Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 10 — Newtownforbes

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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.


Children over 14 years followed the Domestic Economy Course for industrial school training in subjects including needlework, laundry, housewifery, dressmaking and cookery. The Children Act, 1941, provided for an extension of the period of detention of industrial school children to enable them to attend second level education. Sr Casey at the Phase I public hearing stated that the records of the Sisters of Mercy showed that, in 1950, three pupils got such extensions. She added that, in 1950 or 1951: there is a reference in our archives to seven attending secondary school, five getting honours in Caffrey’s exam, I think that was a business examination or book keeping or something of that nature.


The school register, she said, also showed that, between 1952 and 1962, at least eight children were attending the secondary school. She drew on her own experience as a pupil and recollected that, in the 1960s, there were ‘at least 12 to 16 from the industrial school’ attending the secondary school, but they did not actually proceed to Leaving Certificate class, and she only remembered one going as far as fourth year. However, she pointed out that this was at a time before the introduction of free education, which came about in 1967, and most children left school at 14 years of age. In her own class, 30 sat the Intermediate Certificate, but only 13 went on to do the Leaving Certificate.


She was of the view that children who showed an academic interest were encouraged by the nuns to remain on in secondary education.


One of the biggest grievances of the complainant witnesses was the lack of education and career opportunities available to them: the industrial school children were prepared for domestic service rather than any other career. Sr Casey at the Phase III public hearing conceded this point, but sought to put it in the context of the time: Certainly the training was for domestic service, but if one puts that in the context, that at the time and the years that we are talking about domestic service would have been what most of the people in the country would have went into. Because if you even look at the Central Statistics Office, figures from there would have indicated that, for example, of people gainfully occupied by occupation in 1946 that in personal service there were 102,000. 83% were women and of that 79,000 of them were employed as domestic servants, so it wasn’t unusual in the wider context.


She also pointed out that some of the girls from the Industrial School went into nursing and into retail. She acknowledged that not all the children from the Industrial School sat for the Primary Certificate, but added that ‘every effort was made to give the children a basic primary education’.

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