Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 4 — Circumstances of admission

Show Contents

Circumstances of admission to Industrial and Reformatory Schools


This chapter describes the circumstances of admission to care of the 413 male and 378 female witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee about their experiences of abuse in Schools. Thirty eight (38) Schools were situated in rural and provincial Ireland and 17 were in cities.


There were 18 junior and senior boys Schools named in evidence to the Committee. The junior Schools admitted boys up to the age of 10 years and were all managed by religious Sisters. Boys were generally transferred to senior boys Schools when they were 10 years old. However evidence was heard of boys being transferred to senior Schools as young as eight years of age and of boys younger than 10 years being placed directly in senior Schools. These Schools were managed by Brothers and/or priests and, with some variations, admitted boys between the ages of 10 and 16 years.


There were 37 girls Schools reported in evidence to the Committee. A number of these Schools were certified to admit girls and boys up to the age of 10 years. In the period after the mid-1970s a number of girls’ Industrial Schools began to admit boys and girls, both individually and in family groups. As reported, girls generally remained in the same School for the duration of their admission. Eleven (11) Schools were the subject of reports of abuse by both male and female witnesses.


The Reformatory Schools were all gender segregated and were certified to admit young people from the age of 12 years who were convicted of an offence.


Seven hundred and nine (709) of the 791 witnesses (90%) were first admitted to residential institutions between 1914 and 1965. The remaining 82 witnesses were first admitted to an institution in 1965 or later. The earliest date of admission relating to Schools for male witnesses covered in this section of the Report was 1919. All 413 male witnesses had been discharged from the School system by 1989. The earliest date of admission for the 378 female witnesses was 1914, all of whom had been discharged from the School system by 1988. The educational, social and welfare changes introduced nationally in the 1960s and 1970s were reflected in the evidence heard by the Committee, as noted throughout the Report.


For the purpose of analysis and reporting the Committee combined witness evidence into four periods by the decade of the witness’s discharge. The four periods were: pre-1960s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The breakdown for each decade is shown below.
Decade of discharge Males % Females % Total witnesses %
Pre-1960s 177 43 133 35 310 39
1960 – 1969 170 41 169 45 339 43
1970 – 1979 50 12 68 18 118 15
1980 – 1989 16 4 8 2 24 3
Total 413 100 378 100 791 100


It is important to note witnesses discharged in one decade may have been in residential care and also reported abuse in relation to the previous decade.1

Pathways to Industrial and Reformatory Schools


Witnesses who gave evidence were admitted both directly from their parents’ home to the Schools and also from various other residential settings, including: • Mother and Baby Homes. These were often either the place of birth or first residence for non-marital children. A number of witnesses reported that they remained in these homes with their mothers, for up to 3 years. • County Homes. These were also both places of birth and first residences. Some witnesses reported being with their mothers in county homes until they were up to five years old. • Foster Care. Provided for infants and young children in some circumstances prior to placement in an Industrial School. Before 1983 such arrangements were also known as ‘boarding out’ or ‘at nurse’. • Children’s Homes. These facilities admitted infants and young children. A number of witnesses reported being placed in Children’s Homes until they were transferred to an Industrial School.


Witnesses who were admitted to Schools from the above facilities were most often non-marital children, frequently referred to as ‘orphans’. The term orphan was used by witnesses in relation to their own circumstances and in reference to co-residents who had no contact with any family outside the institution. Witnesses generally believed that these residents had been in institutions all their lives and either had no known family or their parents had died. Many later learned that they had lived with their mothers for the first few years of their lives and/or had been initially reared by relatives prior to placement in out-of-home care. A number of those witnesses who identified themselves as orphans reported that frequently their mothers had, for various reasons, been unable to support them. The majority of these witnesses had known little or nothing about the circumstances of their admission to out-of-home care. This lack of information included not knowing where they had been born, who their mothers and their fathers were, whether they had siblings, why their parents were unable to care for them and who decided they would be admitted to the Industrial School system. In many instances information available to witnesses through Freedom of Information legislation and other sources in later years indicated that they were not in fact orphans. Witnesses described learning that their parents, particularly mothers, had made representations to the authorities to have them placed close to where they lived. Others reported that their parents had sought to have them released before the full term of their detention and also requested information about their children from whom they had been separated. Witnesses reported that most often these requests had not received a favourable response at the time. However, for a number of witnesses access to such information facilitated contact with family previously unknown to them.


Admissions to Industrial Schools were frequently by Court Order, applications for which could be made by Inspectors from the NSPCC/ISPCC and the Gardaí. Information provided to the Committee indicated that Inspectors from the Society applied for Court Orders on behalf of 120 male witnesses (29%) and 208 female witnesses (60%) who were admitted to Industrial Schools. Placements in voluntary Children’s Homes and foster care were reported to have been generally negotiated by individual arrangement between a child’s parent, guardian, public assistance boards, local authorities and Health Boards, and the operators of the respective services. Some of these placements were by Order of the Court following on application by the Health Board.


