Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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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.


In 1976, the Department of Education appointed Graham Granville as a childcare advisor to the Department of Education and Inspector of Residential Children’s Homes and Special Schools. This position was one of the recommendations made by the Kennedy Report in 1970.


The first general inspection report from Mr Granville is dated 2nd April 1976 and, by then, two group homes had been opened in the grounds of Cappoquin, with a number of children still accommodated in the old Industrial School.


He was disappointed with his visit and found an air of complacency in the old Institution and the new group homes. The Resident Manager and her assistant were very elderly and had only two very young staff to assist. The children in the old premises were divided into three ill-defined groups and: I can only express my very grave concern at the extremely low standard of care that is available for the children. I believe that the present environment is damaging by the very nature of its institutional primitive appearance, it is lacking in warmth and consequently, I would question the quality of care being applied for the children.


The report continued in a critical vein: he noted that there were serious staffing problems for some time and, in fact, in the previous 12 months they had to dismiss a staff member following complaints from a parent to the medical officer in the area.


The two new group homes had a young nun in charge of each, who were trained social workers, and a very limited young, inexperienced staff: The Sisters in charge at the New Group Homes have transferred some of ineffective child care practises into their Homes. I am most concerned about their attitudes and approach to the work, they are lacking any impetus and they are negative in a number of ways.


He decided to return to Cappoquin within a week and speak to the Reverend Mother in private about the situation. She agreed with his suggestion that the way forward was to phase out St Michael’s over a five-year period and move towards group homes.


Later that month, in an internal memorandum, a senior Department official, having read Mr Granville’s report, suggested that the root cause of the problems in Cappoquin was the lack of male staff in a school that had, until recently, been a home for boys. Mr Granville confirmed that, even with normal discharge, it would take several years to reduce the numbers in Cappoquin to the ideal of about 30, with 15 in each group home. There was general agreement with Mr Granville that the old building needed to be phased out as soon as possible.


In June 1976, Mr Granville furnished a confidential report to three senior officials in the Department of Education, following a visit to Cappoquin when he met with the Resident Manager, and a child psychiatrist who later joined their meeting.


His findings were so serious that it is necessary to quote the report extensively: I visited Cappoquin, St Michael’s Convent ... and observed the following points which I discussed with the Resident Manager, [Sr Carina] as I have done on previous visits of mine to Cappoquin. At the latter part of my visit [the child psychiatrist] arrived at St Michael’s. (1)The old Convent is in a very serious situation as to the ability to continue to provide Residential Child Care. (2)There are neither in my opinion the resources nor the facilities to provide for the basic needs of children listed as per attached. (3)At present there is only one group of children, principally boys, but including two girls, who are nice children but are having bad experiences in the group. That statement is a personal observation and staff confidential views. (4)The older boys who should have been discharged now are bullying the younger children, both physically and emotionally. I have consistently advised [Sr Carina] to discharge these boys and to the full nature of the problems that are happening within the precincts of the Convent. This has been confirmed to me by staff that “bullying” is taking place. There are also a cross-section of problems happening in the Town of Cappoquin that without doubt are the result of institutionalisation and negative Child Care attitudes. (5)Problems are now being encountered by younger boys who clearly wish to follow the patterns of their peers, and subsequently [Sr Carina] and [the child psychiatrist] wish to transfer these children ... The inappropriate transferring of children has to cease at Cappoquin from St Michael’s. (6)There is a grave danger that the attitudes of the Nuns at St Michael’s will perpetrate into the new Group Homes. In fact it has done so to some degree where I know that children are sent to bed for some problem by Lay Staff and ignored. Modern Child Care practice contains ample sanctions, if skilfully and professionally applied but the above practice is both detrimental and damaging to any child and there is absolutely no reason for the above practice. (7)There is a grave danger that this Residential Child Care Centre may be subjected to a Press campaign. (8)The Rev. Mother and myself have discussed these issues, she is extremely concerned. (9)Can we request that [Sr Carina] be relieved of her post and Sister [Isabella]5 who works at St Michael’s. (10)[The child psychiatrist] has a tremendous influence at St Michael’s. As he is no longer attached to the ... Health Board I suggest that St Michael’s use the appropriate Psychiatrist on the Health Board. (11)Money is being mis-appropriated for the use of past pupils who do not make any contributions to their care and the Department of Education does not pay any Capitation, as they are over-age. (12)If the Group size was reduced drastically at St Michael’s to 1 of 12 children plus 2 Lay Staff and 1 Nun as Resident Manager one should see a marked improvement in overall care attitudes. (13)I am going back on the 26th / 27th July to review the whole of the committed children at St Michael’s and have staff meetings with all the Nuns and the Lay Staff together with the Rev. Mother. (14)We are in the area of malfunctioning and nearing neglect totally of the children’s emotional needs, and we consequently have to scrutinise the future of St Michael’s very closely or the Department could be seen to be colluding with St Michael’s Child Care practice.

  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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