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Chapter 9 — Clifden

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Establishment and history


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.


Sr Margaret Casey confirmed that corporal punishment was a feature of life in Clifden, and she stated that it was the norm at the time. The principal form of punishment was slapping, administered by hand, cane, flat stick or ruler, usually by the Sister on duty. She found no evidence of a policy under which children were sent to the Resident Manager or other senior figures for the administration of punishment, and conceded that punishments were carried out in the presence of other children, usually on the spot. She referred to the punishment book mentioned above, and confirmed it was not maintained after 1956 and was general in nature.


Sr Casey acknowledged that the documented case of excessive corporal punishment referred to above was ‘a significant incident’.


She conceded that, with the benefit of hindsight, both the Congregation and individual Sisters regret the use of corporal punishment and recognise the potential effects on these already vulnerable children.


In the course of an apology to former residents of Clifden, Sr Casey stated: I suppose we do recognise that the children that were committed to our care...were vulnerable and we do recognise that they were traumatised. The system that prevailed in the Industrial School mitigated against giving them the necessary affection and care that their vulnerability required ... It was necessary dealing with such large numbers to maintain order and strict discipline was required. This obviously had a negative effect on the children and unfortunately we deeply regret that this may have been excessive at times and for this we are truly sorry.

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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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