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Chapter 4 — Greenmount

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Closure of Greenmount


The matter was not finished here, however. The decision to close the School was initially made without consultation with the Bishop. The Superior General visited the bishop on 16th January 1959 to inform him of the fact that the Brothers intended closing the School and opening a Juniorate for aspiring Brothers. The Bishop sought expert opinion on canon law on the subject, and wrote the following letter to the Superior General: Dear Brother Jose, I got your letter of. Jan 29th and, in view of your having told me (a) that you had already made arrangements with the Department about closing down Greenmount as an Industrial School and (b) that my permission was not necessary for your doing this and using the building as an extension to your Juniorate, I took expert opinion in Canon Law. That opinion is that my permission is required by Canon 497. There is question of closing down an Industrial School and opening an additional Juniorate. Can. 497 allows only changes pertaining to the internal management, etc to be made without referring to the Ordinary, whereas arrangements about your Juniorate may be regarded as pertaining to the internum regimen, the change from or concerning the Industrial School cannot be regarded as an internal one. As well there is the possibility that it was precisely in order to have this school there that you got the foundation at Greenmount originally. In the circumstances, therefore, I have to inform you that Canon 497 has to be complied with and I have formally to register a protest at your having made arrangements with public authority to close down this schola or hospitium without first acquainting, much less having the permission of ecclesiastical authority; namely the Ordinarius Bishop of Cork. That I am quite agreeable to such change, when duly arranged, is another matter.


The Bishop was correct in his surmise that ‘it was precisely in order to have this school there that you got the foundation at Greenmount originally’. There was at least an ethical difficulty about taking property given at a peppercorn rent to provide a home for boys ‘untrained, steeped in misery, and with no means of support’ and to use it for an entirely different purpose. The Superior General replied as follows: In your letter to-day you state that you would like us to put before you the reasons for the proposed change. Those reasons are as follows:— 1.Over a period of years, the constant decline in numbers has made the working of the establishment uneconomic, and consequently difficult to cater adequately for the temporal needs of the boys. We believe that if the temporal needs of the boys are not sufficiently catered for, their spiritual and moral well-being will suffer, and the Institution will fail to achieve its purpose. 2.We are satisfied that the public good and the good of the boys will not suffer as a result of the closing of the school. We understand that there is ample accommodation in other Industrial Schools in Munster for all the boys who are now in Greenmount. Consequently we feel that the need for Greenmount as an Industrial School no longer exists. 3.Because of the difficulty of providing suitably trained Brothers to staff such an Institution – Greenmount being the only school of its kind which we have in Ireland. 4.If we cannot use Greenmount as an extra Juniorate, we must build now, and at short notice, an extension to Douglas Juniorate, or provide alternative accommodation. These are the reasons, my Lord, which we believe justify us in applying to you now for the necessary permission to effect the proposed change. I am sorry that this has been the cause of so much worry and trouble to you. With dutiful respects [etc].


On 11th February, the Bishop replied that, as the boys had suitable alternative accommodation, and as the Presentation Brothers were going to give up their holding in Passage parish, he was going to agree to the plan.


The fourth reason was the only pressing one. The other three had been problems over the preceding years, and they did not need to be addressed with such urgency.


An unexpected question arose soon after the closure of the School, when the Minister for Education, Mr Jack Lynch, was asked if there was any proposal to re-form the band of Greenmount in any other local institute in the Cork area. In the notes prepared for the Minister’s reply, to be given on 9th April 1959, the following statement was made: In arranging for the dispersal of the boys every care was taken to ensure that the transfers would cause the least possible inconvenience to the boys’ parents or guardians.


