Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 10 — Newtownforbes

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One of the nuns, Sr Francesca, who worked in the School from 1946 to 1963, gave evidence that the children received a hot breakfast in the winter time, which consisted of fried bread with either cocoa or tea and they also got porridge. In the evening, they received tea and bread and butter for their supper. She thought that the children received eggs twice a week as they had a farm with chickens and hens. She said that the children and the nuns received the food from the same source. She explained: we got the milk from the farm and they got milk from the farm, we got the bread from the bakery and they got the bread from the bakery. Meat was ordered from the one butcher, we got it in the convent and they got it. From my knowledge of the Sister in charge of the food in the dining room, she was very exact that they would have good food.


She was of the view that they received enough food, but that: children are always hungry, even in boarding schools, but, like, I can understand that they say that they were hungry, you know, but they got their regular meals and good meals.


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’.


Hannah, who was in the School between the mid-1940s and mid-1950s, recalled that she was constantly hungry during her time there: ‘I know we were always hungry, terrible hunger, hunger pains’.


She complained of being so hungry that they used to ‘eat the grass’ which grew in the School grounds. However, she recollected that they received three meals a day: the breakfast consisted of porridge and bread and dripping; the dinner was a stew with potatoes; and supper was bread and jam. She added that she never remembered receiving an egg at all while she was in the School, but she conceded that it could have been the case that she disliked eggs and added, ‘I know I was a very bad eater’.


One of the Sisters, Sr Francesca, who was responsible for the clothing of the children, and who worked in the Industrial School from 1946 to 1963, gave evidence that every Christmas she tried to have something new for the children to wear, as her own mother always had new clothes for her when she was growing up. She strove for individuality: my ambition was to get them out of uniform. Now they all wouldn’t be the same, there would be as many colours as the rainbow, and I was very proud of the fact that I was able to do something like that for them.


She wanted each child to have three sets of clothes: one for school, one for outside school, and one for good wear. By the time she left the School in 1963, each girl had three sets of sandals and shoes and three outfits of clothing. The Resident Manager got her the material to make the clothes, heavy material for winter and lightweight for summer. She also taught the girls how to make clothes and to knit: They were very proud of the fact they were able to do it because I taught them how to use patterns, how to cut out clothes and how to use knitting patterns.


According to her, each girl had a locker assigned with a number which was for laundry purposes only. The clean clothes were put into the lockers once a week and, on laundry day, the girls changed and brought the soiled clothes down into a hamper that went to the laundry. Each item had a number to avoid getting mixed up and, when the clothes were brought down to the hamper, the girls showed the numbers. She stressed, however, that the underwear was not examined, as alleged.


She said that she had no recollection of children being without shoes. She was not able to provide any information as to the state of the children’s clothes in the early 1940s.


Sr Elena, who taught in the primary school, stated the children from the Industrial School were ‘always scrupulously clean and very well groomed’, and she never saw any of them ‘with broken shoes, strapless shoes or whatever could be wrong with them’. She was also of the view that their clothing was no different to the clothing worn by the day pupils from the town.


Sarah, who entered the School in the mid-1940s when she was aged one and a half years, and stayed until the early 1950s, when she was eight years approximately, recalled being constantly cold at night time in bed.


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.


Witnesses said that children were not told about menstruation. Another distressing aspect for the witnesses as children was the complete lack of information provided on the facts of life and their total ignorance concerning this subject. Two witnesses stated that there were no sanitary towels provided.


Food and clothing improved over the years. In particular, Sr Francesca made considerable efforts to clothe the children properly. Problems with these basic elements of care that emerged in the 1940s appear to have been caused by a lack of proper supervision on the part of the Sisters. As there were almost no lay staff employed, it must be concluded that the Institution was run largely by the older girls. Once supervision was improved, the standard of care improved.


In 1942, the internal primary school at Newtownforbes merged with the town national school, which was situated on the same grounds as the Industrial School, and from then on the industrial school pupils attended the same school as children from the town. This change was in accordance with one of the recommendations of the Cussen Report in 1936. Literary instruction for juniors (children under 14 years) was to be not less than four and a half hours daily, and for seniors not less than three hours.

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  4. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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