The Sisters of Charity were approached by the Bishop of Ossory, Dr Moran, in 1872 and asked ‘to care for the little homeless girls of the poor’. They had been a presence in Kilkenny since 1861, caring for the sick in fever and work house hospitals and prisons.
A site was purchased on the Waterford Road, and the Sisters moved into a large cottage on the grounds. In September 1873, a new building comprising a convent, school and chapel was opened. The School was certified on 22nd March 1873 for the reception of 126 girls, of whom 100 were chargeable. This was increased to 130 in 1950.
The School was transferred to the South Eastern Health Board on 6th April 1999. At that time, there were 10 children in care in two houses, Avondale and Crannog. Avondale was purchased by the Sisters of Charity in 1976, and leased to the South Eastern Health Board in 1999, and later transferred to them under the Redress Scheme. The other home, Crannog, was built by the Sisters of Charity with funds raised locally and through an exchange of land between the Sisters and the County Manager. In 1995, an adjoining house was purchased by the South Eastern Health Board, and the two houses then formed one unit. The original house was transferred, free of charge, to the South Eastern Health Board in 1999.
The Sisters of Charity provided a detailed description of all improvements, changes and adaptations made to the buildings and grounds between 1876 and 1984, which appears at Appendix 1.
The photograph of the convent and part of the Industrial School:
During the period under review, 1,900 children passed through St Joseph’s, Kilkenny. Most of the children were committed through the courts in the earlier years, and the majority came from the counties Kilkenny, Tipperary, Dublin, Laois and Carlow in the period 1933 to 1966.
The Sisters of Charity also managed an industrial school for young boys known as St Patrick’s Industrial School in Kilkenny. It operated from 1879 to 1966. Between the period 1933 and 1966, the records of the Sisters show that 127 girls in St Joseph’s had brothers in St Patrick’s at the same time.
The children admitted to Kilkenny were very young. Between 1933 and 1966, 221 of the children admitted were under five years of age; 234 were aged between five and 10; and only 101 were over 10 on admission. The proportion of very young children increased between 1966 and 1999: 362 children under five years of age were admitted, and 261 were under 10; only 112 children were over 10 on admission.
There were 18 Resident Managers in St Joseph’s during the relevant period. In most cases, the Resident Manager was also the Local Superior. A number of Sisters from the Community were involved in the School, and a small number of lay staff worked in the School in teaching, farming and laundry.
The sources of information were: the evidence of former pupils; the evidence of staff members; the evidence of respondents; and the records in relation to the School which were furnished to the Commission on foot of discovery directions to the Department of Education, Sisters of Charity, Diocese of Ossory and An Garda Síochána.
In the first record of a General Inspection dated 22nd April 1939, Dr Anna McCabe visited the School and was approving. The children looked happy and content, were well clothed and fed, and she was impressed with the large amount of home preserves that were used.
The next record of a general inspection was 9th December 1943, over four years later, and, although it recorded a previous inspection in November 1942, no note or record of her findings in 1942 have survived. She described the School as well conducted, clean and well kept. Food and diet were described as satisfactory, and clothing as fairly good. There was no fire escape, but fire drill was practised regularly and there were six ladders available for escape from the building, which was not too high. On 23rd February 1943, 35 children had perished in a fire in Cavan Industrial School, and fire safety was high on the agenda of the Inspector at this time.
On 4th July 1944, Dr McCabe paid another visit to the School and found a generally well conducted school. She did not think the children were getting an adequate supply of milk and butter and insisted that it should be increased. She was still concerned about the lack of fire escapes, and wrote in detail about the dangers for the children in the dormitories, particularly the one situated over the domestic economy kitchen, where a fire could start. Dr McCabe found the children’s health to be good on this visit.
Following this inspection, by letter dated 5th August 1944, the Department Inspector wrote to the Resident Manager and requested that each child should receive a minimum of one pint of milk per day, together with the full amount of butter ration allowed by the Department of Supplies.
Because of the tragedy in Cavan, the Department was very concerned that all children could be safely evacuated in the event of a fire. The Inspector expressed the Minister’s grave concern that there was only one exit from a dormitory accommodating 21 children, which led to another dormitory accommodating 57 children, which in turn had two exits close together leading to the same corridor. It was evident to him that children in all of these dormitories would be trapped in the event of the corridor filling with heavy smoke. He requested that the Resident Manager immediately set about providing an adequate fire escape.