Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 10 — Newtownforbes

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Until 1942, the Industrial School had its own internal primary school. However, in 1942, the internal primary school was closed and the industrial school children from then on attended the external primary school, which was also run by the Newtownforbes Sisters. This change was made presumably in response to the Cussen Report recommendations.


In 1951, a secondary school was established at Newtownforbes, which also became a boarding school. When the Industrial School closed in 1969, the boarding school took over parts of the building.


In 1869, the School was certified for the reception of 145 girls, but with accommodation provision for 240. The School received children committed by the courts, children placed by local authorities under the Public Assistance Acts, and later the Health Acts, and it also accepted voluntary admissions.


The number of children in residence in the School fluctuated from year to year. Over the period 1940 to 1969, approximately 320 children passed through the School. The highest number of girls recorded in the School during the period under consideration was in 1948, when there were 175 girls in total in the School, of whom 159 were committed through the courts, nine placed under the Public Assistance Acts, and the remaining seven were voluntary admissions. After 1948, the numbers in the School began to steadily decline. In 1953, there were 126 girls in total in the School, of whom 101 were court committals, 18 were placed under the Public Assistance Acts, and seven were voluntary admissions. This number dropped to 94 in 1955, which consisted of 73 court committals, 14 Public Assistance cases and seven voluntary admissions. Then, in 1958, the numbers further dropped to 68 in total, which consisted of 47 court committals, 14 Public Assistance cases and seven voluntary admissions. By 1969, when the School closed, there were only five pupils resident in the School.


The decline in numbers was of major concern to the Resident Manager of Newtownforbes in the 1950s and 1960s. It became such a concern to her that she sought to increase the numbers by having young boys admitted to the School. In 1956, the Resident Manager wrote to the Department of Education seeking permission for the acceptance of boys under eight years of age. The Department Inspector had indicated that this would not be possible as there were already schools for young boys which were not full.


The majority of children who were sent to Newtownforbes came from Dublin, and in fact 60 percent of them were committed through the Children’s Court in Dublin. The main reasons for the committal of these children included poverty, death of a parent, or being an illegitimate child. Poverty, in short, was the overriding reason for many of the admissions to the School.


The Industrial School closed on 31st August 1969. The Resident Manager, Sr Lucia,1 wrote to the Department of Education on 27th August 1969 informing them of their intention to close the School at the end of the month. However, she had forgotten to provide the requisite six months’ notice of intention to resign the certificate for the School, as required by section 48 of the Children Act, 1908. The Department therefore took the letter of 27th August 1969 as notification of resignation of the certificate of the School, the expiration of which took effect on 26th February 1970.


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.

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  4. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
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