St Joseph's Reformatory / Industrial School for Roman Catholic Girls, Ballinasloe, Galway, Republic of Ireland
On 11 February 1864, the St Joseph's Reformatory for Roman Catholic Girls was certified to operate in premises on Society Street, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway. It was the only girls' Reformatory in the west of Ireland. The manager was Mrs Mary Burke, assisted by three Sisters of Mercy.
At first, the number of girls being committed to the institution was low — during 1866, the average daily number of inmates was just 9, but had risen to 25 in 1870. An inspection in 1870 noted that the establishment occupied an eight-acre site with a large garden attached. Scholastic instruction consisted of reading, dictation, spelling, writing, arithmetic, singing, and a little geography. For their industrial training, the girls were employed in the laundry and at needlework. They had the care of poultry and pigs, cooked, and were practically taught the duties of household servants. They made their own dresses, and understood the use of the sewing machine. The Sisters slept in the girls' dormitory, and never left them day or night. A mark system was in use, whereby privileges could be earned by good conduct. Red, green or blue ribbons were worn to indicate the different classes of mark attainment. Punishments consisted of cellular confinement but were said to be infrequent. In the years 1867-1869, only six girls had been discharged — one had since died, the rest were all doing well. One had emigrated and was sent to a kindred institution in New York, where, after a residence of three months, she was placed in a situation, which she had since kept, and was favourably reported on. The others were placed with friends or in situations as domestic servants; one was on licence. None had been reconvicted of a crime.
The buildings were considerably improved in 1873-74, taking the capacity of the institution to 70 places. Some of the girls who had a taste for gardening were employed in the conservatory and garden; others milked the cows, and had charge of the dairy; they cooked for the institution, were employed in household work, made bread, and were trained to be efficient servants. They made shirts for the shops, knitted, and were taught kinds of needlework and dressmaking. They also learned to stain wood in patterns. Any girl who had a taste for embroidery was made proficient in that work
In 1875, construction began of a proper farmyard where country and agricultural skills such as the rearing of pigs and poultry could be better taught. By 1877, the cultivation of flowers and keeping of bees had been introduced.
Owing to a steady decrease in the number of female inmates placed in Reformatory Schools, it was decided that St Joseph's should change its status. Accordingly, it closed as a Reformatory on 30 June 1884 and on 8 July re-opened as a Certified Industrial School, accommodating up to 60 Roman Catholic girls from all over Ireland. In tandem with the change, new buildings were erected at a cost of £3,000. Mrs Burke remained as manager, assisted by four Sisters of Mercy. Mrs Burke continued in her role until 1895 when she was succeeded by Mrs Mary B. Kelly.
An inspection in 1912 recorded 51 committed inmates, 21 voluntary inmates, and 2 girls out on licence. It was noted that the girls had daily drill for half an hour and also and learned dancing. Industrial training included needlework, cookery, housewifery and laundry work. The girls in the 'family class' cooked and ate meals in a small cottage in the garden. The staff now comprised Mrs Mary B. Kelly, assisted by two Sisters of Mercy, two assistant teachers, domestic economy teacher, sewing mistress, laundress, and cook.
St Joseph's continued in operation until 1968.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- Sisters of Mercy Archives, St Anne's Convent, 67 Booterstown Avenue, Williamstown, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, A94 NW53, Ireland.
- Barnes, Jane Irish Industrial Schools 1868-1908 (1989, Irish Academic Press)
- Rafferty, Mary and O'Sullivan, Eoin Suffer the Little Children: The Inside Story of Ireland's Industrial Schools (1999, New Island Books)
- Touher, Patrick Fear of the Collar: Artane Industrial School - My Extraordinary Childhood (1991, O'Brien Press)
- Tyrrell, Peter and Whelan, Diarmuid Founded on Fear: Letterfrack Industrial School (2006, Irish Academic Press)
- Sisters of Mercy GB
- Glencree Reconciliation Centre (former Reformatory site)
- The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse
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