Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 16 — Beechpark

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Nature of the allegations


All of the complainants who were present during Sr Ernesta’s regime described being lined up in the morning to go to the toilet and expected to ‘perform on demand’ and were punished if they did not do so. Many of them complained of being given laxatives for this purpose. This routine was carried out every day and the children did not have privacy with regard to their toilet routine.


A number of the complainants described the food as poor and basic and that they were forced to eat it. A number of complainants stated that the food was fine, much like home-cooked food, and they could ask for extra helpings.


Five other nuns were criticised, but most complaints were about Sr Ernesta. She was the nun who slapped for signing, enforced the toilet regime and force fed those who would not eat. She slept near the dormitories and supervised the children at night.

Response of the Congregation to the allegations


The Congregation acknowledged that the School followed the oral/aural method of teaching the deaf. This they said was considered at the time the best way to educate the deaf. Consequently, the children were discouraged from signing and may have got a slap on the hand and/or been reprimanded verbally for doing so. They do not accept that children were beaten for signing.


They accepted that between the years 1961 and 1971 there was a ‘toileting routine’ in the morning. They do not accept that the children were punished or humiliated or made the object of public derision during this ‘toileting’ process. They acknowledged that some children may have unconsciously been worried about it. They accepted that today this routine would not be considered ‘best practice’, but in the late 1950s and in the 1960s it was not questioned. It ceased in 1971 when the children were divided into smaller groups. The Congregation stated that as a general rule laxatives were not arbitrarily given to any pupil, only when necessary if it was considered a child was constipated. This was done under the supervision of the school nurse who liaised with the school doctor.


The Congregation stated that the food was wholesome and plain but in the early years it did not have the variety that was available from the 1970s. They believed that children were well nourished and did not accept that children were force fed.


The Congregation acknowledged that Sisters carried keys for safety reasons from the late 1970s. Prior to that, the keys were hung high over the doors. They accepted that a Sister might have had a key in her hand while trying to get the attention of a profoundly deaf child who may on a rare occasion ‘have got a tip of a key on the back of his hand to gain his attention’. They accepted that this could be painful and not ‘good practice’ and may remain in the memory of the person concerned. They denied that keys were used to deliberately hit the children.


The Congregation supported Sr Ernesta in denying allegations that she beat the children or hit them with a stick or ruler. The School was small and the staff were a closely knit community. If she had beaten the children, Sr Ernesta would have been reported to the Manager of the school for mistreating pupils and abusing her position as Principal. Rules and regulations were necessary even if they appear harsh and unreasonable by the standards of today. Changes were made during 1971 which led to a more lenient regime. Most of this forward thinking and planning was the ‘brain child’ of Sr Ernesta.

  1. This is a pseudonym.