Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 8 — Cappoquin

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Ms Tierney11 started work in Group Home A in the late 1980s when she was aged 20 years. She had no experience in childcare, having worked in an office previously: [Group Home A]. My first impressions were of all these dirty scruffy children. That is an awful thing to call them but that’s what it was. It was just a chaotic house and there were just children everywhere. The first day I went there Callida was on her own and there were just small children all around the house, all over the place, and the house was very shabby as well ... At the time I started there, there were 10 to 12 children living in the house ... 6 months to 16 years. It was just a very chaotic place to work. I didn’t really understand the workings of the place or anything like that. As a staff team everyone seemed to be afraid of Callida. Any time I would answer the phone it was like "is she there?" That was the first reaction, "Is she there?”


There was no proper routine, no timetables and new staff just ‘fell in’ with the household duties and minding the children: We were basically there to mind the kids, a house full of children, and very young children. At one stage there was seven of them under five. You would be on your own with them. At the time there seemed to be really a lack of staff there. For a space of two months or three months there was two of us working on our own, back to back. We did a 14 day stint, back to back twelve hour shifts, with no support from anyone. I was often there on my own with 12 children ... I was on my own a lot there. You would have to get up and get a load of them out to school, get their breakfast and get them all out to school and then you had four or five toddlers at home all day. And you had to clean the house as well. It was very hard.


She found communication between management and staff was non-existent. It was a frightening place to be for staff and children, and she did not feel safe. The two group homes were pitted against each other. The children in Group Home A looked down on the children in Group Home B. Toys and clothes were in better supply in Group Home A. There was no support from social workers. Ex-residents frequently arrived at the home and were allowed to sleep over. One particular ex-resident was an older man with a history of alcohol and drug abuse. The children were terrified of him. She witnessed the Resident Manager’s abuse of alcohol on numerous occasions, both inside and outside the group home.


Ms Tierney said that Sr Serena,12 the Superior of the convent often stayed overnight in Group Home A with Sr Callida. This Sister did not interact with the staff at all but, she said, had a particular child whom she singled out for attention and whom she would keep with her during her visits to Group Home A: She just was around all the time. She was around all the time ... Every day after work she would come and she would call into our place most days after work. It was a regular occurrence. She would stay and wander around and she would be down to Callida. She had a little pet that was her little pet, one of the kids that was there, and she would come in and she would make a big fuss over this child and hold her hand and wander around and really make the rest of the kids feel very inferior to this one particular child.


Sr Serena and Sr Callida went up to the convent at about 6pm for prayers, and then they would return to the Home for the evening.


They went away together quite often without giving notice. Sr Callida had a little girl who slept with her at night, and she would sometimes take that child or other children with her on her excursions: Also, the fact that the kids slept in the bedroom, and she nearly always had a young child sleeping in the bedroom with her. It just became a habit over the years. Some of the staff used to try and get the child not to go in there but the child just always went in and she always brought her in. When she would go down to bed at night she would bring her with her.


When Sr Callida went away: She used bring her with her most of the time. Most of the time they would bring some of the younger kids away with them.


She was not told where the children were or how long they would be gone: No. We might be told, maybe, to pack a bag for someone an hour before they went, but that was about it. We just weren’t important, we weren’t told anything. We weren’t told anything.


Ms Tierney recalled one occasion when a man walked into the Home accompanied by two other men and took his children away. Sr Callida left within half an hour and did not return for two days. In the meantime, this young care-worker did not know where the children were or whether the Gardaí had been informed about their removal. She said she was very traumatised by the incident and was frightened that the father would come back in the night.


She described Sr Callida’s drinking: She was well noted for it in the town ... Any time I met her out, if I was in an occasion to meet her in the pub, she would be very drunk.


She recalled on one occasion that Sr Callida was so drunk that she fell into the playpen on top of one of the children.


She said it was a regular occurrence for Sr Callida to be drunk in Group Home A: That was a regular occurrence, very regular occurrence. There was no big secret about it, everyone knew, everyone knew she drank. That’s what I found very hard to understand how everyone in the community knew what she was like and fellows knew that she was pissed going around the town and she would be out at nightclubs and different things.


In addition to the drinking, Sr Callida also entertained past pupils in Group Home A at night and allowed them to stay there: The night that I remember Mr Owens13 being there, there were five men in the house that night stayed overnight that night. Two of them were ex-residents and two of them were total strangers. But she would leave the house then.


Ms Tierney was uneasy caring for the children in the house on her own: You would have them coming and going during the days. At the weekend, you wouldn’t know who – you just never knew who was going to turn up at the place or what was going to happen. It was just chaos.


She described how she and the children were frightened by one of these visitors: They were scared that night that Mr Owens was going around the house ... we went down to the bedroom and I had a couple of teenagers in the room with me and we all stayed there that night because we were all frightened of him. I am sure there was times when they were frightened.

  1. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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  21. This is a pseudonym. Sr Lorenza later worked in St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny. See St Joseph’s Industrial School, Kilkenny chapter.
  22. Mother Carina.
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