Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Clifden

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Establishment and history


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.

Physical abuse


There is one documented case of excessive corporal punishment in Clifden, which relates to an incident which occurred in the early 1980s.


A number of siblings were placed in Clifden and reported incidents of violence towards them by a particular lay worker. One of the girls had sustained bruising to her left buttock, allegedly as a result of being hit with a wooden spoon for being unable to do her homework. This allegation gave rise to a Western Health Board investigation.


The matter arose when the Community Care Team in the area in which the children resided wrote to the Western Health Board. The letter expressed concern about the possibility of the children being sent back to Clifden: Our anxiety is that in the event of the parents being unable to cope effectively in the future, the only option open is to return these children to this pathogenic atmosphere.


The Community Care Team requested that ‘the quality of caring in this Residential Home for children’ be investigated and expressed the opinion that ‘this alleged violence is the work of a particular staff member, rather than residential care policy’.


There is no documentation relating to the Western Health Board investigation, except a reference by a Department inspector to the fact that one had taken place. A list of staff members available for this time reveals that this staff member remained in employment in Clifden.


There is no record of a punishment book as required by the regulations being maintained in Clifden. A book was discovered by the Congregation for the period 1933 to 1956, but it does not provide details of any punishments. It is a general commentary on the conduct of the children which, according to this record, was invariably very good.

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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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