Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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A total of 1,483 children were recorded in the admission register of St Michael’s Industrial School over the entire period. For the period 1930 until 1983, the total number of children was recorded as being 582. In the period 1897 to 1960, it was understood that some 96 voluntary admissions were recorded for St Michael’s.


When the boys reached the age of 10, they were transferred to other industrial schools around the country. Most of the children were committed through the courts in the early years and came from the counties of Tipperary, Waterford, Cork, Wexford, Limerick, Galway, Clare and Dublin.


The Mother Superior of the convent appointed the Resident Manager of the Industrial School and, during the period covered by the inquiry, there were seven Resident Managers, of whom four account for much the greater part.


The documents available to the Committee included: The reports of the General and Medical Inspections conducted by the Department’s Medical Inspector, Dr Anna McCabe,1 following her appointment in 1938; Memoranda and correspondence between the Department’s Inspectorate and the Resident Manager and Superior for St Michael’s Industrial School following the Inspections; Memoranda and correspondence between St Michael’s School and the Department in relation to the financial viability of the School, the reduction in pupil numbers, capitation grants and such like, and the plans to move from an institutional model to that of group homes.



The pool from which the Resident Manager and the Sisters were drawn to work in the Industrial School was confined to the Sisters in the local convent, St Teresa’s. As there was no central organisation of the Sisters of Mercy at that time (this came much later), it was not possible to source Sisters from outside the Community of St Teresa’s.


The number of Sisters resident in St Teresa’s during the relevant period was approximately 28 from 1940 to 1960, and decreased to 20 in 1985.


Four Sisters worked full-time in the Industrial School; the remaining Sisters were engaged in other full-time activities such as primary and secondary teaching. There was a boarding school from 1963 and a commercial college. From time to time, a number of the other Sisters helped out in the Industrial School. The Sisters who worked full-time were assisted by a number of lay staff. It would appear from the records that in the region of four to five lay staff were engaged. Their numbers and roles varied from time to time, but usually included a matron, cook and various tradesmen.


One witness recalled: I kind of have memories of one nun looking after about 90 kids in the yard, or in the School, in very small rooms.


Another witness said that: The nuns had a supervisory capacity in the sense that they looked after the medical part of it and they looked after possibly the dormitories and things like that. But the lay staff had the day to day practical workings and they would get you in for your meals or they would get you ready for bed or they would get you for walks... generally the lay staff did that.


In their Opening Statement, the Sisters of Mercy acknowledged that at times they failed the children in their care: ... Cappoquin industrial school went through particular periods of difficulty and there were undoubtedly times when children in our care suffered. We deeply regret the situation, as revealed by the Department records, regarding the diet and health of the children in the period 1944–5 ... We acknowledge that there were management difficulties in the 1980’s, which must have impacted on the quality of care for the children ... As a Congregation, we are deeply sorry for our failings in the running of Cappoquin industrial school at these particular times and for the effect of this on the children in our care ... It is also true to say, however, that there were long periods of time when the school was viewed by the Department as being well run and the children well cared for.


The early contemporaneous documents reveal a story of serious neglect of the children in Cappoquin. The Institution was overcrowded, and accommodated children in excess of its permitted certification number. The children were seriously undernourished and underfed.


The Institution was managed by the same Resident Manager from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s.


The first surviving record of a General Inspection of St Michael’s is dated 1939. The School received a clean bill of health from Dr Anna McCabe, who described the children as well kept and well fed.


The next report was almost four and a half years later and dated 1943. Although this report refers to a previous inspection carried out the year before, there is no record of this inspection.


Dr McCabe found on this occasion the following: The School was overcrowded (91 children); The infirmary had been taken over as a dormitory; The food and diet was unsatisfactory, with a lack of butter, meat, bread and sugar. She carefully examined the amounts given to the children and considered they were all underfed and she gave the example of 7lbs of mince per day and 7lbs of butter per week being divided amongst 91 children.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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  21. This is a pseudonym. Sr Lorenza later worked in St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny. See St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny chapter.
  22. Mother Carina.
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