Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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Sexual abuse


Another nun, Sr Clarice, described the circumstances of Mr Restin’s departure. At the time, she was the teaching principal of the girls’ primary school in Cappoquin and a former Superior of the convent. She had contact with the Industrial School because some of the children attended the primary school and she also helped out at weekends and holiday periods. She remembered Mr Restin as a kind of supervisor in the institution. He was an assistant leader in the Scouts. One day a scout leader warned her about him saying ‘Sr Clarice, go home to Sr Carina and tell her to try and get rid of Mr Restin and do that soon’.


She went straight to the convent and told the Superior; together, they went to see the Resident Manager, who listened attentively. The manager said that Mr Restin was due to bring the children for an outing the following day and she would put a stop to that. She got rid of him soon after that. The scout leader explained that, while sexual abuse was not spelled out to her by the local man, she sensed the meaning and urgency of the message he was conveying. She said in evidence that she never discussed Mr Restin’s previous work history with anybody. She did become aware afterwards that he had worked in Passage West in the industrial school, because there was a Sister in Cappoquin who had a sibling, also a Sister, in Passage West: and I think she wrote to her, but it was only just – I never read the letter and I never knew anything, but it was really on the urgency of [the local man], that’s how I went to the Superior and that’s how we went to (the Resident Manager).


Mr Restin left Cappoquin suddenly. He did not now remember the circumstances and he thought someone may have said something to the nuns about him abusing boys.


There is very little information about where Mr Restin was between the time he left Cappoquin in the mid-1970s and his departure for England in the late 1970s. He said that after Cappoquin he went to work in Cork before he left for England. Initially, he worked in a bar and then returned to nursing.


Mr Restin’s unsuitability for work with children was clear from his time in Passage West, but that information was not effectively communicated to Cappoquin. Although his unsuitability to take part in a childcare course was known to the management of Passage West and to the Department Inspector, he was able to remain in his position in Cappoquin. If proper inquiries had been made, he should not have been employed in Cappoquin. Children had complained about Mr Restin’s abuse, but action was only taken when an adult raised the alarm. Children were not listened to or believed when they spoke about what was happening to them, and this allowed abuse to continue.


Witnesses from Cappoquin gave evidence about visits by boys to the Cistercian Abbey at Mount Melleray. One former resident alleged that he had been sexually abused there in the course of a weekend visit.


Mount Melleray Abbey is situated about four miles from Cappoquin and is run by the Cistercian Order. There was no formal relationship between Mount Melleray Abbey and St. Michael’s Cappoquin. Informally, however, it would appear that eggs were delivered weekly to the industrial school from the poultry farm and twice a year surplus apples were delivered. Some minor plumbing work was carried out by a monk on occasions and a priest monk from the Abbey went weekly to hear the nuns confessions and to say Mass when the local priest was on holidays. The Sisters also negotiated the transfer of a site from the Abbey farm to accommodate their group homes in or around 1972.


Br Cosimo27 was professed in 1957. He attended the oral hearings of the Committee and he said that he acted as the general handyman at the Abbey. It was traditional that once or twice a year he collected excess apples harvested at the nearby Glencairn Abbey and delivered them to St. Michael’s Industrial School. He got to know the children and the Sisters and it occurred to him during these visits that the boys would benefit from spending occasional weekends in Mount Melleray where they could enjoy fresh air, gardens and the grounds of the Abbey. He said he had also observed that the industrial school was cramped and there were very few recreational facilities available for the children.


Sr Violetta28 or Sr Carina selected the boys who were to spend the weekend. Typically, they would be picked up at the School by one of the guests staying in the Abbey, as Br Cosimo did not drive at the time. They would have their tea, play table tennis or board games, and then retire to bed at around 8.30 pm. The boys usually came in the winter months, when the guesthouse was less busy. Br Cosimo would take them for long walks, and he acquired toys and a bicycle for them. None of the other monks had any involvement with the children, as it was considered to be his project and therefore was his responsibility.


It appears that from the beginning other members of the Community were unhappy with the presence of young, boisterous and sometimes raucous boys roaming around the Abbey, unsettling the quiet, monastic atmosphere. Br Cosimo had a bedroom in the guesthouse. He said that he sometimes slept on a mattress on the floor of the bedroom where the boys slept if they were unsettled. He also agreed that he would lie on their beds to talk to them and settle them down at night. As far as he could remember it was always on the outside of the covers. If the boys were making noise or messing he would sometimes have to come from his own bedroom to settle them down and he would be dressed in either his habit or his pyjamas. He never touched them inappropriately and any touching was inadvertent and had no sexual element. He was aware that some of the boys who visited were emotionally disturbed and craved attention. It would have been usual for him to give the children a cuddle or a kiss on the cheek or forehead when they arrived in Melleray and when they left. He had no sense of awareness at the time that any of his actions were inappropriate or open to misinterpretation by the boys.


Some of the members of the Community complained to the Abbot Visitor during a Canonical Visitation to the Abbey, and the visits were discontinued in early 1975.


Sr Viviana was in charge of the group home known as Group Home B and said that she had had no concerns about Br Cosimo and the children until the issue was raised in public in 1996. In 1995 she had been interviewed by Sr Isabella in relation to the recollections of her time in Cappoquin. Sr Isabella kept notes of her interview and in those notes a suggestion was made that Sr Viviana had in fact some concerns about Br Cosimo at the time, enough concern to warrant her interviewing the boys and visiting Melleray Abbey to speak with a senior member of the community with whom she was friendly. When she was reminded about this she gave a vague account of what transpired. It appears that some time in 1974, one or more of the lay staff in the group home mentioned to her that the children were spending a bit of time with Br Cosimo and wondered if this was okay. She was satisfied that Sr Violetta and Sr Carina were happy but she agreed that the lay staff were uneasy about the boys going out. She said that when the concerns of the lay staff were expressed she had no sense of this having anything to do with sex. She interviewed the boys and talked about it and she said she personally felt there was nothing in it. The senior member of the community was a friend of hers and she used to talk to him. She remembered going to see him and expressing a concern that Br Cosimo was taking the boys and asked him what did he think. He told her that Br Cosimo was a ‘man’s man’ and she read nothing more into that other than that he was not very friendly with women. She said she thought no more about it. She does not recall when in 1974 this happened and had no recollection if there was any connection between her conversation and the visits of the boys being brought to an end in February 1975.


There was no proper assessment of Mount Melleray as an appropriate place to send children in care for weekend breaks. Staff in the institution were uneasy and expressed concerns about the visits. The way that Sr Viviana dealt with the staff unease about the visits showed her awareness of risk to the boys. The information that Br Cosimo was a ‘man’s man’ should not have given any reassurance. In the result, although she carried out some investigation by interviewing the boys and speaking to the Abbot, she did not properly assess the situation and remove the risk to the children that had clearly been identified. Sleeping arrangements were wholly unacceptable.


In the mid-1980s, a young boy, David, 29 who was in care in Cappoquin, was placed in part-time employment in a local hotel. He suffered from an intellectual disability, but was able to perform odd jobs there and he returned to the group home at night.


In the course of this employment, he was subjected to sexual assault by a chef working in the hotel.

  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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