Industrial Schools

The history of the industrial school system dates back to the mid-nineteenth century when the Reformatory Schools (Youth Offenders) Act certified a number of voluntary (mostly religious run) institutions as suitable for 12 to 16 year-olds who were committed through the courts. The industrial school system (also mostly religious run), began ten years later. Their remit was to provide skills and training and to reform the child’s character.

Industrial Schools, Letterfrack, Co. Galway

Industrial Schools, Letterfrack, Co. Galway. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The thinking was that the child’s home was a bad influence and so, contact with or visits from parents was actively discouraged. Long sentences were imposed for minor offences – or none at all.

71 industrial schools in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century held 7,998 children.

In recent years, Irish society has been rocked by revelations about the widespread sexual and physical abuse that was perpetuated in church-run industrial schools – once exalted institutions of church and state.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern issued an apology to the victims of abuse in 1999.

A Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which reported its findings in May 2009, found that sexual abuse of boys in the Artane Industrial School in North Dublin (and Letterfrack, Co Galway) was a chronic problem. It strongly criticised the Department of Education for its handling of complaints about residential institutions.

On publication of the report, Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady issued an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church.

"There is a better way to provide for such children than by sending them to the poorhouse or by ‘farming’ them out, and that is by having them committed to Industrial schools.”

- Irish Ecclesiastical Record in 1884.

“I went to Rutland Street School.  I hated school.  I used to mitch any chance I got.  The school inspector used to chase us every day. It was him that got me put away in 1945.

I was sentenced to two years in an industrial school run by the Christian Brothers in Tralee, Co. Kerry.

I will never forget the day I went down there.  They put me to work on the farm, where they worked us like slaves.  If you did not work, you were put on bread and water.

Beat the Hell out of Us

I remember one day, ‘Tato’ Phoenix hit me with a piece of pudding the dining hall.  The Christian Brothers took the two of us outside and beat the hell out of us.

Reward for Escaped Inmates

One day, I decided to escape, so when the Brother that was in charge of us on the farm was not looking, I went across the fields.  What I did not know was that the Christian Brothers put a bounty on anyone who escaped.  All the farmers in the area were told about me escaping.  I was on the run all night but the next morning, I was spotted by the farmers, caught and brought back to the Brothers.

The farmers got their bounty of £1.50.  I got a whipping, bread and water for a week, and put in football shorts and a jumper – what was called the freezing punishment in the winter.  They were hard times then.”


“Funny enough, I used to love school.

One year I got holidays. I was only 13.  I got a messenger’s bike, bringing in two and six a week.  That was for my mother.  That would be 1950.

I decided not to go back to school.  The Christian Brothers decided that I was not getting away that lightly so I was brought before the Justice over in Dublin Castle.  I was sent along with seven other kids to Artane (Industrial School).

It was very hard.  You got up at six o’clock in the morning and you went into this big washroom, cold water, and you had to wash your hair every morning.  There was a Brother standing at the door, and as you come out, if he saw a bit of dirt in your ear, you got a whack, and you had to go back.   So I learned from early time in there, if I wasn’t going to give them trouble, they weren’t going to give me trouble.”


“We saw young boys being loaded into cars by big men who had a hold of them by the arms.

I recall our teacher telling us ‘Those boys are going off to Industrial Schools’.

I lived in fear of the school inspector. He owned a shop in Talbot Street and he was a very frightening man to look at. I never missed school but I used to get afraid when he would come into the classroom to check the roll books to see what children were not coming to school.

He would go after them and get them sent away. Everyone in the class was afraid of him and we used to get the shivers over us looking at him. I remember he called to our house one morning looking for my brothers who were not going to school. I got a terrible fright when I seen him standing in the doorway looking in at me. He was wearing a long overcoat and a trilby hat. If he had you on his books you were going to be sent away. That was the fear the children had of him. I recall seeing many young boys being taken away to Industrial Schools.

God love them they didn’t know what they were going to face in those places, but we know today what happened to them there.

I often wondered about them, did they ever come home?”


“I was sent to the local school, which was Rutland Street. We used to call it the ‘Red Brick Slaughter House’ because you were beat stupid in it.

The masters took no messing from anybody. I remember if you did not go to school the school inspector came around to your house to see why you were not in school. And if you did not have a good reason he would summons you to court.

A friend of mine called Proctor, his father was after dying and he was not in school. The school inspector summonsed him to court.

I will never forget it. My best friend. He got sentenced to seven years in Artane Industrial School for missing school.”

Children from around Railway Street and Corporation Buildings in Rutland Street School children 1920s

Children from Rutland Street School


Children, Co. Dublin.  © The Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

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