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Chapter 9 — Clifden

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Establishment and history


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.


In June 1982, the Resident Manager informed the Department that she had given permission to the Galway Association for the Mentally Handicapped to use part of the Industrial School building for their own purposes. She indicated that this was likely to be a permanent arrangement as the building was too large for the group of 24 children resident in the Industrial School.


In 1983, that number had further dwindled to 15, prompting the Resident Manager to write to the Department, stating ‘Due to circumstances beyond our control and after consultation with officials of the Western Health Board, and also due to lack of referrals from the Health Board we are reluctantly obliged to close the Home in Mid July’.


A report by Mr Ciaran Fahy, consulting engineer, on the buildings and accommodation in Clifden, appears in the Appendix to this chapter.


The Investigation Committee heard evidence in three phases. The first phase involved a public hearing at which Sr Margaret Casey, Provincial Leader of the Western Province of the Congregation of Sisters of Mercy, gave evidence on behalf of the Congregation on 10th January 2006. She had no direct involvement with Clifden apart from spending a fortnight there before the School closed down. She drew from the following sources of information in preparing her evidence for the Commission’s inquiry: archival records held by the Congregation; material received from the Commission by way of discovery and complainants statements; documentation arising out of litigation proceedings; and conversations with Sisters who were part of the Community in Clifden.


In her evidence of 10th January 2006, she set out in detail the Congregation’s position with regard to St Joseph’s Industrial School, Clifden.


In the second phase of the inquiry, the Investigation Committee heard evidence in private hearings from 10 complainants and, at the request of the Sisters of Mercy, from a former resident who had positive memories of her time in Clifden. The Committee also heard evidence during this phase from four respondents, including three members of the Congregation.


Finally, in the third phase of the Committee’s inquiry, Sr Margaret Casey again gave evidence at public hearings on 15th and 16th May 2006 and was questioned in relation to the Congregation’s position in light of the evidence that had emerged during the private sessions.

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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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