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Chapter 15 — Daingean

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The need expressed earlier, for new methods and a change of management for the reformatory schools system, also seems to have been shelved. A memorandum dated 25th July 1940 contained a note of resignation about how things were going. The Department official wrote: ... Father Ricardo3 informs us that his Provincial Council has decided to appoint Father Neron4 as Manager of the Reformatory at Daingean, and it is necessary to consider what reply should be sent to this. We do not know if Father Neron has any experience of the work of a Reformatory or similar institution, or what special qualifications he has for the position. At the same time, I fear it might merely annoy the Oblate Authorities to raise any questions regarding the appointment they have made, and I suggest that we merely say in reply that the appointment is noted.


Mr O’Dubhthaigh simply wrote underneath, ‘Agreed’.


The original buildings at Daingean were built as a military barracks in the middle of the eighteenth century. For a while, it served as a training ground for the Irish Constabulary and then became a prison for adult criminals. From 1871 to 1934, it became a reformatory school run by the Oblates.


Fr Luca,5 who was Resident Manager of Daingean from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, in a memoir about his time in Daingean described the former barracks as ‘pretty stark’, apart from a few very nice rooms that might have been officers’ quarters. Behind this old building was the building erected in the 1940s that housed the two large dormitories, one for seniors and the other for the juniors. Underneath were the woodwork and metalwork classrooms. On the opposite side of the yard was the large recreation hall, and across from that were the washrooms, again separate ones for senior and junior boys. There were also classrooms, a piggery and a poultry house, and the scullery and storerooms. Only the dormitory block had any form of heating. The boys and the staff had to wash in cold water.


In 1940, however, only the buildings of the old barracks were there, so the boys had to be housed in the wings of the barracks, and the staff used the old gaol and a building near the entrance. Figure 1: St. Conleth’s Reformatory, Daingean (Shaded areas were part of original barracks) Legend: 1.Main block, formerly officers’ quarters 2.Main block East Wing, used as boys’ dormitory until 1951/2 3.Main block West Wing, used as boys’ dormitory until 1948/9 4.Chapel 5.Printing and tailoring shop 6.Kitchen, scullery and stores 7.Laundry 8.Slaughterhouse 9.Poultry 10.Piggery 11.Stores (Potatoes and grain) 12.New residence for Brothers, built 1957 13.Old residence for Brothers/convent housing nuns in later years 14.New block West Wing, built 1948/9 15.New block East Wing, built 1951/2 16.Sanitary Annexe, built 1940/1 17.Sanitary Annexe 18.New ball alleys 19.Shop and play hall/theatre built 1944 20.Site of St. Joseph’s, formerly the old gaol The buildings in the early years Source: Martin Reynolds


In July 1945, Mr Ó Síochfhradha,6 the Department of Education Inspector, listed the staff at the School: The school staff consists of the Manager together with the Chaplain, 16 Brothers, 2 lay teachers, 1 tailor, 1 shoemaker, 3 farm workers, 1 teacher of Physical Education (part-time). Each Brother has his own responsibility – one in the kitchen, one in the shoemaker room, one in the woodwork room, two in the bog, one in charge of the cattle, two or three on the farm and so on, each in charge of a group of boys.


There were 126 boys in the School at the time.


In their Opening Statement, the Oblates stated that, by the 1960s, many of the staff were ‘growing old and falling sick’. In January 1966, in a report for the General Chapter, the Provincial noted that only nine active members of staff were expected to cater at all times, from 7:00 in the morning until 10:30 at night, seven days a week. The average age of these men was over 40, and the strain was evident by the fact that six Brothers in five years had suffered nervous breakdowns.


In their Opening Statement, the Oblates set out the categories of boy who came to be sent to Daingean. The overwhelming majority of the pupils were ‘young offenders’, whose ages ranged from 12 to 18 years.


