Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Clifden

Show Contents

Establishment and history


There were three Resident Managers in Clifden during the period under review: Sr Alma1 held the position of Resident Manager until her retirement in 1942, and was succeeded by Sr Roberta,2 who held this post until 1969; and Sr Sofia3 then took over as Resident Manager until 1984, following the resignation of the certificate by the School in 1983. During Sr Roberta’s 27-year reign, she also held the position of Mother Superior for two terms, her last term ending in 1971 when the five Mercy convents in the Diocese of Tuam amalgamated. Clifden was very influenced by the personal qualities of Sr Roberta, who ran the School in a strict authoritarian manner. Her departure from the School coincided with the opening-up of the whole industrial school system that occurred after the Kennedy Report in 1970.


A significant factor in the running of Clifden was the enormous workload undertaken by Sr Roberta. According to the evidence of the Congregation, she worked long, punishing hours in the Institution. Whilst this can be seen as laudable on the part of the Sister, she was not able to care for the children properly and did not seek extra help from the local convent.


Until 1969, when the two national schools amalgamated, three teachers were assigned to teach in the internal national school. They had little or no involvement with the children outside school hours. There were usually three or four Sisters, including the Resident Manager, appointed to work full-time in the Industrial School. Their duties ranged from supervising meals to working in the kitchen, bakery, nursery and laundry. Until 1969, the religious staff worked seven days a week, with little or no holidays.


The Sisters were further aided by lay staff, some of whom were former residents. There was an average of eight to 10 former residents who stayed on to work in the Industrial School at any one time. Most of these left some time in their 20s. They had no formal childcare training and completed their education at primary school level. The profile of lay staff changed in the 1970s, when professionals such as teachers and care workers became involved with the School.


There was no childcare training available in Ireland until the 1970s, when a full-time childcare course commenced in Kilkenny in 1971.4


Sr Renata5 completed a childcare course in Kilkenny in 1974, and Sr Sofia and Sr Olivia6 attended an in-service training course in Goldenbridge on Saturdays the same year.


The majority of children sent to Clifden were committed by Orders of the District Court under the provisions of the Children Acts and School Attendance Act. Children were committed to Clifden from all over the country notwithstanding its isolated location. There was no train service beyond Galway City and the town was served by an infrequent bus service. In 1933, the School was certified to take 100 girls over the age of six. The accommodation limit was fixed at 120 girls. In 1937, the School accommodated 142 children, although, until the mid-1950s, the numbers remained at or approximately 120.


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.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. See the chapter on St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s Kilkenny for further details in relation to this course.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is a pseudonym.
  7. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
  8. This is a pseudonym.
  9. This is a pseudonym.
  10. This is a pseudonym.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. This is a pseudonym.
  13. This is a pseudonym.
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym
  16. This is a pseudonym.
  17. This is a pseudonym.
  18. This is a pseudonym.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is a pseudonym.
  21. This is a pseudonym.