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.
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.
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.
There was a difficult transition period in 1969 when Sr Roberta, the Resident Manager, resigned her post after 27 years and a new Resident Manager, Sr Sofia, was appointed. At that stage, there were 89 children in the School and two permanent staff members. The Acting Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Mr Phelan,13 visited the School in October 1969 and advised the Dublin Metropolitan Children’s Court that Clifden was over-crowded and that no further children should be committed there.
Following this inspection, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education wrote to the Archbishop of Tuam in October 1969, expressing his concern at the staff shortages in Clifden: My Lord Archbishop, I am aware of your deep interest in the welfare of the children in St. Joseph’s School, Clifden, and on that account I request the assistance of Your Grace in the solution of the following problem relating to the institution. In the course of a recent visit to St. Joseph’s the acting Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools was concerned to find that a group of the older girls were flouting authority by refusing to attend school, by roaming the streets of Clifden after dark catcalling and behaving rudely to their elders and that the Gardaí had visited the school last week with a view to establishing a more disciplined behaviour on the part of the children in residence there. In the opinion of the acting Inspector, which is shared by Father Costello,14 a curate in the parish, whom he called on during the course of his visit, the serious deterioration of standards in St. Joseph’s is directly attributable to the insufficient staff employed to look after the 85 boys and girls at present in the institution and as a consequence this shortage of staff places an intolerable and unfair burden on the shoulders of Sr. Sofia, who has recently been assigned to manage the industrial school. To organise efficiently an institution of the size and nature of St. Joseph’s, two additional nuns one of whom, if at all possible, should have experience in nursing or child care would need to be allotted full time to assist Sr. Sofia in her duties and extra lay help is also needed in the kitchen and dormitory to the extent decided by Sr. Sofia. It is in connection with the former requirement that I would ask Your Grace to approach Mother Roberta, the Superior of the community in Clifden, to ensure that the two additional nuns referred to above be assigned to full time duties in St. Joseph’s as a matter of urgency, if effective control of the older girls is to be restored and a source of grave criticism of the industrial school removed. In regard to the engagement of extra lay staff as required by Sister Sofia, I would like to make the following point for Your Grace’ s information, Mother Roberta has been resident manger of the school for a number of years and in this position has received the maintenance grants paid by this Department and the local authorities responsible for the children detained in the school by court order. It seems, however, as a result of the recent inspection that by reason of advancing years and other duties in her capacity as Superior of the convent, Mother Roberta now has little time to devote to the actual day to day care of the children though she still controls the finances of the school. In my opinion this is an entirely unsatisfactory arrangement which must restrict Sr. Sofia in the employment of the extra lay assistance which she so badly needs, and the introduction of the other measures deemed essential if all round standards in the school are to be raised. Administratively it would be a simple matter to change the payment of the maintenance grants from Mother Roberta to Sister Sofia but in the particular circumstances of the community in Clifden this change would not be effective unless Your Grace interfered to make it so. Accordingly, I would also ask Your Grace to use your good offices to ensure that the financial control of the maintenance grants paid by this Department and the Local Authorities in respect of the committed children is placed in the hands of Sr. Sofia so that she may have a free hand in her efforts to restore to St. Joseph’s School its former high standard of performance in the field of caring for the deprived and underprivileged child. I have the honour to be, my Lord Archbishop, Yours sincerely, Assistant Secretary.
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.