Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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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.


Dr McCabe stated in her Inspection Report of 1943 that she had drawn the Resident Manager’s attention to the size of the children on several occasions, and the response she received was that the children were very active. She was sceptical about this explanation, and she reported the situation to her superiors in the Department and advised them to write to the Resident Manager.


In December 1943, the Chief Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools Branch wrote, on behalf of the Minister for Education, to the Superior of the convent to express serious concern about the under-nourishment and weight loss of the children, the overcrowding, and the lack of fire escapes.


In a written response dated January 1944, the Superior said that the diet that had been approved by the School Medical Officer (a former Medical Inspector), and the advice of the present Medical Inspector had been adhered to. The lack of milk was explained by the difficulty in procuring milk and the proximity of two military stations. She robustly defended the Resident Manager, and described her as doing all in her power to keep the supply going, and expressed her satisfaction that there had been no neglect where the children were concerned. She acknowledged the overcrowding, and went on to say that steps would be taken to reduce the numbers to the accommodation limit. Notwithstanding the criticisms that had been made against her, however, she took the opportunity to request an increase of the limit to 80.

  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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