St Patrick's Orphanage / Industrial School for Roman Catholic Girls, Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland
St Patrick's Roman Catholic Orphanage for Girls was established in February 1840 and originally occupied premises on May Street, Belfast. In 1856, the Sisters of Mercy began construction of their St Paul's Convent on Crumlin Road, which they occupied in the autumn of 1857. The following year, on an adjoining site, a new building was erected for the orphanage, to which the girls were transferred in January 1859.
In 1869, part of the Crumlin Road site also became home to another institution. St Patrick's Industrial School for Roman Catholic Girls was formally certified to begin operation on 27 August 1869, with accommodation for up to 60 children. Miss Hamilton was initially appointed as matron of the establishment. The first school teacher left in September 1870, with her replacement, Sarah Martin, only taking up her post at the start of 1871. At the same time, the superintendence of the school was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy.
In 1871, the average number of inmates under detention at the school was 19, plus 21 voluntary inmates. An inspection that year reported the school was housed in a three-storey Gothic-style building. There were two lofty and well-ventilated dormitories, with a good school-room and refectory, kitchen, and laundry below, but there was insufficient exercising ground for the children, and no garden or other land. Each dormitory was capable of containing twenty-two beds and had fixed baths and appliances. The industrial training comprised washing, needlework, dress and shirt-making, with some cooking and housework also being taught.
In 1875, the wall separating the school ground from the adjoining promises was moved back to provide space for a playground for the children. Plans were also made to erect a new wing, containing a dormitory, workroom, laundry, drying room, and other facilities. Further improvements in the playground included a shed, where the children could play in wet weather, and gymnastic apparatus.
The school was originally managed in conjunction with the Board of National Education, who provided the teacher's salary and other grants in return for local day pupils being received at the school. The take up of day places proved very low and the arrangement was terminated in 1878.
Further additions to the premises in 1880 included a new laundry, bathroom, lavatories, workrooms, and infirmary. That year's inspection noted that there were two qualified teachers who taught the girls reading, writing, spelling, grammar, dictation, arithmetic, history, and geography. Lessons were also given in vocal and instrumental, and the inmates sang the National Anthem during the inspector's visit. Industrial training included dressmaking, millinery, and other branches of needlework, and the girls were instructed in the use of the sewing machine. They knitted, braided, embroidered, made women's underclothing for the public and and vestments for the clergy. They also did laundry work, housework, and other duties of house servants. The older girls washed, dressed and cared their younger companions.
Following the various extensions to the buildings, the capacity of the school was formally increased to 100 places in 1881 and to 110 the following year.
An inspection of the school in 1911 found 66 committed inmates, 4 voluntary cases, and 3 girls out on licence. The staff at that date comprised the manager, Mrs Mary Dympna Fagan, assisted by 3 Sisters of Mercy, 2 schoolmistresses, 2 dressmakers, cook, and laundress. In the classroom, singing was rated as good, and drawing very good. Geography was also very good, the answering on the Maps being excellent. Grammar was excellent throughout. Recitation was very good and given with spirit. Industrial training consisted of needlework, housewifery and cookery. For physical training, the girls were drilled twice weekly by the head schoolmistress. The performed dumb-bell, bar-bell and Indian club exercises, and also had dancing and games. As their playground was small, they were often taken for walks. Of the 19 girl's discharged that year, one gained employment as a parlour-maid, three as general servants, two as laundry-maids, one as a dressmaker, seven were employed in factories or mills, three as machinists, and two returned home to assist in housework.
Following the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act of 1950, the establishment became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The establishment then accommodated 90 girls aged from 7 to 14 years at their date of admission.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, 2 Titanic Boulevard, Titanic Quarter, Belfast BT3 9HQ. Has Admission registers (1914-48).
- Mercy Congregational Archives, Catherine McAuley Centre, 23 Herbert Street, Dublin 2, D02 HD68, Ireland. Has records 1869-1920.
- Arnold, Mavis, and Laskey, Heather Children of the Poor Clares (2004, Appletree Press)
- Barnes, Jane Irish Industrial Schools 1868-1908 (1989, Irish Academic Press)
- Dunne, Joe The Stolen Child: A Memoir (2003, Marion Books)
- 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)
- Wall, Tom The Boy from Glin Industrial School (2015, Tom Wall)
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.