The location of the School on the main street gave it the advantage of being close to the local community, unlike other industrial schools. The Provincial leader of the Sisters of Mercy of the Northern Province, Ireland, Sr Ann Marie McQuaid, summarised these advantages in the first public hearing: they were out regularly, both on walks and whatever activities were on in the town. Way back even, I saw it in the Punishment Book of the 1930s, they were getting out to the pictures which were being held in the town hall. The older girls got permission to go out to do messages, to bring the little ones on walks. Also, the people of Dundalk ... seemed to have embraced the children because there was tremendous interaction, there was a lot of support and care from the people of Dundalk for the children right through the 100 years including a god-parenting programme where people god-parented each child within the Institution.
The location of the School had many disadvantages too. The site was restricted, and offered little space for development. As Sr McQuaid explained: They had a small yard at the back with a shelter for the children with a roof and three sides and a hot pipe that ran through it and connected to the laundry ... On wet days, they were in the School.
In carrying out its inquiry into St Joseph’s, there were three sources of information available to the Committee: (1)The evidence given by three former residents of the School. Originally 21 written statements of complaint were received by the Investigation Committee in respect of St Joseph’s Industrial School, Dundalk. As a result of these numbers, Dundalk was listed within the ‘top 20 institutions’ to be heard [third interim report Dec 2003].2 These 20 institutions were ranked according to the number of complaints made against them. By the time the hearings were scheduled, however, only three elected to give evidence before the Committee. The implications of this reduction in the number of complaints are discussed later. (2)The evidence given by Sr McQuaid, Provincial Leader of the Sisters of Mercy of the Northern Province. She gave evidence in public at Phase I and again in public during Phase III hearings. (3)The documentary evidence from the records of the Department of Education, Sisters of Mercy and the Archbishop of Armagh.
In her evidence during Phase III, Sr McQuaid described an instance that occurred in the 1950s, when a member of staff beat the children with a hairbrush. She was reported by one of the senior girls to the Resident Manager who subsequently dismissed her. The evidence of Elaine was that one abusive lay worker who beat the children with a hairbrush remained for the duration of her placement and would not have been due to be retained in any event.
The punishment book covered the period from 1888 to 1950. At the opening public hearing (Phase I), Sr McQuaid said that the punishment book was still in existence but that it had not been filled in after 1950. She explained: Yes, we did have the book, which we gave to the Commission, but it was blank. And I must say I would have had the question that is probably in your mind, why it was blank. I don’t have an answer, except that I am conscious that in the couple of other institutions that I am aware of that had Punishment Books theirs seem to have ended in the 1950s as well.