Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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At around this time, however, staff in Group Home A, the group home managed by Sr Callida, were becoming increasingly alarmed at how the house was being run.


Evidence was given by three lay staff members who worked in the homes under Sr Callida’s management and two of whom made complaints at the time.


Ms Linehan10 worked in Group Home A from the early to late 1980s. She began work immediately after leaving school as a carer and, after a few years, was appointed as House Parent in Group Home A where Sr Callida was Resident Manager.


She said that, although the children in Group Home A were well provided for materially, and ‘all their basic needs were met’, they were not cared for emotionally. She said they were afraid of Sr Callida, and that she herself had witnessed a child with marks on her leg as a result of a beating from Sr Callida: ‘It was the first time I had seen marks on a child there. And it was a shock and it was a surprise to me’.


Although that was the only time she had seen evidence of Sr Callida’s treatment of the children, ‘There was other times when kids said that she did hit but I was never there and I never heard’.


Ms Linehan said that at the time she did not feel she was in a position to question the way Sr Callida managed the home. She said there was a regime in place that she could not question, although she would have disagreed with aspects of it: ‘A lot of the time I would be afraid to speak out ... I was afraid to lose my job maybe’.


Everyday issues were handled harshly: I just felt it was too strict and just different things, every day things like that. You know, I mean when I look back on it it was again the time where – it was very, very strict being in care for kids, very, very hard.


Although she accepted that it was a different era and childcare practices were different, she believed the regime was unnecessarily hard: Looking back on it. But I think sometimes Callida could have made it a little bit easier for the children to be in care, because being in care was hard enough, being there without your parents, and then having somebody sometimes so strict on you, I think was hard.


She felt unable to express disagreement with Sr Callida, and none of the other care staff were able to do so either. She described Sr Callida as ‘a very strong person and when she said something that was it, you had nowhere else to go’.


This ex-staff member was concerned about three specific issues in Group Home A: She did not think that it was appropriate for past pupils to stay in Group Home A with the children. She believed that some of them were a bad influence on the children. Past pupils were not allowed to stay in either of the other group homes – only Sr Callida allowed it. The Department had been concerned snce 1976 about the practice of past pupils being allowed to stay over. They had been assured that the practice would cease and that lodgings would be found for the ex-pupils elsewhere. However, in Group Home A the situation was allowed to continue. Sr Callida went absent for days at a time, without giving any prior notice, and without leaving any contact address or number. The witness, who was in her 20s, was left in charge of up to 16 small children without any support from the Resident Manager or any other Sister in Cappoquin. Sr Callida regularly drank alcohol – usually whiskey – in the group home. She said that this occurred in the evening and was often in the sitting room in front of the older children. She said that Sr Callida would not be so drunk as to be ‘falling all over the place or anything, but I felt at the time it was drunk when she would slur a word’.


She did not believe that Sr Callida’s drinking affected the day-to-day running of the home, but it did affect her personality: I suppose not as the running of the everyday stuff, because the staff, I think, would do a lot more of that, of the running of the house and the caring of the kids. But I just felt sometimes that it probably affected her personality, maybe the day after or something that she would be a little bit hung over. Maybe that affected her work.


Another ex-staff member who worked in Group Home A immediately after Ms Linehan left confirmed this witness’s account, although she was more critical of the impact of all the problems on the children.


Ms Tierney11 started work in Group Home A in the late 1980s when she was aged 20 years. She had no experience in childcare, having worked in an office previously: [Group Home A]. My first impressions were of all these dirty scruffy children. That is an awful thing to call them but that’s what it was. It was just a chaotic house and there were just children everywhere. The first day I went there Callida was on her own and there were just small children all around the house, all over the place, and the house was very shabby as well ... At the time I started there, there were 10 to 12 children living in the house ... 6 months to 16 years. It was just a very chaotic place to work. I didn’t really understand the workings of the place or anything like that. As a staff team everyone seemed to be afraid of Callida. Any time I would answer the phone it was like "is she there?" That was the first reaction, "Is she there?”


There was no proper routine, no timetables and new staff just ‘fell in’ with the household duties and minding the children: We were basically there to mind the kids, a house full of children, and very young children. At one stage there was seven of them under five. You would be on your own with them. At the time there seemed to be really a lack of staff there. For a space of two months or three months there was two of us working on our own, back to back. We did a 14 day stint, back to back twelve hour shifts, with no support from anyone. I was often there on my own with 12 children ... I was on my own a lot there. You would have to get up and get a load of them out to school, get their breakfast and get them all out to school and then you had four or five toddlers at home all day. And you had to clean the house as well. It was very hard.


She found communication between management and staff was non-existent. It was a frightening place to be for staff and children, and she did not feel safe. The two group homes were pitted against each other. The children in Group Home A looked down on the children in Group Home B. Toys and clothes were in better supply in Group Home A. There was no support from social workers. Ex-residents frequently arrived at the home and were allowed to sleep over. One particular ex-resident was an older man with a history of alcohol and drug abuse. The children were terrified of him. She witnessed the Resident Manager’s abuse of alcohol on numerous occasions, both inside and outside the group home.

  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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