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Chapter 11 — Dundalk

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The School officially closed in 1983. In a letter dated 24th March 1983, the Sisters of Mercy applied to the Department of Education to resign the certificate for St Joseph’s. The Minister for Education withdrew the certificate under the 1908 Act with effect from 24th September 1983.


Three reasons brought about the closure of the School. First, the Kennedy Report (1970) had recommended the introduction of a group home system, but the physical structure and layout of the School in Dundalk made such a system difficult. The Sisters of Mercy tried to introduce it by establishing smaller groups, with children divided by age. However, the group home structure could only be achieved on a different site and in purpose-built accommodation. The Department Inspector in his General Inspection Report dated May 1973 stated: This is one Home, almost certainly, where we will be spared the concern of providing a Group Home – at least for the present – for lack of suitable site(s).


Moreover, the Department of Education’s architect, on an inspection of the School in 1976, stated unequivocally that ‘This building is a death trap’. He also stated that, ‘There is only one Architectural solution to this case and that is vacate the present buildings’. He was also strongly of the view that under no circumstances should State monies be spent on the building except for first aid repairs.


The second reason for the closure of the School was that Health Boards in the 1970s were focusing more on fostering as a means of caring for children rather than residential care in institutions.


The third factor that contributed to the closure of the School was staffing: the Resident Manager was elderly and in poor health in the 1970s; and it was difficult to recruit staff.


All these difficulties led the Sisters of Mercy to enter into discussions with the Department of Education in 1977 regarding the closure of the School.


To enable the older girls to complete their terms in St Joseph’s, the Sisters undertook the closure gradually. By 1979, the number of children resident in the School had fallen to eight. In 1983, there were just three senior girls resident in the School when it officially closed, and accommodation was provided for them in an apartment opposite St Joseph’s.


The Mother Superior in St Malachy’s Convent, which was situated adjacent to the Industrial School, officially had overall responsibility for its management. She appointed the Resident Managers and was the person who made decisions about major expenditure. The Resident Managers were responsible for the day-to-day running of the School.


There were three Resident Managers during the period 1936 to 1983. Their terms of office were 1926–1945, 1945–1963 and 1963–1983.


All three Resident Managers are now deceased.


In carrying out its inquiry into St Joseph’s, there were three sources of information available to the Committee: (1)The evidence given by three former residents of the School. Originally 21 written statements of complaint were received by the Investigation Committee in respect of St Joseph’s Industrial School, Dundalk. As a result of these numbers, Dundalk was listed within the ‘top 20 institutions’ to be heard [third interim report Dec 2003].2 These 20 institutions were ranked according to the number of complaints made against them. By the time the hearings were scheduled, however, only three elected to give evidence before the Committee. The implications of this reduction in the number of complaints are discussed later. (2)The evidence given by Sr McQuaid, Provincial Leader of the Sisters of Mercy of the Northern Province. She gave evidence in public at Phase I and again in public during Phase III hearings. (3)The documentary evidence from the records of the Department of Education, Sisters of Mercy and the Archbishop of Armagh.


There were three complainant witnesses, spanning the period from 1946 to 1974.


Children in St Joseph’s attended an internal primary school that followed the same curriculum as the local primary school, which was for children of the parish and which was located behind the Industrial School. The internal school closed in 1942, and the St Joseph’s children were enrolled in the convent primary school with the children from outside. The School re-located in 1954 to new premises a short distance away. Attendance at external national schools was recommended by the Cussen Commission in its 1936 Report, and the 1942 development was beneficial, especially when the combined school moved away from the industrial school complex in 1954.


In its Opening Statement the Congregation offered explanations for the educational difficulties experienced by children in the Industrial School: It seems likely that many of the children had particular educational difficulties because of their disadvantaged backgrounds and the traumatic upheaval they had experienced in their lives by being separated from family and sent into an industrial school.


Most of the children who went there were very young on entry, aged two years and upwards. Whatever the cause of the under-achievement, the nuns concede that ‘it is undoubtedly the case that the method of education provided was inadequate for the needs of many of the children’.

  1. This is a pseudonym.
  2. Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Third Interim Report, December 2003.
  3. This is a pseudonym.
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