She stated that Sr Roberta, the Resident Manager, and Sr Veronica,12 her Deputy, were strict with the children and could have shown them more compassion. She accepted that the Resident Manager might have appeared frightening to a child, ‘she had a very strong voice, her voice alone would frighten you and I say that alone would make a child afraid’.
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.
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.
A witness, who was sent to Clifden at the age of 10 in the late 1950s and remained there until the mid-1960s, recalled good memories of one respondent, Sr Carmella. She remembered being hit by her on only one occasion. This Sister was kind to the children and the witness felt that she could talk to her. She alleged that this Sister gave her white socks to wear in order to cover bruises on her legs that she had sustained at the hands of Sr Veronica. The Congregation’s Submission following the Phase III hearings rebuts the accusation that Sr Carmella was somehow complicit in physical abuse.
Another complainant, who was committed to Clifden for just over a year in the early 1960s when she was 12 years old, recalled one particular Sister who was kind: ‘When Sister Veronica beat us up, or Sister Roberta, and we would be sore or crying she would always put her hand on your shoulder and tell you not to cry, that everything would be okay. But everything wasn’t okay down there. Everything was bad’.
She described Sr Roberta’s deputy, Sr Veronica,18 as ‘more of a nag but she got very excited because Roberta would be always screaming at her, “get this” and “do that” and everything else.’ She was a very nervous individual and always had to have things just right.
The relationship between Sr Roberta and the rest of the staff, particularly Sr Veronica her deputy, was always authoritarian. She said: Sr Veronica had to do everything the way that Roberta wanted it. Roberta would scream at her the same way she screamed at the kids. She screamed at all the nuns the same way.
He described the Resident Manager’s deputy, Sr Veronica, as ‘... a tyrant. Very very cruel, very tough. Very very tough...She would be the one – if there was any corporal punishment she would be the one to dish it out and Sr Roberta as well’. He could not remember being beaten by any other nuns other than this particular Sister and the Resident Manager. He remarked that, in hindsight, the corporal punishment administered in Clifden was probably no more severe than that administered in other schools at the time. He said: Well, when you are being punished, it is like everything else, you will always take it that no one has ever been punished as hard as you, it is human nature... . The corporal punishment, when you look back on it now, probably was no different than other schools. It was just the hunger and the cold.