St Joseph’s Industrial School, Tralee, was situated on the road to Ardfert on the western outskirts of Tralee town.
In May 1859, John Mulchinock, a Tralee draper, gave six acres of land to the Christian Brothers for the establishment of a boys’ national school. The building commenced immediately at a cost of £4,500, paid for by Mr Mulchinock. It was opened on 28th April 1862, with 160 day pupils and two teaching Brothers.
In 1870, the parish priest, Dean Mawe, asked the Superior at that time, Br Vincent Hayes, to open an industrial school in Tralee, and it was decided to build it on the site of the existing national school. To make way for the industrial school pupils, the two classes from the day school were transferred to the Christian Brothers’ School in Edward Street, Tralee. A building programme, part-funded by public contribution, was then undertaken to provide additional accommodation. A further 34 acres of land were acquired, and the School was subsequently certified for 100 pupils.
Within a year, in March 1871, that number had been increased to an accommodation limit of 150 and a certified limit of 145. A series of land acquisitions throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, culminating in the purchase of 16 acres in 1951, increased the size of the land available to 76 acres. A Visitation Report for 1970 recorded that, of the total 76 acres, 9 acres were Diocesan property and the remaining 67 were Congregation property. The buildings stood on the Diocesan property. The property was sold by the Christian Brothers to the Urban Council for what it was hoped was a ‘realistic price’, apart from 15 acres which were retained as playing pitches for the Green Secondary School.
The Investigation Committee obtained discovery of documents from the Christian Brothers, the Department of Education and Science, the Archdiocese of Kerry, An Garda Síochána, and the Health Service Executive (Southern Area). In addition, former members of staff and former residents furnished documentation and statements.
In preparation for the hearings, the Committee sent letters to 42 former residents listed on its database as having been resident in Tralee and wishing to proceed with their complaint as of September 2005. Of those, seven confirmed that they were not proceeding with their complaint, and replies were not received from a further 14 former residents.
The Investigation Committee heard evidence in three phases. In Phase I, which took place in public in January 2006, the Congregation of Christian Brothers outlined their submissions in respect of St Joseph’s, Tralee. In Phase II, the Committee heard the evidence of 15 former residents and eight former members of staff. 21 complainants were listed for hearing, of whom six did not attend. The 15 hearings took place in private over five weeks. In Phase III, in May 2006, the Congregation gave its response to the evidence heard in the second phase. The Congregation furnished a final written Submission to the Committee in March 2007.
The Committee has received the following photograph of Tralee: Source: Congregation of Christian Brothers
During the years 1940 to 1969, the numbers in the School varied between a high of 152 in 1942 and a low of 35 in late 1969 when the School was closing. In 1968, the School had 94 pupils enrolled.
In 1944, in response to a request by the Department of Justice (via the Department of Education), the Resident Manager followed up an earlier request of 1941 by writing to the Department of Education confirming his willingness to have the school registered as a place of detention for youthful offenders. He agreed to accept eight boys without an increase in certification, and the Department subsequently confirmed this.
The problem of falling numbers remained and, as early as 1955, the Visitor discussed the uncertain future of industrial schools such as Tralee. The follow-up letter to the Visitation Report noted that the boys’ apartments needed a ‘bit of a clean up’, but added that it was hard to ‘forecast the future for such schools’.
The decrease in the numbers of children being committed to industrial schools was referred to in what appears to be an addendum to the 1961 Visitation Report: The numbers in St. Joseph’s, Tralee, are at present quite adequate for the economic running of the establishment. This is due to [the Resident Manager], it is said, who secured some thirty pupils from St. Philomena’s Home Stillorgan for Tralee when that school closed down last year ... Both Glin and Tralee it seems, depend chiefly now on the junior Industrial School in Killarney for their supply. Local Councils and Boards of Assistance send a small number of cases each year. The number of children committed to these schools by the District Justices is said to be declining. Both District Justice in the Limerick and Kerry area are said to be antagonistic towards Industrial School education. Fosterage, boarding-out and adoption are now considered preferable as the children are not segregated from society and it is said that pupils from Industrial Schools find it difficult to adjust themselves to ordinary life. Neither Superior would agree that this is the case and they have statistics to prove it. Both Superiors are of the opinion that heavy financial loss will be sustained if an amalgamation scheme is not prepared and effected at the beginning of the school year 1962–63 ... Unless there is a change of policy on the part of District Justices and social workers it seems that the future of our Industrial Schools is rather uncertain.
The Resident Manager expressed his concern about the falling numbers to the Department of Education Inspector, Dr Anna McCabe1, who noted the matter in her reports for 1960, 1961 and 1962.2
A meeting was held by the Department on 28th September 1965, attended by representatives from the Rosminian Order that ran the industrial schools at Upton and Ferryhouse, as well as the Provincials of both the St Helen’s and St Mary’s Provinces of the Christian Brothers. The Minister made the position clear: the accommodation available in the schools was greater than the number of pupils and he wished to know whether the representatives would agree in principle to close some of the schools and thereby utilise the others more fully.
The Minister ‘suggested tentatively’ that Ferryhouse, Tralee, Salthill and Glin should be closed. The two Christian Brother Provincials agreed to the closure of Glin and Tralee, but no clear decision was made. The debate continued until 1966, when it was agreed that Upton and Glin would be closed, and Tralee kept open. In August 1966, the Minister signed Orders directing that 10 boys be transferred from Upton and 28 boys be transferred from Glin to Tralee. In fact, Tralee only stayed open for another three to four years after that, the last group of boys having left by 30th June 1970.3