The new classrooms were built, and it appears that the works went ahead before the Department had finalised the paperwork necessary when schools were erected with State aid. The Sisters advised the Department that they had had to proceed because of the pressures from the Industrial School Section to provide recreational and sanitary facilities for the children. The old School had been condemned by both the Primary and Chief Industrial School Inspectors for a number of health and safety reasons. The Sisters had gone ahead with the building works and carried out a number of other renovations and extensions (e.g. new sanitary block and fire escape) for which they were not making a claim. They pointed out that the weekly allowance of 24s per head was entirely inadequate to feed, clothe and procure medical attention, as well as clear overhead expenses: wages of staff, matron, sub-matron, seamstress, laundress, nursemaids.
Following this inspection, the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education wrote to the Archbishop of Tuam in October 1969, expressing his concern at the staff shortages in Clifden: My Lord Archbishop, I am aware of your deep interest in the welfare of the children in St. Joseph’s School, Clifden, and on that account I request the assistance of Your Grace in the solution of the following problem relating to the institution. In the course of a recent visit to St. Joseph’s the acting Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools was concerned to find that a group of the older girls were flouting authority by refusing to attend school, by roaming the streets of Clifden after dark catcalling and behaving rudely to their elders and that the Gardaí had visited the school last week with a view to establishing a more disciplined behaviour on the part of the children in residence there. In the opinion of the acting Inspector, which is shared by Father Costello,14 a curate in the parish, whom he called on during the course of his visit, the serious deterioration of standards in St. Joseph’s is directly attributable to the insufficient staff employed to look after the 85 boys and girls at present in the institution and as a consequence this shortage of staff places an intolerable and unfair burden on the shoulders of Sr. Sofia, who has recently been assigned to manage the industrial school. To organise efficiently an institution of the size and nature of St. Joseph’s, two additional nuns one of whom, if at all possible, should have experience in nursing or child care would need to be allotted full time to assist Sr. Sofia in her duties and extra lay help is also needed in the kitchen and dormitory to the extent decided by Sr. Sofia. It is in connection with the former requirement that I would ask Your Grace to approach Mother Roberta, the Superior of the community in Clifden, to ensure that the two additional nuns referred to above be assigned to full time duties in St. Joseph’s as a matter of urgency, if effective control of the older girls is to be restored and a source of grave criticism of the industrial school removed. In regard to the engagement of extra lay staff as required by Sister Sofia, I would like to make the following point for Your Grace’ s information, Mother Roberta has been resident manger of the school for a number of years and in this position has received the maintenance grants paid by this Department and the local authorities responsible for the children detained in the school by court order. It seems, however, as a result of the recent inspection that by reason of advancing years and other duties in her capacity as Superior of the convent, Mother Roberta now has little time to devote to the actual day to day care of the children though she still controls the finances of the school. In my opinion this is an entirely unsatisfactory arrangement which must restrict Sr. Sofia in the employment of the extra lay assistance which she so badly needs, and the introduction of the other measures deemed essential if all round standards in the school are to be raised. Administratively it would be a simple matter to change the payment of the maintenance grants from Mother Roberta to Sister Sofia but in the particular circumstances of the community in Clifden this change would not be effective unless Your Grace interfered to make it so. Accordingly, I would also ask Your Grace to use your good offices to ensure that the financial control of the maintenance grants paid by this Department and the Local Authorities in respect of the committed children is placed in the hands of Sr. Sofia so that she may have a free hand in her efforts to restore to St. Joseph’s School its former high standard of performance in the field of caring for the deprived and underprivileged child. I have the honour to be, my Lord Archbishop, Yours sincerely, Assistant Secretary.
It came under the remit of the Department’s Reformatory and Industrial School Branch, whose Inspector had the duty to carry out inspections relating ‘to all the children and the entire accommodation in the school at the time of his/her visit’.3 ‘All the children’ meant the responsibility extended to children on short term remand as well as those committed by the Courts to be detained in the school.
Another internal Departmental memorandum noted that the Manager put great confidence in the boys under his care, and the Inspector said that it would be worthwhile recognising the course. A decision was made that the Inspector’s recommendation be accepted.
There is no evidence that Inspectors systematically inspected the punishment book.
A handwritten note is added by an official in the Education Department. It reads: Phoned Miss Little45 to inform her that Inspector T. McD. had visited Clonmel recently but was unable to complete re-assessment of school’s capacity owing to illness of Manager; that Inspector had since sustained broken ankle and would re-visit Clonmel to complete inspection as soon as possible.
The Department arranged for a special Inspection of the two schools in question to take place. An Industrial Schools Inspector and the Deputy Chief Inspector of the Primary Branch were nominated to conduct the Inspections. Their general brief was to ‘... enquire into the supervision exercised over the boys, and the measures taken to prevent or put an end to the occurrences, which gave rise to the recent cases before the Cork Courts’. The Department decided against bringing the matter specifically to the attention of the bishop, on the basis that it had to be assumed that he was already aware of the matter.
In a detailed report in April 1961, concerning the Laceys’ application, Mr Wade wrote to Mr McDevitt, Inspector. He set out the circumstances of how the couple came to Ireland in 1960 and immediately contacted the Adoption Board with regard to taking a child into their household. They had been referred by the Adoption Board to St Joseph’s, Kilkenny as an institution that might be able to ‘supply their want’. Sr Klara understood from this referral that they had been vouched for by the official in the Adoption Board, and she introduced the couple to Annette. Mr Wade had met the couple on several occasions as they had called into the Department. On the surface, they appeared pleasant but he had a number of concerns. First, Mr Lacey admitted to being lax about his religious duties; secondly, Mrs Lacey protested that she was a convert to Catholicism but was hazy as to the date of her conversion from the Protestant religion; and, finally, although she could give the location, she was not sure of the exact date of her marriage to Mr Lacey. Added to this, Sr Klara had her own doubts about the couple’s religious persuasion and had been warned that couples were going about the country seeking to adopt infants – therefore, she was not prepared to make the decision on her own authority. Mr Wade concluded that the application should be refused on the grounds that the whereabouts of the child’s mother were unknown and her consent would be needed for final discharge, coupled with the vague replies by the Laceys about their marriage.