Mary was committed to Clifden when she was two years old, in the late 1940s, and remained there until the mid-1960s.
Mary said she was punished by the nuns, but only when she had done something wrong and never excessively. She was slapped on both hands, ‘if you did wrong it was written down and before you went into your lunch she would call out the names that those were to be lined up for a beating’. The beating consisted of being slapped on the hands with a ruler or stick. Only one particular Sister used a cane to hit children.
Among the points emerging from these witnesses are: Both spoke of the inadequacy of the diet in terms of quality and quantity and both spoke of being hungry. Although one witness said that there was no bullying at meal times, the other was quite clear that this did occur and it meant that smaller, weaker children went without. Both described a different member of the religious staff as being cruel, as well as a lay worker, and one of these witnesses identified the regime as harsh and cruel. In particular, the positive witness’s description of the Resident Manager was indicative of a person unsuited to caring for children. One of the witnesses said that the Sisters were prohibited from any display of physical affection, which she identified as a hardship for the nuns themselves. Moreover, she learnt from the nuns to keep a distance and not cuddle the younger children placed in her care. There can be no doubt that the constant rejection of very vulnerable children instinctively seeking this kind of reassurance and affection would have had an extremely damaging effect on them. It seems extraordinary that a Congregation of nuns who had been engaged in childcare for over 100 years would have continued this attitude towards the children in their care when they must have seen the damage it was doing. It would seem that the observance of the discipline of the Congregation was given priority over the interests of the children. The banishment of the expression of affection may have made the Sisters appear to be acting fairly, by making them treat all children in the same way, but it also made them detached and distant, and at worst cold and cruel. Both witnesses confirmed what a number of complainants have said about this and other institutions, that the authorities were warned when an Inspector from the Department of Education was coming, and clothes, bedding and food were improved for the occasion. These two witnesses differed as to the amount of preparation that was made, but it is clear that the preparations ensured that the inspectors did not get an accurate picture of the Institution during these inspections. The positive witness, Mary in particular spoke of there being ‘elite’ groups, as well as marginalised children such as Travellers. She recalled that the Resident Manager had pets. Religious and lay staff members denigrated the children’s background. These facts indicate that, whilst, for some, Clifden may not have been a bad place to be, for others it was harsh and abusive. The positive witness was detained for 18 months after her discharge date, to go on working in the Institution. She said that she did not want to stay and asked to be let out, but she was clearly a reliable and responsible young person and was detained at the will of the Resident Manager. Although this witness does not make a complaint about being kept on, it was clear exploitation and a failure to consider the best interests of the child. One of these witnesses was introduced by the Congregation as a positive witness. She balanced her criticisms of the regime by testifying that the good the Sisters did outweighed their shortcomings, but her evidence nevertheless contained quite severe criticisms and acquires increased importance because she was advanced by the Congregation as a positive witness.