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Chapter 9 — Clifden

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Sr Casey said she had spoken to two Sisters who expressed concern about the adequacy of the food in the School in the mid-1960s. She accepted that, in the 1950s and through to the early 1960s, the food was very basic; at teatime they had bread, butter and jam every day.


Most of the complainants made allegations regarding the poor quality and quantity of food in Clifden. Many of the witnesses recall always being hungry, and resorted to stealing food intended for the farm animals and bread from the bakery.


Another former resident, who spent her childhood in Clifden during the 1960s and 1970s, stated that conditions changed in 1969 when a new Resident Manager was appointed. There seemed to be more money and they never went hungry. This contrasted with previous years, when she recalled always being hungry and eating food destined for the pigs. However, with the regime change, she recalled ‘another type of panic around food, because we had to eat what we got and if we didn’t eat it we got lashed. Well, I got hit. I remember get – being beat because I couldn’t eat my food’. She recalled, in particular, being beaten by one Sister for not eating her food quickly enough, but this Sister denied hitting the witness or any other child across the face for not eating their food quickly.


One respondent who gave evidence was a national schoolteacher who had taught children in Carna national school before being transferred to Clifden internal national school in the early 1960s. She stated that, in comparison with the children in Carna, the Industrial School children were well fed and clothed.


In its Submissions, the Congregation concedes that: in view of the repetition of complaints about food, and the evidence of certain particular complainants such as [the complainant named] it seems likely that hunger was a real issue for the children in Clifden industrial, at least up to a certain period of time, perhaps the late 1960’s ... The food does not seem to have been adequate in quantity to satisfy the appetite of the children. It is accepted that children probably did, on occasion, steal loaves of fresh bread and extra portions of food whenever they could.


In 1939, a Preliminary Report was carried out by a Department Inspector into the feasibility of amalgamating the internal national school and the local national school, Scoil Mhuire, which were located yards from each other within the same grounds. The manager of both schools, Mother Alma, was open to the idea, but expressed reservations about the attitude of parents of children in Scoil Mhuire to the proposal.


The Department Inspector reported in May 1942 that while in his view it was perfectly feasible to amalgamate the two schools: The Rev. Mother of the Community, Mother Alma, who is manager of both schools, and the principal teacher of the Convent N.S. are all three opposed to the idea of having the pupils of both schools taught together, mainly because they fear that the parents of the children attending the N.S. would object. I think it likely that there would be some such objection.


Furthermore, £4,000 had recently been spent on upgrading the Industrial School classrooms, which would be wasted if an amalgamation took place. The inspector concluded that, ‘In my opinion, the pupils of the Industrial School would not gain, educationally or otherwise, by being taught along with the pupils of the other school and I do not think the present arrangement should be altered’. The Department accepted the conclusions of the inspector and the status quo would remain unchanged until July 1969 when the two schools were amalgamated.


In 1972, the Sisters expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of post-primary educational facilities in the area, and in particular the lack of vocational training. They maintained that this had impeded the development of the Industrial School. The Department investigated the matter and was reasonably happy with the facilities available. A vocational school replacing the two secondary schools in Clifden was opened in the mid-1970s.


Sr Casey stated at the Phase I public hearing: Up to the ‘60’s the level of education was generally that of Primary Cert, but there was industrial training provided as well and the children would have been expected to engage in significant amounts of domestic work depending on their age, such as the laundry, kitchen and bakery and at any given time a child would have helped on the farm. These things all of them together would undoubtedly have made the children feel that in some sense their childhood was thwarted or stunted.


She added that, in the 1970s, there was a drive to ensure that those children who were capable and interested in pursuing post-primary education were given the opportunity to do so. Again, during the 1970s, children were sent to different schools in the locality, or indeed sent to boarding school, in an effort to minimise the institutional nature of their upbringing and enable them to mix with other children.


Sr Casey accepted that it would have been better, from a socialisation point of view, if the children had been amalgamated with the local national school children back in 1942 when the issue was first raised. It was put to her that the reasoning behind objecting to the amalgamation reflected less a concern for the welfare of the children and more an interest in preserving the financial investment which had been made in the School. Sr Casey accepted that this was one interpretation of the matter.


Many of the complainants gave evidence as to the inadequacy of the standard of education they received in Clifden.


One witness, who was committed to Clifden in the early 1950s at the age of seven and spent eight years there, stated she was continuously reprimanded in class, both physically and verbally, to the extent that she found it impossible to learn anything. In one particular class, she regularly had to stand in a corner wearing a dunce’s hat. She has difficulty reading and writing to this day. As regards practical skills, she learned to cook and do laundry work. The only training she received in preparation for life after Clifden was domestic training.


Two other witnesses complained that an over-emphasis on religious studies deprived them of other educational skills. One of these witnesses was five years old when she was sent to Clifden in the late 1950s. She stated: You were drilled with religion and if you didn’t know it that you got beaten and that you had to stand on the desk or kneel down and face the blackboard or face the wall, turn around against the wall ... we didn’t go on to the Leaving or Inter or anything. We were not even able to read or write when we left the Institution. It was just sheer luck that we did survive. We had the survival skills but we did not have the educational skills.

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  4. See the chapter on St Joseph’s and St Patrick’s Kilkenny for further details in relation to this course.
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  7. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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