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Chapter 9 — Clifden

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Establishment and history


In 1944, the Department of Education changed its system of paying capitation grants to industrial and reformatory schools, from a system of payment according to the number of children they were certified to accommodate, to one under which the schools were paid according to the number of children actually accommodated, up to the limit of their accommodation number.


Sr Roberta applied to the Department of Health in 1956 for the reception of children from the local authorities. Whilst there is no documentary material confirming the approval of her application, it appears that it was granted, and there is a letter from the Department of Education to the Department of Health referring to the School in favourable terms.


On 8th June 1959, Sr Roberta applied to the Department of Education for a revision in the certificate to enable the School to accept junior boys. In support of her application, she stated that, if successful, this would enable siblings to stay together rather than being scattered to various schools around the country. She also made similar representations to the Minister for the Gaelteacht, and added, ‘For some time past our numbers here have fallen so we are most anxious to get the little boys’. The ISPCC supported the application, describing the School as ‘excellent’.


Dr Anna McCabe,7 the Department of Education Medical Inspector, recommended that the Certificate be revised to accommodate a limit of 140 children, including boys up to the age of 10. Indeed, she described Clifden as a ‘particularly good and well run school’.


However, at the eleventh hour, Sr Roberta withdrew her application to the Department, as the Archbishop of Tuam refused to support it. It is not clear why the Archbishop made this last-minute objection, but the following year Sr Roberta renewed her application, this time with the consent of the Archbishop. She explained: He has now given us the permission as our numbers have decreased very much since then.


The application was granted, and a notice appeared in Iris Oifigiúil on 7th October 1960, which stated that the certificate for the School had been revised to allow for the admission of junior boys, and the certified accommodation limit was increased to cater for 140 children. In the 1970s, as numbers diminished, boys were permitted to stay into their teenage years.


During the 1960s, Sr Roberta actively sought new pupils. In response to rumours in 1964 that the Industrial School in Westport was due to close, she wrote to the Department and stated that she ‘would be more than grateful if you could see your way to send us a few pupils’. In 1967, she wrote to the Department, thanking them effusively for sending the School five children.


In 1969, during the transitional period when Sr Sofia took over as Resident Manager, the Department reviewed the situation and the official concluded that: Clifden is too small a town to accommodate an industrial school that would be as large as St Josephs is at present. It appears to me that maybe 40 or 50 children consisting of boys and girls would be a sufficient enrolment for Clifden industrial school. In the final analysis, the range of necessary services, consisting of schools etc are too restrictive for an institute of this type in a small town.


The Archbishop of Tuam agreed with the proposal to reduce numbers. In 1971, the accommodation limit was reduced to 60 children.


Mr Graham Granville, who was appointed to the position of Child Care Advisor in the Department of Education in the mid-1970s, noted in his Inspection Report of the same year: It would appear upon examination of the files etc. that in the past many of the children admitted to Clifden were received into Care to be removed “out of sight out of mind”.


This policy in his opinion was applied especially to children of different racial backgrounds.


A women’s magazine carried a feature in the late 1960s commenting on the fact that there were 13 mixed race children in Clifden out of about 80. By 1980, the profile of the children had changed, in that the majority were local children from the surrounding areas.


From the early 1970s, the idea of converting Clifden into a group-home school was suggested. The Department kept a critical eye on the School, after shortcomings in its management were exposed in 1969. The future of the School was reviewed, and it was agreed that numbers should be reduced and the School divided into three groups of between 15 and 20 children, in line with the Kennedy Report recommendations. The Archbishop of Tuam backed the proposal. However, plans were put on hold following a Department inspection in the early 1970s.


In the early 1970s, the Reverend Mother, Sr Antea,8 wrote to the Department offering the use of a vacant building for the purposes of a group home. Nothing appears to have come of this proposal, although the following year the Department put the idea of group homes back on the agenda by agreeing to consider a modest grant towards the project.


The concept was referred to in the Department’s Inspection Reports in the late 1970s and again in the final Inspection Reports of the early 1980s, but dwindling numbers made the project redundant.

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  4. See the chapter on St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s Kilkenny for further details in relation to this course.
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  7. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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