Ancestry UK

St Finbar's Industrial School for Roman Catholic Girls, Cork, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland

St Finbar's Industrial School for Girls was certified to begin operation on 29 April 1870 at Sunday's Well, Cork. Its premises had formerly been the private residence of a member of the management committee, who had donated them for the purpose. A temporary dormitory and classroom were erected adjoining the main house. Over the next six years, substantial new buildings were erected, the premises being re-certified for up to 132 girls on 2 December 1872. The premises included a convent for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd who ran the School, and a Magdalen Home. In 1872, the superintendent was Mrs Teresa Devereux, assisted by six Sisters, with 110 inmates in residence. From 1875, the superintendent was referred to as Mrs Mary Devereux.

The inmates were employed in manufacturing a large quantity of hair nets for sale in shops, and were also taught dressmaking, machine work, and needlework in its various branches. Some of the girls took care of the cows and poultry, made butter, and attended to the farmyard, so as to acquire a knowledge of country work. The School site was gradually extended by the acquisition of adjacent land.

In the classroom, the girls received a "fair English primary education" which included reading, writing, dictation, arithmetic and geography. Girls who had aptitude were trained as teachers and learned music and singing.

In 1876, it was noted that the School had a large plunge-bath with heated water, and also a Turkish bath. The latter was said to have had a marvellous effect on the health of the children — "the hot water destroys the germinating power of the spores of malignant contagious disease, and that soap kills them."

By 1880, the industrial training included needlework in all its branches, dressmaking, millinery, and machine work, crochet, fancy work, knitting, and book-binding. The girls were also engaged in laundry work.

St Finbar's gained a reputation as a model institution and received several royal visits, including one from the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1885.

On 27 April 1897, the School's official capacity was increased to 172 places.

In around 1908, Mrs Kate Hickey took over as superintendent. She was assisted by twelve Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a trained nurse, and a machinist. There was a School garden, cultivated by the girls. Their physical activity now included drill exercises three times a week, with a drill master attending weekly. They also had dancing, games and country walks. Some excursions were arranged during the summer months. A mark system was in use with good conduct being rewarded.

Out of 19 girls discharged during the 1912, 3 got employment as house-maids, 2 as parlour-maids, 1 as nurse-maid, 1 as kitchen-maid, 1 as general servant, 1 as laundry-maid, 2 as dressmakers, 3 as bakehouse assistants, 1 as machinist, 1 at knitting, and 3 returned home to assist in housework.

In 1971, Ireland's Reformatories and Industrial Schools were redesignated respectively as Residential Homes and Special Schools. St Finbar's became a mixed Residential Home until its closure in 1977. The building was gutted by fire in 2003.


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.

  • Barnardo's Origins Tracing Service — for people (and their families) who spent all or part of their childhood in an Irish Industrial School and are interested in tracing information about their parents, siblings or other relatives.
  • Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers 1828-1912 (available online to subscribers of FindMyPast) include details of committals to Irish Reformatories and Industrial Schools.