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Reformatory CP - February 2006

Corpun file 17311

Dundalk Argus, 1 February 2006

Industrial School building was unsuitable for raising children


The former St. Joseph's orphanage in Dundalk which was run by the Sisters of Mercy. The orphanage catered for girls. The laundry where some of the orphans worked is the building on the left of our photograph

The Sisters of Mercy have apologised to the children who were in their care at St. Joseph’s Industrial School, Seatown Place, Dundalk, until its closure in 1983.

In her evidence to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, Sr Ann Marie McQuaid, Provincial leader of the Sisters of Mercy of the Northern Province of Ireland, said she wholeheartedly apologised “to any former resident of St. Joseph’s who experienced physical and emotional pain or damage while in their care.”

Her evidence shed a chink of light on how the orphanage was run from its foundation in 1881 to its closure in 1983.

There were seven children enrolled when it opened and by 1953 this had increased to 100. From the 1950’s the numbers decreased significantly and was down to 45 by 1956. There was an average of 30 children there in the 1960’s, but figures increased again when young boys were taken in 1965. The numbers slowly dropped and there were just three girls there when it finally closed.



“The situation led to a highly regulated way of life where freedom was very restricted, conformity was the norm, privacy was lacking, discipline at times could be harsh and the needs of the individual child were often overshadowed by the group.”


Questioned as to whether children in the Industrial School were punished, Sr M McQuaid referred to punishment books, but she said some of the records were missing.

Most of the punishment, it seemed to her, consisted of girls missing out on treats such as going up town, to the seaside or being made sit with the juniors.

She agreed that there was also corporal punishment and this was usually administered by the Resident Manager or her assistant. This, she believed would have consisted of slapping. “I know from the last two Resident Managers that they would have been insisting that any slapping that had to be done or corporal punishment they would do it, but I would say that wasn't always adhered to.”

Asked about complaints by former residents that certain lay members of staff and nuns had treated them harshly she commented that “knowing human nature and knowing the length of time and the number of children, I think it would be unrealistic to say that there weren't times when a child could have been treated harshly, We deeply regret it if we caused it and we deeply regret it if we didn't notice it.”

From her research, she gathered that “the policy was not to slap children who had bed-wetting problems but I would say there were times probably when they were slapped. Again that is something we would regret.”

The lack of hot water for washing had been another problem in the Orphanage, with the water being boiled in the kitchen in the days before heating was installed.


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