St Conleth’s Reformatory School in Daingean, County Offaly was different from all the other institutions inquired into by the Commission. It was a reformatory and, unlike the children in industrial schools, most of those in a reformatory had been convicted by the courts of criminal offences that would in the case of adults have been punishable by imprisonment or penal servitude. At the time of conviction, boys were aged between 12 and 17, and were committed for between two and four years, but the period of detention could not extend beyond their 19th birthday. History of St Conleth’s, Daingean
The need for a secure institution for children under 16 emerged in the first half of the Victorian era, when there was a huge increase in the numbers of such children indicted for felonies, particularly in the rapidly growing cities. The prison population had risen dramatically, partly because crimes such as theft that had once incurred the death penalty had been made non-capital offences, and partly because poverty drove people to petty crime to survive. As more and more children were sent to adult prisons, there was a growing concern that these children, convicted mostly for petty crimes, were being corrupted, exploited and abused by the hardened criminals within the system.
As early as 1816, in London, the Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increases of Juvenile Crime published a report on the need for action to address the matter. Four of its seven findings became central to the policy reforms over the decades that followed. These were: the improper conduct of parents; the want of education; the want of suitable employment; and the violation of the Sabbath (and lack of religion).
The Juvenile Offenders Act, 1847 began the process of treating children who were criminals in a different way from adults. This Act allowed children under 14 (this was raised in 1850 to 16) to be tried in a special juvenile court. However, the problem remained as to where they should be sent, and the solution to this problem became crucial because the practice of deporting juvenile criminals was shortly to come to an end. A committee was set up in the House of Lords to advise on the matter. The Scottish reformer, Dr Thomas Guthrie, who had been advocating establishing boarding schools to educate children before they became criminals, and separate reformatory schools for children who had already committed crimes, helped to convince the committee to legislate for such schools.
In 1854, the Reformation of Youthful Offenders Act, set up such reformatory schools. They were to be run by voluntary bodies but, for the first time, they were to be funded out of public funds. It initially applied only to Scotland, but its provisions were extended to England and Wales in 1857.
Social reformers in Britain and Europe had already set up schools run by charity for such children, but many of their ideas went further than the government was prepared to go. Mary Carpenter, for example, who opened a ‘ragged school’ in a Bristol slum, advocated six main principles: (1)Treatment should be founded on the love of the child. (2)Change required the co-operation of the child. (3)Work was to be a means to an end and not an end in itself. (4)Recreation was as important as work. (5)Corporal punishment was to be reduced to a minimum. (In Switzerland, one of the men whose work inspired her, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827), abolished flogging in his schools and astonished everyone by so doing.) (6)The approach should be educational, founded on Christian moral teaching.
These ideas clashed with the prevailing view that the criminal should be made to take responsibility for his deeds as illustrated by Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight, which trained boys who were to be transported to the colonies.
Very rapidly, these kinds of school were established all over Britain. By 1888, there were 46 reformatories in England and 10 in Scotland.
Initially, attempts to introduce the system into Ireland were blocked by Roman Catholic members of the House of Commons as they feared Catholic children would be educated by Protestants but, on 2nd August 1858, an ‘Act to Promote Reformatory Schools for Juvenile Offenders in Ireland’, which made provision for the child’s religion, was passed. In the four years following the passing of this Act, seven schools were founded and 754 children were committed to them. Within 12 years, there were 10 reformatories, five for each sex, throughout the island of Ireland.
The 1858 Act was repealed by another in 1868, and further amending Acts were passed, until the Children Act, 1908 came into force and endured as the overarching piece of legislation in this area for decades to come. A brief history of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI)
Father Charles Joseph Eugène de Mazenod gathered round him a group of priests in Southern France to preach the Gospel to the poor workers of the region. They became known as ‘Missionaries of Provence’ and other priests, attracted by their work, joined the group. In 1826 they received the title of Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Oblates) and approbation as a Congregation under simple vows in a Brief of Leo XII dated 17th February 1826.
In 1854 the Founder was invited by several Irish Bishops to establish an Oblate Mission in Ireland. Archbishop Cullen met with Fr Robert Cooke, who was on a mission to Dublin. He was an Irishman who had studied theology in Marseilles, and had then been ordained by the now Bishop Mazenod. He agreed to set up a base to enable the Oblates to work with the poor people of Kilmainham and, in 1856, the Oblates bought a farm in Inchicore as their base. Just one year later, the Founder was saying Mass in a church built on the site. Two years later, in 1858, the Oblates were asked to set up a reformatory school in Glencree.
The Oblates are a Congregation of priests and lay brothers, the latter being the temporal coadjutors, instructors, teachers and catechists within the missions. They have a regional structure of management The areas in which they carry out their mission are divided into provinces and mission vicariates. Each of these has a local Superior and a team of assessors and bursar are appointed by him. These local houses or provinces report to a Superior General, who is elected for life by the General Chapter, and who has a team of four assistants and a bursar-general. The General Chapter, which meets every six years, comprises the Provincials, the Vicars of Mission, and delegates from each province.
Recruiting into the Oblates is done through Juniorates or Apostolic Schools, Novitiates, which are fed from the Juniorates and colleges, and Scholasticates, which receive novices who have been admitted to temporal vows at the end of a year’s probation.
Lord Powerscourt, who owned the land at Glencree, offered the Dublin Catholic Reformatory Committee the abandoned barracks at Glencree for use as a reformatory. They accepted the offer and approached the Oblates and asked them to run the School. The Oblates had no experience of such work, but were known to be concerned for the poor. Having taken on the responsibility of caring for juvenile offenders, the Oblates tried to educate themselves about the running of reformatories, and went to France and Belgium to study models for such a school. They looked at the penal settlement at Mettray, created in 1840 by Frédéric-Auguste Demetz, based upon Rousseau’s concept that man could be improved through contact with the land. Boys there were in ‘families’, with each family having an adult head of household who imposed a regime of hard work and severe punishments for lapses in the boys. The Oblates decided this system of dividing the boys up into smaller groups could not be used because of the nature of the buildings at Glencree, which would not allow the small family unit approach. The old barracks, in short, determined the nature of the regime.