Daingean was also used as a place of remand but there were only 12 remand places at any time. Unlike industrial schools, Daingean had insignificant numbers of ‘voluntary’ pupils admitted who were not supported by the State. The Oblates provided statistics relating to the pupils in the School and the following figures for the age spread and numbers of pupils in the School in Daingean:
Period Total presences at end of school year Average per annum
1941–1949 = 9 years 1,947 216.3
1950–1959 = 10 years 1,589 158.9
1960–1969 = 10 years 1,550 155.0
1970–1973 = 4 years 189 47.2
Total = 33 years 5,275 159.8


Age spread in a sample year in the 1960s was:
% Age
6% 13 years +
11% 14 years +
31% 15 years +
35% 16 years +
15% 17 years +
2% 18 years +


The following Table is based on Department of Education Records and shows the offences committed by a total of 87 pupils, which led to their detention in Daingean in 1955–1956:
Grounds for committal Number committed
Larceny and receiving 28
Shop/House breaking 49
Arson 1
Indecent assault 2
Burglary 2
Common assault 2
Others 3


The Oblates stated that the typical social class of the pupil in their school was urban working class. The boys were mainly from the larger Irish cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick. The levels of literacy among the boys committed were significantly lower in a sample of boys compared with a normal national school. Of the complainants who gave evidence to the Committee, many ended up in Daingean for trivial offences that owed more to poverty than criminality, particularly those admitted under the first two categories set out above. The urban-rural divide


In an article entitled ‘The Juvenile Offender’ written in 1963 the author, James O’Connor, wrote: The offences which merit committal to Daingean vary from court to court, but more particularly from city to country. In Dublin a boy might have eight or nine previous convictions before he receives a reformatory sentence, whereas in the country he may have committed his first offence.


Fr Luca also wrote about the urban-rural divide in the School and the differences and difficulties this presented to the school authorities. Most of the boys in the School came from an urban background. Fr Luca stated that the rural boys were more difficult to deal with than even the toughest boy from the city. He stated that, for a rural boy to be sent to Daingean, he must have done something ‘very radically wrong’: A boy or girl who seriously offended would be regarded as sort of social outcasts, they would be marked as people not fit to be in that area.

  1. This is the English version of Tomás O Deirg.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
  4. This is a pseudonym.
  5. This is a pseudonym.
  6. This is the Irish version of Sugrue.
  7. This is a pseudonym.
  8. This is a pseudonym.
  9. This is a pseudonym.
  10. This is a pseudonym.
  11. This is a pseudonym.
  12. This is a pseudonym.
  13. This is a pseudonym.
  14. This is a pseudonym.
  15. This is a pseudonym.
  16. This is the Irish version of Richard Crowe.
  17. This is the English version of Mr MacConchradha.
  18. Allegations of brutal beatings in Court Lees Approved School were made in a letter to The Guardian, and this led to an investigation which reported in 1967 (see Administration of Punishment at Court Lees Approved School (Cmnd 3367, HMSO)) – Known as ‘The Gibbens Report’, it found many of the allegations proven, and in particular that canings of excessive severity did take place on certain occasions, breaking the regulation that caning on the buttocks should be through normal clothing. Some boys had been caned wearing pyjamas. Following this finding, the School was summarily closed down.
  19. This is a pseudonym.
  20. This is the English version of Ó Síochfhradha.
  21. This is a pseudonym.
  22. This is a pseudonym.
  23. This is a pseudonym.
  24. This is a pseudonym.
  25. This is a pseudonym.
  26. This was Br Abran.
  27. Organisation that offers therapy to priests and other religious who have developed sexual or drink problems run by The Servants of the Paraclete.
  28. This is a pseudonym.
  29. This is a pseudonym.
  30. This is a pseudonym.
  31. This is a pseudonym.
  32. This is a pseudonym.
  33. This is a pseudonym.
  34. This is a pseudonym.
  35. Board of Works.
  36. Bread and butter.
  37. Board of Works.
  38. Patrick Clancy, ‘Education Policy’, in Suzanne Quinn, Patricia Kennedy, Anne Matthews, Gabriel Kiely (eds), Contemporary Irish Social Policy (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2005), p 79.
  39. This is a pseudonym.