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Chapter 10 — Newtownforbes

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The Resident Manager wrote to the Department on 19th September 1969, apologising for overlooking the requirement of six months’ notice. In this letter, she pointed out that they had no option but to close the School because of the decline in numbers: May I mention we very much regret having to close down “Our Lady of Succour School”. It has been our principal work for almost 100 years, now, and the work we dearly loved, but with the great fall in numbers we were forced to do something about it. Now the whole building is fully occupied as secondary school classrooms.


At the time of closing, there were five pupils resident in the School. The two youngest girls were transferred to Moate Industrial School, and two others were returned to their respective fathers. The fifth girl was retained until the expiration of her committal term, with a view to sending her to nursing school in England.


The buildings which housed the Industrial School were subsequently subsumed by the secondary boarding school. The boarding school closed in 1987 and the property was sold in 1990. In that same year, the laundry was demolished and, by 1999, the convent and its grounds were sold and apartments were subsequently built on the site.


As Newtownforbes operated as an independent unit, it was responsible for its own financing and administration. The main source of income for the Industrial School was the capitation grants from the Department of Education. The Sisters of Mercy stated that their financial records showed that the School operated within a range of 5 percent of the money provided by the capitation grant. Another source of income for the Community was the laundry, which was a public laundry. The farm only provided limited income because of its small size. It did not even enable the School to be self-sufficient in milk, butter and vegetables. The boarding school also provided income to the Community and this amount increased over the years. There is no direct evidence to show how much the industrial school contributed financially to the Community in Newtownforbes.


It is clear, however, that the reduction in numbers in the Industrial School, from the late 1950s onwards, made the School uneconomical. The capitation system of funding was based on numbers in the Institution and when numbers fell, income dropped. The Resident Managers’ Association consistently looked for increased capitation allowances when, in fact, that would have had limited impact on small schools such as Newtownforbes that had dramatic reductions in numbers.


Contemporaneous documentation for the time period under review was furnished from the following sources: the Department of Education and Science; the Sisters of Mercy; the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise; and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.


Garda statements, which were not available at the time of the hearings, were furnished in March 2005. The hearings were concluded in January 2005.


The Sisters of Mercy have little or no surviving administrative or management documentation in respect of Newtownforbes. Most of the surviving documentation furnished to the Investigation Committee by the Sisters of Mercy consisted of individual pupil files and medical reports. However, a set of documents entitled ‘Report on School Activities’ which covered the period 1938 to 1958 were furnished by the Sisters, and they provide additional information regarding the Industrial School. These reports were submitted annually to the Department of Education. The Sisters of Mercy also commissioned Dr Moira Maguire and Professor Séamus Ó Cinnéide to prepare a report on Newtownforbes, which was furnished to the Committee.


Oral testimony was available from five witnesses who had made complaints to the Investigation Committee about the Institution. Two respondent witnesses gave evidence to the Investigation Committee. They had worked in the Industrial School and the primary school respectively during the time period under review. The Provincial of the Western Province, which now includes Newtownforbes, gave general evidence in respect of the School. In addition, a number of witness statements from various members of the Sisters of Mercy who had worked in Newtownforbes during the time period were provided to the Investigation Committee. These persons were not named as respondents. They had worked primarily in the primary school but had had some contact with the Industrial School over the years in terms of supervision. A total of 13 such witness statements were furnished.


Originally, six complainant witnesses had lodged complaints to the Investigation Committee against Newtownforbes. At the time of the hearings, this number had fallen to five. Their combined periods of residence spanned from 1939 to 1965. Most of these witnesses spent their entire childhood in the School.


Three respondent witnesses had been due to give evidence to the Committee, but one was unable to do so because of illness. The two witnesses who did give evidence had spent long periods of time working in Newtownforbes. These witnesses were aged 84 and 85 years respectively at the time of the hearings. One of these witnesses, Sr Francesca2, had worked exclusively in the Industrial School from 1946 to 1963. The other witness, Sr Elena3, had taught in the primary school from 1947 to 1963 and had no direct contact with the Industrial School itself.


Sr Margaret Casey, the Provincial of the Western Province of the Sisters of Mercy, gave evidence at the Phase I and Phase III public hearings in respect of Newtownforbes. As a child, she and her family lived directly across the road from the Industrial School at Newtownforbes, and they were therefore familiar with the children who attended there. In addition, she attended the same primary school as the industrial school children.


The convent in Newtownforbes was an autonomous unit from 1871 to 1979. The nuns who worked in Newtownforbes were entirely responsible for the management, financing and administration of the School. In particular, the Resident Manager and the Sisters who worked in the School were appointed from the Newtownforbes convent, and no other source of staffing was available.


In 1979, there were six such independent Sisters of Mercy convents in operation in the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. These six convents were subsumed into a single diocesan unit with a revised governance structure in 1979. This occurred with all the Sisters of Mercy convents that were in operation in all the dioceses throughout the country. In 1994, the 26 independent diocesan units in the country merged to become a single Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, which is in existence to the present day. Within this organisation structure, there is one Congregational Leadership and a Provincial Leadership Team for each of the four Provinces in the State.


The Superior of the convent at Newtownforbes was also the Resident Manager of the Industrial School. One Resident Manager’s period in office spanned 22 consecutive years, from 1947 until the closure of the School in 1969. All of the Resident Managers for the time period under review are deceased.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
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  4. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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