Victoria Homes and Shamrock Lodge Industrial School, Belfast, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

In 1874, the Belfast Women's Temperance Association (BWTA) was founded by Dr Margaret Byers, headmistress of the Victoria College, and Miss Isabella Tod, a philanthropist with a particular interest in helping women. In 1881, the BWTA began rescuing young girls "from homes made miserable by poverty, unemployment and abuse of alcohol and to prevent the possibility of them becoming prostitutes or involved in other kinds of crime." The Association rented premises at 14 Alfred Street, Belfast, and on May 20th, 1882, opened its first home for "destitute little girls". By the end of the year, 21 girls were in residence at the home, with a further 5 boarded out with volunteers. The girls were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and were occupied in sewing for up to two hours each day.

With numbers continuing to grow, a larger house in Lagan Village, known as Shamrock Lodge, was taken in 1886. On 26th March, 1887, Shamrock Lodge was officially certified as an Industrial School, housing up to 40 girls, aged from 12 to 16, who had been sentenced by magistrates to detention for between two and five years. The establishment was superintended by Margaret Byers who, for almost a quarter of a century, was also the driving force behind the fund-raising to support its operation and growth. The house had a lawn, large garden and paddock attached to it.

In 1892, a move was made to a new site on Ballysillan Road, to the north-west of Belfast. Six individual homes were eventually erected. The first, Shamrock Lodge perpetuated the name of the Lagan home and its role as an Industrial School. Its official capacity was set at 70 on August 3rd, 1892, then to 88 on May 8th, 1895, and to 118 on January 13, 1902. A second home was funded by the Belfast tea merchant Forster Green and his wife. The Macauley Home was funded by a donor of that name. The remaining three homes were financed by public subscription an named after Isabella Tod. A Recreation Hall as added to the site following a legacy of £600 from a Miss Hamill. The full name of the Homes at this time was Victoria Voluntary Homes for Destitute Little Girls and Shamrock Lodge Training School, with its object being to receive 'children of drunkards and of fallen women'. On June 6th, 1922, part of the premises were turned over for use as a Reformatory School for young female offenders.

As well as kitchen, laundry and housework, the girls were now taught a wide range of farm work including the keeping of poultry. Although most girls continued to enter domestic service after leaving the Homes, some were placed on farms and a few later went overseas to Fairbridge Farm School in Australia.

In 1940, Shamrock Lodge relocated to a large house known as 'Faunoran' on Station Road, Greenisland, with some of and the remainder to private houses in the Warrenpoint area. The Ballysillan premises were then taken over by the Belfast Corporation to house the boys from the Balmoral Industrial School. On April 1st, 1943, Shamrock Lodge relinquished its Reformatory School role but continued to operate as an Industrial School.

After the Second World War, Schomberg, a large house at 306 Belmont Road, Belfast, was acquired as the new premises for Shamrock Lodge, replacing Faunoran in Greenisland. In 1951, a Hostel was rented in Bristol Avenue, Belfast, subsequently replaced by another property purchased at 46 Ulsterville Avenue. The Hostel provided a secure base for girls moving from the Homes into independent life. The Hostel was closed in 1976.

In 1981, boys were admitted for the first time into the Homes which were then renamed the Victoria Voluntary Homes. The Victoria Homes Trust no longer operates residential accommodation but now gives financial support to projects aiming to develop and educate young people.

The Homes' Ballysillan site is now covered by the modern houses of Ballysillan Close. Likewise, 14 Alfred Street, 'Faunoran', 'Schomberg', and 46 Ulsterville Avenue no longer stand.

Records

Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.

Bibliography