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Chapter 4 — Greenmount

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Closure of Greenmount


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.

On the changing nature of the boys in Greenmount


The letter to the Bishop of Cork from the Superior General had cited ‘the difficulty of providing suitably trained Brothers to staff such an Institution’ as one of the four reasons for closing. During Phase III, Br Minehane expanded on this problem. He explained that, in the 1950s, ‘Boys were assigned to Greenmount from the Dublin area and that created further problems’. The problems were related to discipline. The Dublin boys were more challenging of authority. They were hardened and street-wise. Br Minehane said, ‘we were dealing with a new and more difficult client, and ... training and expertise was required’. While the numbers of Brothers dealing with the pupils in Greenmount was about the same all the time, the management and care of the new kind of boy required an expertise and training that was not available to the Presentation Brothers.


Professor Keogh concluded his report for the Presentation Brothers as follows: This was the central point made in the report of the 1934–6 commission of inquiry – children in industrial schools were not ‘children apart’; however, they were still being criminalised in the public mind without any justification ... Industrial school children ought, accordingly, to have been treated and cherished as children and as citizens of the Irish state with rights under the constitution. But it seems that in Ireland in the 1930s, 40s and 50s the ‘old idea’ of treating such children as ‘a class apart’ had not yet ceased to be part of the mind-set of a society that was all-too-willing to seek an answer for complex social problems behind the closed doors of state-funded under-resourced institutions. It was tidier that way.

General conclusions


General conclusions 1. A harsh regime with excessive corporal punishment was implemented by one Resident Manager, who continued to serve as a senior Brother after his period of office, and would accordingly have influenced the policy of the School, but there was evidence of a softening of the regime in subsequent years. No formal record was kept, as required by the regulations. 2. The Congregation and the Department of Education failed to supervise properly and were insufficiently objective. They placed too much reliance on the Resident Manager for information on how the boys were cared for and did not have independent investigation. Evidence of mistreatment was ignored. 3. The 1955 investigations into sexual abuse revealed grave failures on the part of the Congregation and the Diocese, and let two persons who were believed to be guilty of sexual abuse to continue careers dealing with children. 4. The interests of the Congregation were prioritised in the manner in which Greenmount was closed, and the lack of information to the parents and the boys themselves, by both the Congregation and the Department of Education, showed an indifference to the people most affected by the closure.

  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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