Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 15 — St. Mary’s Kilkenny

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In 1973 a new residential school for the hard of hearing pupils, known as Rosary School, was built. It was situated a quarter of a mile from the main school of St Mary’s. At that time it consisted of 12 classrooms, a general purpose room, a library, a staffroom, offices, a cookery room and store room. A school Inspection report in 1984 carried out by a Department of Education Inspector noted that the school was ‘clean, comfortable and well-maintained’ and ‘located in pleasant grounds’.


In 1987 a new school for deaf multiply disabled children was built on the grounds of St Mary’s. It was known as the Marian School. It consists of four large classrooms, two shared-area classrooms, a staffroom, a library, a large kitchen, an art room and play hall. The pupils were grouped into eight classes according to disability, age and academic ability. By 1990 there were seven full-time teachers employed.


Originally, the School was funded by the Catholic Institute for the Deaf. They received a grant from the local authorities where the children came from. The school made an application to the Catholic Institute for funding based on the number of days each child was resident in the school. The remainder of the funding came from charitable bequests or fundraising. It was not until 1952 when the School was officially recognised by the Department of Education as a special school that it received funding from the Department. The Department of Health later assumed responsibility for the residential aspects of the School.


In 1960 the grant paid by the local authorities for the maintenance of the children amounted to £80.00 per pupil per year. In a letter from the Department of Education to the Department of Finance seeking an increase in the staffing levels dated 1st March 1960, the Department officials pointed out that this figure of £80 was insufficient to maintain a child in the School. They also asserted that ‘no other maintenance grant’ was provided to the nuns. Reference was also made to the high cost of hearing equipment necessary for deaf children. For example, in 1960 a group hearing aid consisting of a large table with plastic top, microphones and wiring for 12 individual hearing aids cost £250.


Twenty one statements of complaint were furnished to the Investigation Committee. Response statements were supplied by both the Dominican Sisters and the Department of Education in respect of these written complaints.


The investigation into the School consisted of a review of the material produced by the Department of Education and Science, the Dominican Sisters, the Catholic Institute for the Deaf, the Garda Síochana, the Archbishop of Dublin and the complainants’ statements. Thirteen complainants attended for interview out of 23 who were invited to attend. These interviews took place at the Commission’s offices and at various other locations around the country and in the United Kingdom.



On 21st April 1952, Sr McEvoy, Prioress of St Mary’s wrote to the Department of Education seeking recognition as a special school. She insisted that due to the nature of deafness small class sizes were necessary and that ‘there can be no mass teaching of deaf children, each child has her own separate problem’. She felt that 10 to a class would be ideal but ‘twelve may be allowed under stress’. Sr McEvoy also emphasised the importance of speaking: Another point of difference is the fact that it is a residential school. The time spent outside class – play, meals, etc. – is as important for the education of these children as the time spent in class; our’s is now an up-to-date oral school and in consequence the children must be kept speaking at all times, and not allowed to use sign language. This work is done by a qualified matron. She would have to be included in the recognised staff, as well as a Principal and a Vice Principal.


A report for the Department of Education in 1952 noted that there were 177 pupils in the school aged between four and 18 years. The staff consisted of six nuns and six lay teachers who were assisted by five deaf adults. Two of the nuns were fully trained as teachers of the deaf and the remaining staff members had experience in teaching the deaf but their qualifications were ‘approximate to the qualification of untrained teachers’. The report commented that the premises and equipment were excellent and ‘that the whole direction shows an enthusiasm, vision and progressiveness which should make the institution a model not alone for this but for other countries’. The Department felt that a staff of 12 teachers would be needed for the recognition of the school together with a new set of minimum qualification requirements for teachers, assistants and Principals. The teacher pupil ratio was to be 14:1. The Department sought the approval of the Department of Finance for these proposals on 1st August 1952.


The Dominican Sisters generally accepted the Department’s proposals, but they were concerned about the high pupil–teacher ratio. In a letter to the Department of 17th September 1952, Sr McEvoy pointed out that there should only be a maximum of 10 deaf children to one teacher in a class. She asserted that this was a ‘matter of universal experience’. She also took issue with the Department treating them as a national school and reminded them that the Sisters had never at any time applied for recognition as a national school and stated that they had ‘declined to do so for many years, because we believe that many of the Department’s regulations for National Schools are incompatible with the proper running of a residential school for deaf children’. She again reminded the Department that ‘Our application was for recognition as a special school, and we understood before making the application that your Department had initiated a scheme for special schools’.


In 1955, the Department of Finance sanctioned the pupil teacher ratio for the school at 10 pupils to one teacher which was to be calculated on the basis of the number of children ‘in average attendance’ in a year. On 27th January 1960 the Department of Education wrote to the Department of Finance seeking to change the requirement of staffing levels based on the number of children in attendance in a year to the number of children enrolled in the school in any given year. The reason was that the numbers of children in attendance often fluctuated due to illness and hospitalisation. The Department also pointed out in this letter that: ...The authorities of the Department of Education of the Deaf at Manchester University have been reported as being of opinion that St. Mary’s is one of the leading schools for deaf in the world and that there are only two others – one in Holland and the other in America – to compare with it.


The Department of Finance refused the request and stated that the staffing levels in the school were ‘already liberal comparing favourably even with the special quotas for other categories of handicapped children...’. The Department of Education replied by letter dated 1st March 1960 and argued that the only correct basis of comparison of staffing levels could be made with deaf schools in other countries and not with other special schools. They pointed out that in deaf schools in England there was one teacher to every eight students on the rolls and such a similar basis operated in the United States. In English deaf schools, children were not removed from the school rolls even when they were in hospital, unlike their Irish counterparts who had to remove their names from the rolls when in hospital. On 22nd March 1960, the Department of Finance capitulated.


School Inspection Reports show that in 1985 the average number of pupils in each class was between seven and eight. In 1986 the pupil teacher ratio was 6:1. Post-primary education


In the late 1950s the School began providing secondary education. At that time the number of students was quite small and the School was able to meet the needs of these students either within the primary staff quota or with minimal extra teachers. It operated along the lines of the secondary top model where primary teachers taught primary classes in the mornings and taught various subjects to students for the Intermediate and Leaving Certificates in the afternoons. From the mid-1960s the demand for post-primary education grew. The School responded to the demand by employing more teachers. The Department of Education was not directly involved with the provision of post-primary education and it was only with the publication of the 1965 Report on Mental Handicap that the State gradually became more involved not only in the provision of special schools and services for the learning disabled but also in the areas of education of the deaf and the blind.


A Departmental Committee was set up to review the education of hearing-impaired children and it began its work in the late 1960s. The Committee’s report, the first official Irish Government report on the subject, was published in 1972.


The report made some general recommendations about the desirability of the two Cabra schools co-operating in the provision of services. The Principal of St Joseph’s at the time who was a member of the Committee dissented from the opinions of the rest of the group on the question of co-operation. Although, some attempts at co-operation were made during the 1970s, no significant developments occurred. By 1989, 24 full-time permanent teachers were employed in the post-primary section of St Mary’s even though the post-primary section of the school did not have official status as a proper post-primary school. Technically and administratively the school operated as a special national school for the hearing impaired with a post-primary facility.