‘Boarding out’ and foster care arrangements were other options for the care of a child in circumstances where the parents were unable to provide the necessary care. Records provided to the Committee by witnesses suggest that access to these placements depended on various factors, including either the ability of the mother or her family to pay, the official involvement of State agencies and the availability of appropriate residential services.


In addition to reports of parental payment for foster care and other placements, the Committee heard evidence from many witnesses of the requirement for parents to contribute financially towards their children’s maintenance in Industrial Schools. Copies of correspondence, shown to the Committee by witnesses, between their parents and Department of Education officials, Gardaí and Resident Managers indicated that such payments were assiduously pursued by their officials. I was illegitimate ... I went into the orphanage ...(Industrial School).... My mother was unmarried, her mother had died in childbirth. My grandfather never saw me, my father didn’t want to know.... She was wandering the streets and there was this man a Mr ...X... he was sort of in charge, an overseer, of unmarried mothers, to keep an eye on them for the Government. He got her into the workhouse ... run by nuns and she worked scrubbing and cleaning ... the nuns told her she had to be punished for committing a mortal sin, they were the words from my mother to me. She was there from when she was 7 months pregnant until I was born.... She was kept in the workhouse, for 2 or 3 months. Then her sister went up one Sunday to see her, and took me and her out. She then went to work ... it was then I was left with ...(foster mother).... I was minded by ...(foster mother)... for the first 2 years ... and my mother paid that woman to mind me. It ...(the cost)... became too much for her I suppose and I went to ...named School... through the Courts. It was through Mr ...X ... I went into the orphanage ...(Industrial School).... I did not know I had gone through the Courts until I got the records, it said my mother was incapable of minding me and so I went into the orphanage.


The chart below is an outline of the general pathways into and through institutional care for most witnesses who gave evidence in relation to abuse in Industrial Schools. The representation of Court intervention on the Chart is intended to indicate that it was not a necessary prelude to admission to the Industrial Schools. It is important to note that children were also admitted to the Schools without recourse to the Courts. Figure 1: Outline of Pathways to Industrial Schools Source: Confidential Committee of CICA, 2009 *Court involvement – see Chapter 4.3 **Girls/Mixed Industrial Schools – Small number of girls Schools also admitted boys up to the age of 8-10 years, prior to transfer to senior boys Schools. There was no distinction between junior and senior Schools for girls as there was for boys. ***Some boys were discharged at this stage.


The Committee heard accounts of older children being looked after by relatives while younger siblings went into care. In other instances babies were kept at home either with parents or relatives while the other children were admitted to care. Five hundred and seventy (570) witnesses (72%), 327 male and 243 female, reported being admitted directly from parental and extended family homes to either an Industrial or Reformatory School. Ninety six (96) witnesses, 29 male and 67 female, reported being admitted to an Industrial School from mother and baby homes, county homes, hospitals and hostels where they were born and where many had spent some time with their mothers prior to their admission to Schools. Fifty three (53) witnesses, 22 male and 31 female, reported being admitted to Industrial Schools from foster care placements, including ‘boarding out’ and ‘at nurse’ arrangements. Thirty seven (37) witnesses, 23 male and 14 female, reported being admitted to Industrial Schools from Children’s Homes. Three (3) witnesses reported being admitted to an Industrial School from special needs schools. Thirty two (32) witnesses, nine male and 23 female, have been unable to determine where they were prior to their admission to an Industrial School.


One hundred and two (102) male witnesses (25%) were initially admitted to junior Schools as young children and transferred to a senior School at between eight and 10 years of age.

  1. For example: as witness evidence is presented according to the decade of discharge, a witness who spent 12 years in a school and was discharged in 1962 will have been included in the 1960s cohort although the majority of that witness’s experience will relate to the 1950s.
  2. The age of criminal responsibility under the Children Act, 1908 was seven years. The age was raised to 12 years by section 52 of the Children Act, 2001. This was subsequently amended by section 129 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006 which confined the power to bring criminal proceedings against children to those aged 12 and older with certain exceptions.
  3. For reasons of confidentiality details regarding the provisions governing these admissions cannot be specified.
  4. Section 133(17) of the Children Act, 1908.
  5. Section 58(1)(b) of the Children Act, 1908.
  6. Section 58(1)(a) of the Children Act, 1908.
  7. With permission from the Department of Education and the consent of the parent(s) or guardian, detention could be extended beyond the residents’ sixteenth birthday (but not beyond their seventeenth birthday) for the purpose of further education or training. See section 12 of the Children Act, 1941.