Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 9 — Clifden

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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.


She also alleged that she was taken out of class to take care of young children. The second witness, who was committed to Clifden in the early 1960s and spent just over a year there, described the Sister who taught her as vicious. She had a bamboo cane, which she used with great zeal if the children did not know their lessons. She concentrated on religious studies. She alleged that they spent more time trying to avoid beatings than learning.


The Congregation denied that there was an emphasis on religious studies and that children were taken out of class to engage in domestic chores.


Another former resident in Clifden, who was committed in the late 1950s at the age of 10 and remained there until she was discharged at the age of 16, also alleged that she often worked in the nursery during school hours. She stated that the standard of her education did not improve on what she had been taught prior to being committed. The school records indicate that her reading, writing and calculation were ‘basic’ when she came to the School, but she insisted that her abilities in these areas were very good at this stage. She also asserted that, when she sat the Primary Certificate, all of the children copied from each other with the full knowledge of the supervising Department inspectors. The Congregation submits that this latter allegation is utterly implausible.


A complainant who spent her childhood in Clifden during the 1960s and 1970s gave evidence in relation to the Sister who taught her in 6th class: we were terrified of her because she was very cruel. I used to be dreading going into her class because she used to teach in 6th class and I spend years dreading going into her class because I feared that she would punish me.


When she finally did go into 6th class, she found that she was not afraid of the teacher. In fact, the Sister ignored her completely in class because she gave backchat on one occasion. She does not recall ever being beaten by her, nor witnessing another child being beaten in class. However, the witness does recall Sr Elana ‘lashing’ children for attempting to run away. She stated that this Sister had a reputation of targeting the industrial school children for punishment.


This respondent, Sr Elana, remembered the complainant as a quiet girl. She accepted that she was strict in class but maintained that this was necessary to preserve order. When the two national schools merged in 1969, she felt that some of the industrial school children would have benefited from remedial teaching which was not available at that time. She did not have any time to give special attention to pupils in need.

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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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