However, the document went on to add: The boys’ parents/guardians were not advised of the intention to close Greenmount until the day the boys travelled to their new schools. This information was deliberately withheld for reasons of school discipline and lest it would create an unsettling effect in the minds of the boys. Thirty two boys were allowed home on Easter Sunday and had they known of the proposed arrangements it is quite likely many of them would not have returned to school. Should a supplementary question be asked, the Minister might say that: “It is considered that earlier notification to the parents might result in unsettling or upsetting the boys concerned in advance of their transfer”. Of the 29 boys in the school from the Dublin area Artane were prepared to receive only those committed for non-indictable offences, i.e. a total of 9 boys. The remaining 20 boys would have been discontented had they known beforehand that they were being sent to Upton and not to Artane.


The Dáil debate for 9th April records that Mr Stephen Barrett T.D. first asked the Minister about the band, and then asked if the Minister would ‘state the circumstances under which it became necessary to close down Greenmount ... details of the average number of boys in the institute for each of the three years prior to the close down, and the number on 31st March, 1959; and details of the manner in which the boys were dispersed upon the closing down and the manner in which Cork City and County will be catered for in this respect in future’.


The Minister gave his replies and indicated he had no choice in the matter of the closure. He said, ‘The conductors of this institution desired to resign the Certificate under which it was recognised as an Industrial School and I had no option but to accede to their request’. He did not state that the closure could have been delayed legally for six months.


Mr Barrett then asked: Is the Minister aware that these children were dispersed without any prior discussion with their parents and that, in fact, the parents were not aware that the children had been removed from the industrial school to other industrial schools until after the dispersal had taken place?


The Minister’s reply was: I understand that is the situation but that the conductors of the school did so for what they considered good and sufficient reason and that there was no intention whatever to ignore parental rights or to disregard their interests. They did so in the best interests of the management and conduct of the school.


Mr Barrett then asked: Is the Minister aware that, in fact, the interests of the parents were ignored and that the promoters of this industrial school knew that they were ignoring the rights of the parents and, without any prior discussion or notice to them, removed the children and does he approve of that?


Mr J Lynch replied: I think it ought to be made clear that they acted strictly within their rights and within the terms of the Children Act, 1908, which governs the conduct of industrial schools.


Mr Barrett pressed the matter further. He asked: Does the Minister agree that it is a very bad precedent in such matters and would he indicate that if any further industrial schools are being dispersed this precedent should not be followed?


An Ceann Comhairle protested, ‘That seems to be a separate matter’, but Mr Lynch went on to reply, ignoring his Department’s brief. He said, ‘It is very unlikely to arise again, I am sure’. This assurance from the Minister, that the way in which Greenmount closed was a precedent that would not be repeated, was as close as he came to expressing disapproval of the way the closure was handled.


The secrecy surrounding the closure of Greenmount meant that the rights of the parents, and the emotional needs of the boys, were both ignored. It was carried out in a way that suited ‘the best interests of the management and conduct of the school’ without any regard for the right of parents to know where their children were being taken, or concern for the boys, who were suddenly transferred without any time to prepare themselves for the move. Parents were clearly upset, because they asked their TD to raise the matter in the Dáil. The documents concerning the closure show no compassion or concern for the boys’ emotions. The boys were kept in ignorance of the fact they were going to be moved from an institution they had lived in for months and, in many cases, years. To many, it was their home. Only at the last moment were they told where they were going to be taken. To many, this news must have been a shock causing much distress.

  1. Dermot Keogh, ‘St Joseph’s Industrial School, Greenmount, Cork’ (Report prepared for the Presentation Brothers, May 2001 and submitted to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse 19 May 2004), pp 187–188.
  2. For the greater glory of God.
  3. Fratrium Presentionis Mariae.
  4. Keogh, p 54.
  5. Keogh, p 57.
  6. Cork Examiner, 28 March 1874, cited in Dermot Keogh, ‘St Joseph’s Industrial School, Greenmount, Cork’ May 2001.
  7. Cork Examiner, 30 March 1874, cited by Keogh, May 2001, p 41.
  8. Cork Examiner, 30 March 1874, cited by Keogh, May 2001, pp 41–2.
  9. Cork Examiner, 24 March 1874.
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  13. Report on Reformatory and Industrial Schools, 1936.
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