In May 1961, she was released by order of the Minister for Education to Mr and Mrs Lacey.14 She was nine years old. She remembered being sent to the Reverend Mother’s office and there was a couple sitting there. They seemed quite old to her and they were introduced to her as her uncle and aunt. She went out with them for day trips initially, and then she spent a couple of weeks over Christmas. The Sisters asked her how she got along and, at that stage, she thought it was fun being brought to the seaside and given treats. She recalled the food they gave her was very rich and, because they gave her toys, she thought she had landed in heaven.
She testified that, when she was released into the care of the Laceys, things changed. She was sexually abused by Mr Lacey. He built a corrugated shed in the garden which he used solely for the purpose of raping her. He told her it was a playhouse. She believed Mrs Lacey knew what was going on as, after being raped, she told her to have a bath. It happened two or three times a week in various places, wherever they were living at the time, until she managed to ‘get away’ from them at the age of 15.
In November 1960, Mrs Lacey wrote to the Rev Mother in St Joseph’s, having been referred by an official from the Adoption Board Dublin. She and her husband were anxious to have a little girl, as they had no children of their own. She described herself as having the means to give the child a good home, a mother and father’s real love, and a good education. She said they were both Catholics and in good health. The Laceys said they were married in 1928, 33 years prior to the application in 1961.
Sr Klara came under increasing pressure from the Laceys, who were indignant that Mr Wade, when he interviewed them, had information to suggest that they were not Catholics. Mrs Lacey denied this and said they attended Mass every Sunday. Sr Klara remained very doubtful about them.
In a letter dated 15th December 1960, Mrs Lacey wrote to the Department: Dear Sir, As requested I herewith make an application for permission to have Annette the child from St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny for the Christmas period. My husband and I have already had her out for one day and we have asked the Mother Superior to let us have her with us, as we are giving a children’s party at our café, and the Mother Superior said as far as she was concerned it would be alright. The child having no parents or relatives we are both willing to help her in every way possible, by giving her a good home, with a Mother’s and Father’s love, bringing her up in the Catholic faith, and educating her in the best possible manner. We are quite aware on account of her age that we cannot adopt her legally, but are more than willing to be her Foster Mother and Father. My husband being Managing Director of a large firm tells you that we have the means to do the very best for the child. Trusting you will grant us this permission. Yours Faithfully Mrs Lacey
In a letter to Mrs Lacey dated 8th January 1961, Sr Klara informed her that Annette was safely back in Kilkenny and had been telling the Sisters about the wonderful time she had with ‘my Mammy and my Daddy’ and thanking her for giving her such a good time.
In a detailed report in April 1961, concerning the Laceys’ application, Mr Wade wrote to Mr McDevitt, Inspector. He set out the circumstances of how the couple came to Ireland in 1960 and immediately contacted the Adoption Board with regard to taking a child into their household. They had been referred by the Adoption Board to St Joseph’s, Kilkenny as an institution that might be able to ‘supply their want’. Sr Klara understood from this referral that they had been vouched for by the official in the Adoption Board, and she introduced the couple to Annette. Mr Wade had met the couple on several occasions as they had called into the Department. On the surface, they appeared pleasant but he had a number of concerns. First, Mr Lacey admitted to being lax about his religious duties; secondly, Mrs Lacey protested that she was a convert to Catholicism but was hazy as to the date of her conversion from the Protestant religion; and, finally, although she could give the location, she was not sure of the exact date of her marriage to Mr Lacey. Added to this, Sr Klara had her own doubts about the couple’s religious persuasion and had been warned that couples were going about the country seeking to adopt infants – therefore, she was not prepared to make the decision on her own authority. Mr Wade concluded that the application should be refused on the grounds that the whereabouts of the child’s mother were unknown and her consent would be needed for final discharge, coupled with the vague replies by the Laceys about their marriage.
She was discharged by order of the Minister to Mr and Mrs Lacey on 5th May 1961.
The following additional particulars were recorded: Annette was discharged on May 5th 1961 by Order of the Minister of Education to Mr and Mrs Lacey, [address redacted]. Mr McDevitt and the Resident Manager (Sr Klara) were not in favour of this adoption.
On 11th May 1961, Mr and Mrs Lacey were informed officially in writing that, after very careful consideration, the Minister for Education had now ordered the release of Annette to their care with the condition attached that, if her parents at a future date claimed custody, they would have to immediately surrender the child to them. Mr McDevitt signed the letter on behalf of the Minister and also asked the couple to keep him informed of any change of address made by them. The Resident Manager in Kilkenny was informed in writing at the same time.
Precisely one year later, on 11th May 1962, Mr Wade received a memorandum from one of the Departmental officials who said he had called on Mr and Mrs Lacey at the address where they were living when Annette was discharged to them. He spoke to the woman who now occupied the house. She told him the Laceys had left a long time ago, had sold their business and now had either a pub, or a fish and chip shop in the Southeast.
Sometime between June and September 1962, Mrs Lacey wrote to the Reverend Mother in Kilkenny from her address, expressing a wish to return Annette because she said Annette was lying, stealing and using bad language. They had had to remove her from her school in a local convent, as she was not making any progress, and she was a constant worry to them and clearly did not appreciate what was being done for her.
Sr Hanna,16 who had taken over from Sr Klara, informed Mr McDevitt about the letter and advised him that she had written immediately to Mrs Lacey to tell her the child would be welcome back in St Joseph’s and was expecting her back any day.
On 30th September 1969, when Annette was 17 years of age, the Children’s Officer in the County Borough of [place redacted] wrote to the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools with the following information: Dear Sir, Re: Annette – 1.11 .52 The above named girl was placed by you in 1961 from St Joseph’s School, Kilkenny into the care of Mr and Mrs Lacey who were, at that time, living in, Co Dublin. After moving from place to place in Ireland the Lacey’s eventually came to live in [the UK]. Over the last few months, they have alternatively written letters complaining about the girl’s behaviour and asking for help and others to say that everything was alright and they preferred not to be visited. On the 13th August, 1969, Mr and Mrs Lacey deposited Annette’s belongings in the Department with a final letter to say that they wished to have no more to do with her. As we have no background knowledge of this girl prior to her going to live with the Lacey’s, I would be most grateful for any information you could supply regarding Annette’s case history before this time. Yours Sincerely [Children’s Officer]
The Department did not respond until four months later and, in a letter dated January 1970, they stated: Dear Madam, With reference to the enquiry you made in September last in regard to above-named girl, I am directed to inform you that according to the records of this office, Annette was an illegitimate child, the daughter of [details redacted mother later re-married] ... The couple separated. It is believed they are in England, but the address of either party is not known. Annette was baptised a Roman Catholic. She was committed to the care of St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny by order of Court [date redacted]. She remained in that school until May 1961, when she was discharged to the custody of Mr and Mrs Lacey, then living in Co Dublin [address redacted]. The Lacey’s later went to reside in England. It was made a condition of the discharge of Annette to their care that should either or her parents at a future date claim custody of this child the Lacey family would have no option but to surrender her immediately to such parent. I am to express regret for delay in replying to your letter and that we have no more useful information to give. The Resident Manager of St Joseph’s School, Kilkenny, may be able to supply more details in the case, such as Annette’s progress at school, names and addresses of relatives or friends in this country. Your Faithfully