Another respondent, Sr Carmella,11 who was both teacher and principal in the internal national school from the early 1960s stated that she did not bring any of her concerns to the attention of Sr Roberta who held the posts of Resident Manager and Reverend Mother: No, I did not discuss with the Reverend Mother. I just did what the Reverend Mother told me to do and my work was to teach in the School and that was it. That was what was allotted to me and I did what I could there. But it was – the Reverend Mother, she determined the lot of each individual.
Sr Carmella accepted that there were some teething problems when a new Resident Manager was appointed in 1969, and recalled the Gardaí calling to the School in relation to an incident. She was asked about a query, in a Department Inspection Report for this period, regarding the reasons behind the shortage of Sisters in the Industrial School, despite the fact that they formed part of a Community of 40 Sisters. Her rationale for this situation was that nobody wanted to work for the new Resident Manager. She reiterated Sr Casey’s evidence that all of the Sisters in the convent had their own duties, such as working in the hospital or domestic economy school, or they were retired nuns. There were not any nuns available to work in the Industrial School.
Another Sister, Sr Carmella, felt that the School was under-staffed. The children did not achieve as well academically as their peers in Scoil Mhuire.
Despite the apparent emphasis on educating the children, most of them were destined for a life in some sort of domestic service. Sr Carmella’s explanation was that such an outcome was never questioned: ‘I think the order of the day was that in the end of it they were going to end up as domestics’. Sr Roberta, who held the position as Resident Manager until 1969, decided who would go on to secondary school. She would have liked to have seen more children go on to further education.
Sr Carmella stated that chores did not interfere with their schooling and were carried out before and after school. Girls between 14 and 16 years of age took part in a domestic economy course. The children were taught music after school and there was an emphasis on musical education in the School. She was not of the view that inordinate pressure was put on the children with regard to their performance for the Christmas concert and thought that they quite enjoyed the preparations.
Sr Carmella gave evidence that the children kept their school clothes in the classroom, and changed before and after school. This was a practice that she had introduced, as the children used come to school late because they could not find items of clothing. They knitted their own jumpers and she helped them make their own skirts. They wore overalls over their clothes after school. The children’s hair was always clean and she never observed any children with lice.
Sr Carmella was of the view that the children had little knowledge of the outside world and were insular in their outlook: They hadn’t an idea what family life was like. I remember a child asking me – she saw an ad in the paper for Stork margarine, it was a family sitting around the table and she said to me, “is that what a family is like?” They hadn’t a clue. They hadn’t an idea what a dwelling house was like. They were used to big rooms and big utensils and everything big. They just didn’t have a clue, until they went out on holidays later on.
Sr Carmella stated that the children craved affection, which they sought from the Sisters. They were not chosen as pets by the Sisters, rather they would attach themselves to a particular Sister. However, there was, in effect, a prohibition on showing affection to the children, and the Sisters were encouraged to maintain their distance.
The two national schools merged in 1969 and the children from the Industrial School joined the local children in Scoil Mhuire. Sr Carmella explained: they found it very hard to mix in the beginning, they felt very insecure the first year because they didn’t seem to belong anywhere. They were very secure down with us and how they were like thrown in with the town’s children and I felt they were lost the first year.
A witness, who was sent to Clifden at the age of 10 in the late 1950s and remained there until the mid-1960s, recalled good memories of one respondent, Sr Carmella. She remembered being hit by her on only one occasion. This Sister was kind to the children and the witness felt that she could talk to her. She alleged that this Sister gave her white socks to wear in order to cover bruises on her legs that she had sustained at the hands of Sr Veronica. The Congregation’s Submission following the Phase III hearings rebuts the accusation that Sr Carmella was somehow complicit in physical abuse.