Rachel recalled being beaten with a belt by a nun, Sr Paola, as she and two other girls had fallen asleep in the same bed together. The next morning, they got another beating with a cane by a different nun, Sr Francesca. They were then aged about 10 or 11 years. This witness also took issue with the documents from the Sisters of Mercy stating that the children received a ‘light slap’. She said they got a beating and not a light slap.
She confirmed that children who were delicate or underweight were given an egg flip or cod liver oil in between meals by being taken out of school. Rachel also said, ‘I used to actually have to leave my class and go up for an egg flip and cod liver oil at 10.00 o’clock’.
Rachel described the clothes and the undergarments as ‘big like denim jeans’ which were only changed once a month and ‘it was too bad if you had an accident’. However, she said the bed linen was ‘very clean’ and the beds were cleaned and dusted every Saturday morning. She acknowledged that they had a toothbrush each, but shared the same bath water when having a bath.
Rachel recounted that they ‘had to work very, very hard’. She gave evidence of the type of work that was part of the daily routine of the Industrial School. From the age of seven or eight years, she said she was on her knees scrubbing and polishing floors, cloisters and big dormitories. When she was 10 or 11 years, her main chore was looking after the babies, which entailed getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning to wash and dress them and to wash their sheets if they had been soiled, as there were no nappies. She had to look after approximately nine or 10 babies in one dormitory. She slept in the dormitory with them.
Rachel said that there were three girls looking after the babies and toddlers, one for each of the three dormitories. In the mornings, she had to wash and dress the babies, and give them their breakfast of porridge, all before she went to school. No adult, lay staff or nun slept in the dormitory with the babies. When she went to school, two nuns, one of whom was very old, would look after the babies. Once school was finished for the day, she had to go back to look after these young children and take them out to the yard to play. At 5 o’clock, she had to get the children washed and ready for bed before she had her own tea. From 7 to 9 o’clock in the evening, the witness described that she had her study time and then, at 9 o’clock, she went back to the children. At midnight, a nun rang the bell and she got the babies up to put them on their potties. The routine was the same at weekends. Rachel commented that a doctor had told her that she was a mother before she was a child, ‘I find I am living my childhood through my little three year old granddaughter’.
Rachel referred to the break-up of the family and the fact that, although the family home was in Dublin, she and her sister were sent to Newtownforbes: I was taken away at three years of age ... My sister was eight and I was three years of age ... I want to know why we were sent, myself and my sister were sent 80 miles away where we had contact with nobody, no family, no nothing. So with the result I lost out on a family.
The death of a child that Rachel used to look after had a very traumatic and distressing effect on her. One morning, the child was not well and she knew there was something wrong with her: because she was just lying around and I took her on my lap and I hugged her and tried to comfort the child, although I was only a child myself. I sent up word to say that the child wasn’t well, but nobody came down.