Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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A month later, Dr Lysaght made a surprise inspection of the premises on behalf of the Department of Education. There were 32 boys there, all aged 10 or under. He recorded eight staff members, including the Resident Manager. He found the condition of the premises in good repair, and was informed that the Congregation had spent a lot of money on improvements and was most anxious about falling numbers. The Resident Manager feared they might have to close down. Dr Lysaght toured the building and was generally pleased with what he saw. He remarked on the good table manners displayed by the boys, and felt this was down to the efforts made by the Sisters with them. He thought the boys had a well-balanced and varied diet. He carried out a medical inspection, and raised a number of concerns about the arrangements in existence for dental treatment, which were not very satisfactory. The School in general had a happy and homely atmosphere.


In the late 1960s, the Superior again wrote to the Chief Inspector, and requested that they be allowed to take girls as well as boys, due to a decrease in numbers. She also requested that boys be allowed to stay until 12 years of age, in order that they could go to the local national and technical school for further studies.


In a Department memorandum, the view was expressed that there seemed no reason why these requests should not be granted, provided accommodation arrangements were suitable. It was also felt that it would be better to have siblings together.


The Resident Manager raised again the following year the issue of allowing boys to remain until their sixteenth birthday, and the Department noted in an internal memorandum that this had been a success in Passage West. Accordingly, it recommended that St Michael’s Cappoquin be approved for retention of boys until the age of 16. This was agreed by the Department some four years after the original request had been made by the Resident Manager.


In 1969, Sr Carina3 wrote to the Department, seeking permission to allow five senior boys to receive secondary education in a nearby secondary school. The Department did not accede to this request.


Later that year, the Resident Manager wrote to the Chief Inspector acceding to his request to take boys from Artane, which was about to close. She wanted boys as young as possible. In her original conversation with him, she had offered to take five, but now felt she could in fact take 10 and maybe, in time, more. A short time later, however, he received a letter from the Resident Manager in which she stated that, on mature and lengthy deliberation, the Reverend Mother and her Council: ... are of the opinion that we are not in a position at present, to admit pupils – boys or girls, nor to take any in future. This means that we must regretfully disappoint you in withdrawing our consent to take boys from Artane School.


This brought the Chief Inspector to Cappoquin within a fortnight. He persuaded the Superior to withdraw the application she had made to close the School.


In 1970, the Department certified St Michael’s for the reception of girls and retention of boys until 17 years, with special permission.


In 1972, two years after the publication of the Kennedy Report, a decision was made by the Department of Education, the Sisters of Mercy and Waterford County Council to erect a model group home in the grounds of St Michael’s Cappoquin for 15 children of mixed sexes, on a site offered to them by the School Manager. This plan was the implementation of one of the major recommendations of the Kennedy Report.


Later that year, a Department Inspector carried out a general inspection. It is worth noting that the previous inspection by Dr Lysaght was in 1966 – a period of six years had elapsed since the Department had carried out an inspection.


The Inspector found 67 children in care. He noted that, of all the schools he had visited so far, Cappoquin was most in need of an upgrade. He was encouraged by the fact that one of the Sisters had just completed the Kilkenny childcare course and was in England on a placement. He was informed that the plans for a group home were being drawn up, and the Resident Manager was most anxious to get this underway, as one of her main problems was overcrowding.


The Inspector noted that, although the plan was to move in the direction of group homes, no extra effort was being made to introduce any form of grouping. The Resident Manager, although active and devoted, was too old and worn out, and the authorities were further handicapped by recurring staffing problems. The staff numbers at the time were two full-time Sisters, one temporary full-time Sister, one Sister in charge of the kitchen with a lay assistant, two part-time Sisters and four lay staff. A nurse called every few weeks.


A group of Departmental officials visited St Michael’s Cappoquin in 1972 to further the group home scheme and select a suitable site. They agreed with the proposal from the Superior that they should buy a site from Mount Melleray Abbey, as it had the advantage of proximity to the convent.


The report, drawn up by one of the Department officials following this visit, made a number of observations regarding the difficulties facing St Michael’s: A factor in the unsatisfactory condition and management of the residential home in St. Michaels has been that it is looked upon as the poor relation by the Convent and has not been properly supported by it. Discreet hints were given to [Sr Clarice]4 that the residential home demands attention as good as can be given to any sector of the Convent’s education Commitment ... ... At present there are 65 children in the residential home which is too many for the kind of set-up there. Apart from this, a small town like Cappoquin would not find it easy to absorb and integrate a community of children as large as the present. Add to that the difficulty in getting the Convent to allocate suitable staff to St. Michaels in adequate numbers and the future might seem most appropriately to lie with two modern, well-staffed group homes accommodating a total of about 30 children between them.


A general inspection carried out in the mid-1970s recorded that 65 children were in care. It noted that only 12 of these were formally grouped (the 12 youngest), with a full-time lay worker and a Sister on a part-time basis as their staff. The two group homes were well under construction.

  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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