled all over the country and spent time in Kildare, Wicklow, England, Wales etc. When she was 11, they were living in Northern Ireland, and she managed to run away at that stage, but was caught and returned to them. After this incident, she was sent by them to England to live in Mr Lacey’s brother’s house, and the couple later followed over. During the 13½ weeks that she spent there, she recalls regularly being given a drink and falling asleep; she would wake up next morning, partially clothed and very sore. She complained to Mrs Lacey, and was punished by being hit with a leather and locked in a cellar, or she was deprived of food. She was forced to work for the couple in all of their various enterprises, including an ice cream parlour and a restaurant.


Annette now knows that the Laceys were not in fact married. They were of different religions and, although one of the conditions for them to be allowed to foster her was that they would protect her religion, they never brought her to mass or church when she was with them.


Annette was not aware until recently where she read the documentation that the Sisters were opposed to her going to the Laceys.


The documents reveal mistakes by the Department of Education. The story is recounted here in some detail as an example of how failure to follow up and supervise children placed in foster care could leave them totally unprotected


In November 1960, Mrs Lacey wrote to the Rev Mother in St Joseph’s, having been referred by an official from the Adoption Board Dublin. She and her husband were anxious to have a little girl, as they had no children of their own. She described herself as having the means to give the child a good home, a mother and father’s real love, and a good education. She said they were both Catholics and in good health. The Laceys said they were married in 1928, 33 years prior to the application in 1961.


Sr Klara15 wrote to a senior official of the Department of Education on 25th November 1960, telling him of the request from the Laceys. She explained that Annette could not be adopted legally, as her mother was alive but untraced. She suggested that perhaps the Laceys could be her Godparents, and sought his opinion on this matter. She hoped he could help find the mother so that her consent for adoption or the Godparenting arrangement could be sought.

  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.