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Chapter 2 — Upton

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Closure of the School


The certificate of the School was resigned on 1st October 1966. At the time of its closure, there were 83 boys in the School. These boys were either released or transferred to other industrial schools. 16 boys were transferred to Letterfrack, 10 to Artane, 10 to Tralee, and 28 to Ferryhouse.


It reopened in 1972 as a centre for adults with mental handicap and learning disabilities. The Institute of Charity handed over ownership of the School to the State in 2003, but it continues to exercise a pastoral role.

Number of boys in Upton


In 1889, Upton was certified for the reception of 200 boys, with an accommodation limit of 300. The number of boys in the School who were committed through the courts fluctuated during the years 1937 to 1966. In 1937, there were 137 boys detained in the School, and this number increased to 217 in 1943. As can be seen from the table below, the numbers declined between 1943 and 1958. In 1959, however, the numbers increased significantly to 216, owing to the closure of Greenmount Industrial School and the transfer of boys from there to Upton. Thereafter, the numbers declined steadily and, at the time of its closure in 1966, there were 83 boys in the School. During its life as an Industrial School, approximately 3,000 boys were admitted.
Year Number of boys committed
1937 137
1939 105
1941 136
1943 217
1945 212
1947 189
1949 142
1951 139
1953 121
1955 128
1957 124
1959 216
1961 195
1963 189
1965 126
1966 83


The rise and fall in the numbers in the School can be seen from the graph below:


The number of admissions to Upton was a cause for concern to Fr Giuseppe,2 the Provincial, in early 1939. In correspondence in February 1939 he mentioned that the falling numbers were causing him some anxiety and that he had got a local TD ‘on the job now to bring pressure to bear on the Minister to send extra transfers to Upton until our numbers have reached an economic number’. A month later, in March 1939, he again wrote to say that he had spoken to the then Minister for Education, Thomas Derrig, about the matter. However, according to him there was little prospect of increasing numbers, as the Department was governed by a recommendation of the Cussen Commission that children should be sent to the school that was nearest to their place of origin, and Mr Derrig was disinclined to ‘override the regulations of his Dept’. He wrote that, when he saw the Minister, he showed him a copy of their accounts and emphasised that they were neither able nor prepared to continue to fund the School from their own finances. In a letter sent later in the same year, he again mentioned that he was in talks with the Department about the great inadequacy of the grants and the injustice to the religious orders in expecting them to meet the costs out of their own funds or by heavy borrowing, when funding should be done by the State.


By November 1939, it appears that Fr Giuseppe had enlisted the help and support of Mr Eamon DeValera, the then Taoiseach and acting Minister for Education: Dev. is taking up the matter of our school. I am informed that he has been convinced that we have been unfairly discriminated against in the way of transfers and committals and we are told to expect results soon.


In 1941, Fr Giuseppe was happy to note that the numbers had increased from 110 at the beginning of the year to 144.

Physical abuse


In 2002, Fr Matthew Gaffney, the Provincial of the Irish Province of the Institute of Charity, submitted a general statement on behalf of the Order to the Committee. In this statement, he accepted that corporal punishment was used as ‘a general disciplinary measure’, and was also used as ‘a punishment or deterrent’ for bed-wetting, absconding and other infringements. The use of corporal punishment, he said, had to be seen in two contexts: first, from the perspective of the Institution, and second, in the light of the ‘social attitudes of the time’. From an institutional perspective, he asserted that the ‘maintenance of control was an absolute necessity’, and was achieved through the use of corporal punishment. He accepted that its use ‘produced a disciplinary environment in which the distinction between punishment and abuse could become blurred’. Indeed, he accepted that abuse had occurred in the administration of some corporal punishment, and he apologised for this fact.


In their Opening Statement, dated 17th June 2004, the Rosminians reiterated their awareness ‘that corporal punishment has led to abuse’ and ‘was known from time to time to have been excessive’. But they asserted that the use of corporal punishment was regulated to some extent by ‘the spoken instructions of the Manager of the School, recording, and by trust in the judgement of those in charge’.


Having heard the evidence at the Phase II private hearings, the Order were willing to make more concessions on this issue. In their written Submission in 2006 after the Phase III hearings, the Order accepted that corporal punishment ‘was often used to excess’ and was ‘generally too readily used as a solution to the problems of the Schools’. Departing from their earlier stance, they conceded that ‘the standards of the time are not an adequate excuse or explanation’. They went further, and conceded that the problems with corporal punishment were partly due to its discretionary and unregulated use, particularly by the Prefects who were unsupervised.


They submitted that: The susceptibility of corporal punishment to abuse seems inherent. If left to discretion, a cause can always be found for its use, especially where authority is threatened or insecure.


Fr O’Reilly at the Phase III public hearing referred to the inherent difficulties in using corporal punishment in circumstances where there were no clear policies or guidelines. He described it as ‘a trap’: Corporal punishment is a trap, if you allow corporal punishment without having the most clear guidelines possible, it is a trap, it is a trap for everybody. It is a trap for the boys and a trap for the adults. Because what you are saying is it is okay to hit children. And there are times when they do things that are wrong and that are very, very wrong, and that cause an enormous problem for the entire Institution. So inside yourself you think, “well, it is okay”, and the only response is to punish even more. It is a trap.


He did concede that, at times, ‘the punishments that children received were brutal’.


The Order admitted that corporal punishment was used for absconding. Absconding was a serious problem, because of concerns for the safety of the boys, and the possibility that they could damage neighbours’ property. Fr O’Reilly conceded at the Phase III hearing that ‘boys who ran away were often severely punished because of the problem that it created in the School, the unease that it created among the rest of the boys’. The punishment administered was either slaps on the hand or on the buttocks with a leather strap. He conceded that, on occasions, boys had to remove their trousers for punishment. While each absconding was recorded, reasons for absconding were not. He agreed that many ran away because they were homesick, fearful or deeply unhappy in Upton. He also accepted the possibility that boys absconded because of physical or sexual abuse. He acknowledged that, from time to time, boys’ heads were shaved as part of the punishment for absconding. All children who absconded were punished, and ringleaders were likely to be punished more severely. One form of punishment was ‘benders’, the administration of the strap on the buttocks, but, he asserted rarely on the bare buttocks.


The Order also accepted that boys who wet their beds were given corporal punishment. They were known as ‘slashers’ and had their own section of the dormitory. Between 10 and 25% of the boys wet their beds, and for most of the period covered by the inquiry would have been ‘slapped’. Towards the later years there was ‘less slapping’ for bed-wetting. The Rosminians also accepted that boys had to take their wet sheets to the laundry in front of other boys and, while it may not have been the intent, the Order accepts it was deeply embarrassing for them.

  1. Quoted in Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Publishing Press, 2003), p 74.
  2. This is a pseudonym.
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  5. 1933 Rules and Regulations for the Certified Industrial Schools in Saorstát Éireann, Rule 12.
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  28. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
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  39. Latin for in a class of its own.
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  41. Latin for with a boy.
  42. Latin for with boys.
  43. Latin for As spoken.
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  45. Latin for curiosity, astonishment, surprise.
  46. Latin for without delay.
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  49. Latin for due caution.
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  54. Dr Anna McCabe was the Department of Education Inspector for most of the relevant period.
  55. Records exist for only 19 of the 23 years.
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