Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Clifden

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The acting Inspector again inspected the School a few months later and found conditions much improved, as documented in his internal memorandum: St. Joseph’s, Clifden Rúnai-Cúnta, On my visit to Clifden Industrial School ... I found that the new manager had made good progress in the task of restoring acceptable standards in the conduct of this school. Numbers have been reduced from 85 to 72, and dormitories were clean and smelt pleasantly and a new locker has been purchased for every child. In the refectory new chairs have been provided and a substantial dinner has replaced the “traditional” bread & tea as the Saturday mid-day meal. Minor improvements in the washing facilities have also been made and Sr Sofia has a programme of painting & decorating, additional heating and a more suitable arrangement of w.c. accommodation in the pipeline. Furthermore she has increased the staff from three to nine and has been successful in placing or transferring six senior girls who had got completely out of hands. We discussed further reductions in numbers, additional staff who would sleep in and become more involved in the social life of the children and the assistance of an Art teacher who would help plan a more individual colour scheme in the children’s dress. Most schools buy in bulk from shops and factories which can effect a saving of up to 35% but can result in the child having to fit the article rather than the opposite. Sr Sofia was advised to postpone structural alterations for the present and to expect a visit next May to discuss the progress of her plans. The Archbishop was to pay a further visit .... I subsequently saw Fr. Costello C.C. who supports Sr. Sofia in her determination to improve matters in St. Joseph’s. Dialogue on most matters will shortly be allowed in the community at Clifden which may reveal why out of a strength of 40 nuns only two are willing to work in the industrial school, though all have taken vows to care for “the poor the sick and the ignorant”. [A] Having seen the chaos which existed with 85 children in residence and insufficient staff & the relative improvement with 72 children and additional staff, I am now moving towards the view that in a small town like Clifden with its limited services and its comparatively isolated position, the number of children who could be successfully integrated in the school life and social activities of the district should be not more than 40-50 (boys + girls) and if you agree, I will discuss this question on the phone with Sr Sofia. In the meantime I am asking [a], Kindergarten Organiser to call on Sr Sofia and advise her on the employment of the children’s time outside school hours. [Handwritten notes at bottom of page] Since writing this report Sr. Sofia phoned to say that the Archbishop had visited ... & she felt he would like to be informed of the results of the recent inspection. In view of his continuing interest it might be well to put the proposal at A above to him in the first instance together with the recent views on the school.


The Archbishop was kept informed of developments and agreed that, ultimately, numbers would have to be reduced.


A further inspection some five months later reported that five Sisters worked part-time on a regular basis in the School, and an additional Sister had been appointed on a full-time basis.


Dr Anna McCabe was appointed Medical Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools in 1939 and held the post until 1965. She also carried out General Inspections of the schools.


There are General Inspection Reports available for most of the 1940s and 1950s. All of these reports, without exception, refer to Clifden in glowing terms. Year after year, it is referred to as an excellent and extremely well-conducted school. The Resident Manager, Sr Roberta, and her deputy, Sr Veronica, are also praised and referred to as very capable and kind. The last Inspection Report by Dr McCabe with regard to Clifden is dated 1962.


Sr Casey and complainant witnesses testified that inspections were notified to the school in advance and that conditions were improved for the visits.


Dr McCabe carried out Medical Inspections at the same time as the General Inspections, and these are documented separately. All of her Medical Reports are very positive.


The local GP completed Quarterly Medical Returns for the Department which noted that the health of the children was excellent, their diet varied and they were well nourished, clean and neat in appearance. The children were taken for walks and drives in the countryside and the accommodation was in good condition.


Dr C E Lysaght was contracted by the Department of Education to conduct one-off inspections of industrial and reformatory schools in 1966. He provided a detailed General and Medical Inspection Report in regard to Clifden after an inspection in 1966.


Overall, his report was very positive. He asked why the industrial school children were taught separately from the local children and was told by Sr Veronica that this was the way it had always been and that, in any event, the local primary school was too small to cater for them.


There was a hiatus in inspections until 1969, when the Acting Inspector visited the School and was alarmed to find it overcrowded and understaffed.


It is apparent that the reports of the acting inspector were more child-centred than those of his predecessors, who tended to concentrate on the physical aspects of the Institution as opposed to the standard of care provided to the children.


Mr Graham Granville was appointed to the position of Child Care Advisor in the Department of Education in the mid-1970s. He conducted five inspections of Clifden between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s. In general, these reports were positive although he expressed concern about the aftercare and the socialisation of the children into the community.


Sr Casey said she had spoken to two Sisters who expressed concern about the adequacy of the food in the School in the mid-1960s. She accepted that, in the 1950s and through to the early 1960s, the food was very basic; at teatime they had bread, butter and jam every day.


Most of the complainants made allegations regarding the poor quality and quantity of food in Clifden. Many of the witnesses recall always being hungry, and resorted to stealing food intended for the farm animals and bread from the bakery.

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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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