Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 2 — Upton

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When the Industrial Schools Act was extended to Ireland in 1868, the Rosminians sought to have the School reclassified as an industrial school. It was certified as one in 1889, and was called Danesfort Industrial School. It continued as an industrial school until it closed in 1966.


It was an imposing building, two storeys high, with extensive farmlands around it. One witness who was there in the late 1950s, told the Investigation Committee: It was a beautiful place ... [it] was beautiful for a visitor going there. It was better than Butlin’s, but for us inside the walls it was a completely different thing. It wasn’t just one day, it was every single day of your young lives. It was beautiful sometimes.


A former resident from the late 1950s and early 1960s said: On arrival, as far as I can recall, it was into a yard that looked like a prison. It was a kind of castle yard, like an old military parade ground, which a lot of children of my own age, younger, a few maybe older, had been walking around almost in circles. It was frightening. Naturally, I was crying – lonely it was.


Another witness, from the late 1950s and early 1960s, said simply but evocatively: When I arrived at Upton first, when I saw it, it looked like a mental home to me. That’s what it actually looked like, a mental home.


Initially, Upton consisted of a big house, located on a farm of 112 acres. The size of the farm was increased over the years and, at the time of its closure, it was approximately 220 acres. The main building was in the form of a square around a central courtyard. In later years further buildings, such as a chapel, a hall and various outhouses and workshops, were added.


The School was under the control of the Resident Manager, who was appointed by the Superior or Provincial of the Irish Province. The School was run according to the principles laid down in the Rules and Regulations for Danesfort Industrial School. The Resident Manager was responsible for the staff. They may be grouped into four categories: the Members of the Institute of Charity; the Dominican Sisters; the Teaching Staff; and the lay staff who worked in the various trade shops or on the farm. In addition, members of the Institute of Charity sometimes lived in St Patrick’s while studying elsewhere, in University College Cork, for example.


The Religious staff worked in various capacities: some were Prefects, with responsibility for the control and supervision of the children; some were Secretaries, with responsibility for administration; and some taught in the School, or worked in the various trade shops or on the farm. The Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St Catherine of Siena worked in the School in various capacities from 1946 to 1955. The School also employed a number of lay teachers, who were paid by the Department of Education. The staff also included a number of farm hands or lay staff that worked in the trade shops. The School was funded by the Department of Education and the appropriate local authorities.


A large part of the building was destroyed when an accidental fire occurred in Upton on 21st July 1966, but it was not the reason for the closure of the School.

Closure of the School


Upton closed on 1st October 1966. There had been ongoing discussions within the Order for a number of years previously regarding its closure. The falling numbers, lack of trained staff, and the reorganisation and rationalisation of the schools run by the Order ultimately led to its closure as an industrial school. The minutes of a Provincial Council meeting held on 19th November 1964 recorded that ‘the writing is on the wall as far as this particular work of charity in Upton is concerned’.


On 1st March 1966, the decision was finally taken to close the School within six months from April 1966.


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.

  1. Quoted in Bríd Fahey Bates, The Institute of Charity: Rosminians. Their Irish Story 1860–2003 (Dublin: Ashfield Publishing Press, 2003), p 74.
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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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