Four Industrial School Pupils Made Sex Abuse Claims

IOL [Ireland]
January 10, 2006

Four people who attended an industrial school in Galway have complained of suffering sexual abuse, it emerged tonight.

St Joseph's Industrial School in Clifden was run by the Sisters of Mercy until 1983 but no nun was involved in the alleged abuse.

The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse heard that two sisters who attended the school had complained that they had been taken from their beds and forces to engage in inappropriate touching by an unknown woman.

A girl said she was touched inappropriately by a priest serving breakfast, and another pupil was sexually abused by a male family member over a number of years while at home on holidays.

Sister Margaret Casey said there was a sharp divergence in views of St Joseph's, which was responsible for up to 100 children at its peak in the 1950s.

The complainants saw it as a cruel place where children were abused on an almost daily basis, while her order saw it as a place where a small number of well intentioned adults had tried to cope with a large number of vulnerable children without intending to cause any deliberate harm.

Sister Casey, who is the leader of the order's Western Province, said that the nuns and staff at the school had lacked resources and training.

"All of this contributed to the harshness of the regime. All of the these factors together made childhood very painful for many of the children," she said.

"I deeply regret and apologise to all the residents of St Joseph's for all the hurt and damage caused to them while in our care,"

The Commission heard that pupils at the school had to throw in turf and coal, scrub clothes in the laundry and work in the bakery, as well as their normal schooling.

Its remote location in Clifden, 50 miles from Galway city, meant that children rarely received visits from their parents.

However, the Department of Education's inspection reports on the school were generally favourable with a few exceptions.

It was staffed by three-four sisters, who usually came from rural farming backgrounds, and a number of lay staff.

The most serious disturbance at the school came in 1969 when there were reports of older girls refusing to attend school and catcalling while roaming the streets of Clifden.

The Gardai expressed their concern and the Department of Education wrote to the Archbishop of Tuam about the problem.

Sister Casey said that within a year, extra staff had been provided to the school and the situation had improved greatly.

"Six girls were removed from Clifden who were considered unruly and out of control and this would have helped."

The sisters used corporal punishment at the school to maintain discipline and this involved slapping pupils with the hand, cane, flat stick or ruler.

In 1980, a social worker was alerted to a girl at the school who had marks on her buttocks from a beating with a wooden spoon.

The Western Health Board carried out an investigation and the girl was moved to another school, but the fate of the staff member was not revealed.


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