St Patrick's School for Roman Catholic Boys, Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Following the Industrial Schools (Ireland) Act of 1868, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor established the St Patrick's Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys in Belfast. Its premises, at the corner of Donegall Street and Donegall Lane, were formally certified to operation on August 27 1869. The property, a large brick-built house, contained a lofty schoolroom, about 30 feet square, with a dormitory of similar size above it. Both were lit by large Gothic windows looking into Donegall Street. A refectory, 11 feet wide, extended the length of the building, above which was a workroom and a bedroom for the master. There was also a small kitchen with pantry. The school could accommodate about fifty boys.
In 1870, the average number of inmates under detention at the school was 38. An inspection that year, found a number of faults with the establishment: the premises were badly kept; the furniture, clothing and bedding deficient; some of the books were not kept; the sewerage was defective; and the institution was wanting in many requirements. The industrial training of the boys was also defective. Ten boys were taught tailoring, and six shoemaking, but their proficiency was very limited. From 2 to 6 p.m. a tailor and shoemaker instructed the children in their trades. The managers of the school declined to receive any child into it who was illegitimate, a decision which the inspector believed to be contrary to the spirit of the Industrial Schools Acts. A retired colour-sergeant of the 13th Light Infantry and his wife, who resided on the premises, had charge of the establishment. Although he drilled the boys, the only other exercise or recreation of the children was ball-playing, marbles, tops, and an occasional walk. At the beginning of 1871, the couple were removed and their duties taken over by a young man, who slept on the premises, and his sister who attended during the day to wash, cook, and look after the domestic arrangements of the school. A Christian Brother attended during school hours to provide religious and secular instruction. He was said to be well qualified, and the boys progressed well under his tuition.
On 11 January 1873, the inmates, furniture, books etc. transferred to new premises at Milltown House, 432 Falls Road, about two miles to the southwest of Belfast. The property provided accommodation for 65 boys. A small farm with five acres of land was attached.
Following the move, the industrial training was expanded. Cabinet-making, shoe-making, and tailoring were taught to the older boys, while the smaller boys knitted and work the sewing machine under the superintendence of a female machinist. The boys also worked on the farm, mainly in the cultivation of vegetables. Boys on admission were placed in the knitting class, then advanced to the trade departments as a reward for good conduct. The resident staff now comprised Mr C. Collins, superintendent and head teacher; Mrs Collins, matron; two assistant male teachers, and a cook. The gardener, who had charge of the farm, resides about 100 yards from the school. Non-resident staff and officers included the manager, the Rev. J.P. Greene; the medical officer, A. McConnell; the female in charge of the small boys, the foremen of trades, and their assistants.
In 1876, a playground was constructed and various gymnastic appliances installed. The baths formerly in the laundry were removed to a bathroom, but without hot water being laid on. A slipper bath was placed in the infirmary. Some workshops, a stable and cart-house were also built. The following year, a farmyard was erected and additional workshops provided. A major expansion and reorganization of the accommodation took place in 1878-79 to increase the capacity of the school to 150 places. The existing band-room, school-room, knitting-room, and vacant room adjoining, were converted to dormitories and washrooms. Three apartments, previously used for trade instruction on the ground floor of the main building, were fitted up to provide a new school-room, knitting-room,and band-room, and new workshop accommodation built. The trades, except knitters, were thus removed from the main house. The bathroom was fitted up with four or five baths, supplied with hot and cold water, the laundry improved, a covered play-room erected, and the play-ground enlarged.
It was reported in 1879 that a large mill adjoining the school, having good water-power and a small quantity of land, had been purchased for £1,000 from the Belfast Town Council. It will was to be used in the instruction of the boys in trade industries. The extensive People's Garden in the neighbourhood of the school was much used by the boys, and was said to have a beneficial effect on their health. There was a good brass band under the direction of a competent teacher.
In 1882, a large plunge bath was installed in which the boys were taught to swim. That year's inspection report noted that one of the inmates had been kept at the school for nine years. According to the manager, this was to protect the boy from 'the evil influences that were sure to surround him on his discharge.' This was not a state of affairs of which the inspector approved. The boot and shoe manufactory was developed during the year, its various departments providing instruction in top cutting, fitting, and closing, benching and finishing, thus qualifying them for employment in a boot factory. Other industrial training now included tailoring, cabinet making, painting, glazing, knitting and hairdressing. By 1884, all workshops had been equipped with 'machinery of the newest description, worked by means of a turbine wheel of 14 H.P.' Electric lighting had also been installed at the school.
The school site is shown on the 1920 map below.
A detailed account of the school was published in 1882, an abridged version of which is reproduced below:
In 1911, there were 164 inmates at the school, with 7 boys out on licence. The superintendent was now Mr James Collins, assisted by four schoolmasters, bandmaster, manual instructor, tailor, shoemaker, carpenter, land steward, cook, and laundress.
On 9 June 1922, part of the school premises were certified for use as a Reformatory for Roman Catholic boys who had been convicted of a criminal offence.
Following the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act of 1950, the St Patrick's became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The school now accommodated up to 30 Senior Boys, aged from 12 to 16 years at their date of admission, and 150 Junior Boys, aged from 6 to 16 years.
In 1957, St Patrick's moved to purpose-built premises on a site of 100 acres at Glen Road in West Belfast, where it was known as St Patrick's Training School. It continued its dual role of receiving both children who were placed through the juvenile justice system and those who were in need of care and protection. It was run by the De La Salle Brothers.
The school closed in around and was replaced by the Glenmona Resource Centre. The Glen Road site is now occupied by St Mary's Grammar School.
St Patrick's featured prominently in Ireland's Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry where it emerged that sexual abuse of children at the institution had taken place as early as 1942. In 1994, a former member of staff at the school was convicted of the the sexual abuse of boys during the period 1975-1979.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 2 Titanic Boulevard, Titanic Quarter, Belfast BT3 9HQ. Has Annual reports (1922-47); General correspondence (1949-53).
- 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)
- Glencree Reconciliation Centre (former Reformatory site)
- The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse
- Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.