Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Neglect and emotional abuse


Just three years later, a Public Health Officer had the Health Board remove their children to protect them from a ‘grave’ situation wherein children’s health and lives were at risk. Ms Fidelma Clandillon, in her memorandum of 17th June 1967, did indeed have grounds to write, ‘It is scandalous that only the death of one of the boys has led to the conditions there coming to light’.


There were rumours and innuendo about cruelty and neglect in Ferryhouse, so it would be expected that the Department of Education’s Inspector would have heard and seen things to cause concern. However, Dr Anna McCabe’s reports gave no indication of the conditions found by Dr Lysaght and the Public Health Inspector just two or three years later.


Even when the ‘shocking report’ arrived, and after the death of one boy through meningitis, there seemed to be no sense of urgency to effect change. On 8th January 1968, the following letter was sent from the Department of Health to the Minister for Education: I am directed by the Minister for Health to refer again to the minute of 12th September 1967 (ref. 6.43 ) regarding conditions at St Joseph’s School, Ferryhouse, Clonmel, and to request you to indicate the present position regarding the arrangements for the provision of increased accommodation in the institution.


A handwritten note is added by an official in the Education Department. It reads: Phoned Miss Little45 to inform her that Inspector T. McD. had visited Clonmel recently but was unable to complete re-assessment of school’s capacity owing to illness of Manager; that Inspector had since sustained broken ankle and would re-visit Clonmel to complete inspection as soon as possible.


Reading this note, one would never guess that the matter under consideration was the ‘serious hazard of overcrowding’, causing a grave risk to the health of some 170 boys.


If Dr McCabe’s reports in the 1960s are not a good indicator of the conditions within Ferryhouse at the time, her earlier reports are more illuminating. The DES records include a report of a visit on 2nd June 1939. Inspection Reports are available for each of the years that follow until December 1944.


Initially, she reported that the School and premises were in a satisfactory state, and that she found the Resident Manager very capable and kind. During the years that followed, conditions began to deteriorate. In April 1941, the sanitation came in for criticism and she referred to a general slackness about the School. In October 1942, she found the premises very unsatisfactory and complained again about the outside sanitation facilities. This time, she warned that, if there were not appreciable improvements all round, ‘drastic measures’ would have to be taken.


This threat had some effect because, in July 1943, she noted ‘much improvement’. The premises had been cleaned and painted. However, she condemned the fact that most of the boys were barefoot. She noted that, whenever she recommended improvements, the Resident Manager complained that he did not have the money. She added that, with the increased grants, her suggestions for improvements should be insisted upon. In a further discussion of her visit on 19th July, she added details: she had found the sanitary annex obsolete and ‘dangerous to the health of the inmates’, and the improvements needed included a whole new water carriage system and modern W.Cs. She continued, ‘If this is not done immediately the money will be used for some other purpose and on my next inspection the same rigmarole will start’. Apart from condemning the boys going barefooted, she asked for a height scale to be bought, for the toothbrushes to be replaced and the bathhouse improved.


The report of October 1944 is quite damning. While there were some improvements – the new sanitary block had been erected and the bathhouse had been repaired – there was a general lack of supervision. The boys were untidy and unkempt, the food and diet were unsatisfactory, and the children were underweight.


She blamed the decline on the rheumatic disability of the Resident Manager, who was 73 and gradually becoming senile, and she felt he was ‘unable for the arduous task of Resident Manager’. She wrote: He always looked after his boys well and I feel if he were active and capable would still do so. He is unable to get about as actively as heretofore. The chaplain is on his sick bed too and poor old Brother B. (76 years old) is nearly past his work too.


She called for the introduction of younger staff. She persuaded the Chief Inspector to write to the Provincial to get him to appoint a successor to the ageing Manager. The Provincial brought in Fr Eduardo46 to assist the Resident Manager, and appointed Fr Ambrosi47 as Dispenser to take charge of the physical welfare of the boys, and in particular their food and clothing, which needed a full-time staff member in view of the difficulty getting supplies.


Surprisingly, Fr Giuseppe48 disagreed with the conclusions of Dr McCabe’s report, the National School Inspector had never expressed any discontent and had found the Principal teacher to be ‘highly efficient’. He contested her view that the children were underweight and asked her to submit proposals as to what should be done in the top dormitory and sanitary annex. ‘In these days of high prices’, he wrote, ‘constructural alterations are not undertaken except with great caution and after proved urgency. Cost may be regarded as about three times what they were before the war’.


He accepted, however, that Fr Basilio49 should not have accepted more boys than the 160 maximum. The School now accommodated 200 boys, and ‘the produce of the farm and garden of 70 acres would be ample for a school of 160 boys; a larger number necessitates extern purchasings and greater cost per caput’.


This extraordinary letter not merely denied that the boys were not gaining weight, a fact that could be easily proven and was not just a matter of opinion, but stated that the farm produced enough food to feed 160 boys. He did not state whether additional food had been brought in, but implied it was not a customary procedure. Nor did he even consider the effects of overcrowding on the health and welfare of the boys.


Dr McCabe was shown his letter and was asked to comment on it. She took him on roundly. In her letter to the Chief Inspector dated 25th November 1944, she set out in detail her thinking on the nutritional needs of growing children and the importance of weight and growth charts in monitoring a child’s health. She wrote: No well cared for healthy child should lose weight. Weight may tend to increase more rapidly in one child than in another, but there should always be a gain.

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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
  53. Cussen Report, p 54
  54. Cussen Report, p 55
  55. Cussen Report, p 52.
  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.