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Chapter 3 — Ferryhouse

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Neglect and emotional abuse


He accepted, however, that Fr Basilio49 should not have accepted more boys than the 160 maximum. The School now accommodated 200 boys, and ‘the produce of the farm and garden of 70 acres would be ample for a school of 160 boys; a larger number necessitates extern purchasings and greater cost per caput’.


This extraordinary letter not merely denied that the boys were not gaining weight, a fact that could be easily proven and was not just a matter of opinion, but stated that the farm produced enough food to feed 160 boys. He did not state whether additional food had been brought in, but implied it was not a customary procedure. Nor did he even consider the effects of overcrowding on the health and welfare of the boys.


Dr McCabe was shown his letter and was asked to comment on it. She took him on roundly. In her letter to the Chief Inspector dated 25th November 1944, she set out in detail her thinking on the nutritional needs of growing children and the importance of weight and growth charts in monitoring a child’s health. She wrote: No well cared for healthy child should lose weight. Weight may tend to increase more rapidly in one child than in another, but there should always be a gain.


She stressed the importance of diet, the need for vitamins A, B, C and D, minerals such as iron, and calcium. She described milk as the most important single item of food, and that it was known as the perfect food because it contained protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and calcium and iron, all important for growth and bone formation. She added: That is my reason for so strongly advocating its use in the schools, and eventually I hope to have each child supplied with one quart of milk per diem.


She went on to describe how she had been campaigning for an improvement in the diet scales in the industrial and reformatory schools. Shortly after her appointment in 1939, she had revised all diet scales and had advised the individual schools about the deficiencies in diet. She had introduced many new items of food into the school dietary that had hitherto not been in use, because they were unknown to the school managers. Things had gone well in the halcyon days, when food was plentiful and cheap, but matters now could not be regarded as satisfactory. She explained: In practically every school which I visit, I find, with a few exceptions, that the children are insufficiently fed. I have evidence in support of this statement from the medical charts which, after considerable opposition from managers are now used in all the schools. I have obtained verbally particulars of the quantities of the different foodstuffs supplied for meals – such particulars are often imparted to me very reluctantly by the Sisters in charge of the school kitchens. The quantities are, in my opinion, far short of what should constitute an adequate meal.


After this resounding criticism, she went on to set out definitive standards of food provision for each day of the week.


On 11th December 1944, the Provincial had replaced the Resident Manager in Ferryhouse. The Chief Inspector wrote to him on 19th December 1944 to say: We are particularly gratified at your choice of a young man. The position of Resident Manager of an Industrial School is only too often regarded as a “retirement job” whereas it is pre-eminently one for a young, active man, whose life’s work is still before him and who can approach it with the fresh idealism of youth. A Resident manager shoulders the heavy responsibility of father to hundreds of unfortunate boys. He moulds their whole lives during the vital formative years they spend in his school, and there is no limit to the good he may try to do for them except the limits imposed by his own capacity and will.


He then went on to comment on the standards being applied by the Department to clothing and diet. He wrote: If we have criticised the standards of diet and clothing at St Joseph’s, you may be assured that, when doing so, we were only too well aware of the difficulties of obtaining supplies. It is in no spirit of contention that I say that our standards in these matters are based on actual conditions at the present time and on the average prevailing in the schools as a whole.


He makes it quite clear that, even by the standards of the day, the School had been found wanting. He defended the inspection system and commented on the excrement defiling the walls of the sanitary annex.


The Department had hoped the new Manager would be a new beginning. Instead, he took up the fight where his predecessor had left off. On 22nd January 1945, he replied to the Chief Inspector’s letter: ‘As to diet; I do fear it will be very difficult to comply with all your wishes in this matter’. He gave details of the boys’ diet and said he was at a loss to account for the weight loss noted in very many cases. He estimated the cost of providing the diet recommended by the Department, and protested, ‘Even managers of industrial schools have to meet their bills, so I fear on our present allowance it just cannot be done’.


Dr McCabe was again showed the letter by the Chief Inspector, and she told him: I do not like the attitude taken up by this new Resident Manager – What I have recommended in the matter of diet is of very ordinary proportions and in no way could it be called extravagant ... Financially the school management is better off since 1942. I cannot see how he has such difficulty in managing on the state grant.


The Chief Inspector wrote back to the Manager on 31st January: ‘If the diet is adequate the children put on weight at the normal rate – more rapidly, even, when they were undernourished before admission to the school’. He again reiterated that Dr McCabe’s requirements were the minimum requirements in all schools.


The Inspection Reports for 26th October 1945, 29th July 1946, 11th December 1946 and 18th June 1947 indicate progressive improvements in all areas. She warmed to the new Manager, despite the earlier acrimony. In 1946, she wrote, ‘the present Resident Manager is an excellent man. Already he has made many improvements ... He is trying to get a community of nuns to take on the domestic side of the house’.


In 1947, she again praised his good ideas and added, ‘he considers that a separate amount should be paid for food, clothing and maintenance’. She made no comment about the fact that the capitation grant was intended to cover these things, and the Rosminians were meant to care for their property themselves.


There was a terse exchange of letters dated 2nd October 1946. The letter from the Resident Manager was not furnished, but it was clearly about the cost of equipment in industrial schools. The official in the Department replied: The suggestion made in your letter that the Minister, whether by design or otherwise, is endeavouring to obtain a control over private property (Religious Property) to which he has no right is altogether unwarranted, and I fail to see what evidence you can adduce in support of that statement.

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  6. Set out in full in Volume I.
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  11. Br Valerio did not give evidence to the Committee; he lives abroad.
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  37. Latin for surprise and wonder.
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  50. Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Press Publishing Services, 2003), pp 399–405.
  51. Brid Fahey Bates, p 401.
  52. Cussen Report; p 53.
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  56. Cussen Report, p 49.
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  58. Kennedy Report, Chapter 7.