Ancestry UK

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.

St Patrick's School site, Belfast, c.1920.

A detailed account of the school was published in 1882, an abridged version of which is reproduced below:

There are at present in it 154 scholars. The majority of them are orphans who have lost their fathers, but whose mothers are still alive. Some have lost both parents, while others — an unusually small proportion — are illegitimate. It will be seen that with boys of this class there are not so many evil influences to be counteracted and vices to be overcome as in the case of those who have already started upon a criminal career; but for all that they possess those instincts and predilections which, if not directed in a proper channel, would make rogues and vagabonds of them all. This is all sufficient reason for placing them under such control and supervision as shall turn their abilities to useful account. The first idea entertained by the promoters of this Industrial School is, of course, the reformation of the boy; and the second is that he should, as far as possible, support himself and relieve society — even while he remains in the institution — of the burden imposed upon it; and further, that when he leaves he should have that knowledge of trade which would enable him tp live in comfort as an honest man. The first step taken is to give the boy work suitable to him. At first he seems at a loss to realise his position, and, as a rule, for the first week or two falls into the work mechanically; but, after this, his real nature begins to assert itself. He becomes refractory and insubordinate, and here discipline steps in. He has to be shown, in as mild a manner as possible, that he must fall in with the rules of the place or recourse will be had to extreme measures. In most cases the boy's good sense shows him it would be better to submit, and the consequence is that in this school there has not for years been one case of exceptional punishment. After a boy has been inmate for about a month the necessity for corporal punishment entirely disappears. They all receive a premium — or, more properly speaking, wages — for their work. Misconduct of any kind places them in a lower grade, where they cannot make so large a sum as if they had properly conducted themselves. This system has worked with wonderful success, and has minimised all other punishments. There is cell on the premises, but it exists more for the purpose of fulfilling a Government requirement than for the necessity of its use. The result of this course of discipline is abundantly apparent to a visitor as he passes through the workshops. All the boys, from the youngest to the eldest, do work of some kind. Thirty of the smaller scholars between the ages of 7 and 9 may be seen together in one room knitting socks and gloves. About 60 are engaged, together with a number of skilled workmen, at boot and shoemaking, which is the staple industry of the place. In this workshop there are half a dozen long tables, round which the young cobblers sit, and at each bench a skilled hand works and acts as overlooker. In another department soles are cut with machinery by some half a dozen lads, who manage their material with great care and economy. As much as £5,000 worth of work is annually turned out, and as much more could obtained if there were hands enough to do it. In the tailoring and cabinet-making departments a large number are engaged, and work is carried from six to seven hours daily. This labour, though a source of some profit, must, after all, only be looked upon as one phase of a course of discipline which is followed by another — education. There is a large and commodious schoolroom, fitted with all necessary apparatus, and with classroom attached. Instruction in elementary subjects, together with grammar, geography, and music, is given. The first object in training youths like this should, of course, be to provide them with that skill and knowledge which is absolutely necessary for them to have in order to win their bread; but, after that is done, effort should, and we believe no effort is spared, which would tend to cultivate their minds and develop their intellects. One feature which may well be dwelt upon is the proficiency the school in music, to that source, we believe, may traced much of the obedient spirit and good behaviour which the scholars exhibit. Their singing and playing is marvellous in its excellence when we consider their ages; the manner in which they acquitted themselves at a recent concert in St. Mary's Hall reflected as much credit upon themselves as it did upon their tutors, Messrs. Joseph and Henry O'Dogherty. The institution is provided with an excellent library containing 500 volumes, and one result of the course of training was manifest to us by the books which the boys chose. We saw large number on a shelf which were being read by the scholars. Out of about 50 volumes there no less than 13 of Dickens and 6 of Walter Scott, and these we were informed were read with great interest and intelligence. Work and instruction would be exceedingly dull without some amusement, and every possible opportunity is taken by Mr. Collins, the governor, to allow the boys all reasonable recreation. In the summer they are sometimes taken to Bangor, and in the winter indoor amusements are provided for a short time before the hour for retiring. Equally, if not more attentive are the promoters to the question of diet. The boys have bread and coffee for their breakfast, and those who have distinguished themselves by exceptionally good behaviour are exceptionally treated by being allowed butter to their bread. Three times a week each one is allowed half pound of meat at dinner, and the regular supper at six o'clock consists of a bowl of porridge. The usual time for retiring to rest is nine o'clock, and the boys should look forward to it with not a little pleasure. The dormitories are simply perfect in cleanliness, ventilation, and arrangements for heating. The long rows of beds, spotlessly clean, would compare favourably with those to be seen in many boarding-schools. In the winter-time a stove is lighted in each room throughout the day, and allowed to die out about bedtime. Every boy gets a bath least once week, and, speaking generally, the sanitary arrangements are perfect. Taking these arrangements and the healthy situation of the school into consideration, it not a matter for surprise that for some years past there has not been one case of serious sickness. Such a course of training, entailing as it does constant supervision and attention, could not fail to be as successful from a moral as it is from a physical point of view. It engenders a spirit of independence which leads a lad to look upon his skill and knowledge as sufficient to enable him to maintain a position among his fellow men, and to scorn dishonesty as something beneath him. Such institutions as these are sometimes attacked from an economic point of view. It is alleged against them that they flood the labour market and undersell bona fide manufacturers. As far the first allegation is concerned it can only be said that the boys, even if they never entered the institution, would have to find employment of either a legitimate or illegitimate kind outside. They find legitimate occupation inside, and society is relieved from the danger which would be incurred by not preventing them from following a criminal course. As to the second allegation, it may be said that the articles manufactured here are sold at as high, and in some cases higher, prices than any in the market, and that bona fide competition is entered into. It is interesting to ascertain what, after all, are the practical results attained by this school, both to those who have enjoyed its benefits and to society at large. When a boy's time has expired, the money which he has earned during his stay is handed to him, and he is sent to start life in earnest. One defect of the training he has received is the want of self-reliance which he would feel owing to the care which has been lavished upon him. But in the majority of cases he rises superior to it. Those who achieve the greatest success are those who have no parents. This may seem somewhat unnatural, but it is nevertheless a fact that when a lad with parents is once more thrown back among old associates, and again subjected to parental influences which very often, in the first instance, were the cause of his fall, he becomes what he was before he entered the institution. Such instances are fortunately, few and far between. This school has now been in existence, and has supported the Catholic public for nearly ten years. During that time many boys have left, found employment, married, and are now respectable citizens in Belfast.

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 sexual abuse of boys during the period 1975-1979.


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