Ancestry UK

High Park Reformatory, Dublin, Co. Dublin, Ireland

In 1856, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge took up residence in a house known as High Park (or Highpark) on Grace Park Road, Drumcondra, at the north side of Dublin. The Sisters, originally based in France, had arrived in Dublin three years earlier to take charge of the 'Mary Magdalene Asylum' at the Sacred Heart Home on Drumcondra Road. Their new High Park convent, situated in fourteen acres of grounds, was to form the hub of two major institutions: the High Park Reformatory School for Roman Catholic girls whom magistrates had committed to a period of custodial detention, and St Mary's Magdalen Asylum for what was viewed as the rescue and rehabilitation of 'fallen women' and former prostitutes.

High Park Reformatory, which occupied part of the convent buildings, was Ireland's first institution of its kind. It was officially certified for operation on December 21st, 1858, originally with accommodation for up to 45 girls although this later increased to 100.

The layout of the High Park / St Mary's site in around 1911 is shown on the map below.

High Park / St Mary's site, Dublin, c.1911.

High Park Convent and Reformatory from the south-east, Drumcondra, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

High Park Convent and Reformatory from the south-east, Drumcondra, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham

The inmates received classroom education in subjects such as grammar, mental arithmetic, geography, singing and recitation. The were also given industrial training in laundry work, needlework, cooking. Other skills such as dairy work and the care of poultry were later introduced. Physical exercise primarily took the form of drill.

High Park Convent and Reformatory from the north, Drumcondra, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1879, a chapel was erected at the south of the convent, designed by the architectural partnership of O'Neill and Byrne.

High Park Convent and Reformatory chapel, Drumcondra, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

High Park Convent and Reformatory chapel interior, Drumcondra, c.1910. © Peter Higginbotham

Over the years, girls ended up in High Park for a variety of reasons, and not always because of imposed detention. One former inmate who entered its doors in 1979, says that after she and her sister were sexually abused by her Irish stepfather, she was given the choice by an official from the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) to "go home or go into a home" and she chose the home — An Grianan, as High Park was now known. Here is an account of her experience of the institution:

I was in An Grianan for five years from 1979 to 1984. A lot of girls passed through there. Many of those in the home were in fact abused either sexually or physically in their family homes. One memory that haunts me to this day is a girl that arrived in An Grianan and she had cigarette burns all over her arms and legs. The HSE let me down, trying to make me go home to yet more abuse and I made the right decision. It's hilarious because it wasn't "us" needing reforming but the abusers.

Our lives were restrictive and we scrubbed floors and washed our own clothes in big sinks with carbolic soap and rats running along the pipes above us. We were in school most of year e.g. got very little holidays and inhouse schooling. Prayer was a big part of life there, grace before meals and after and Mass every Sunday. We did not have rooms but cubicles with curtains — a bed and a sink and mirror where we washed. A now-famous lady singer use to live with us.

Part of the building was where the "Maggies" — mainly older ladies — resided. They were put into the institution by their family because they got pregnant out of wedlock by a boyfriend or family member and when they had their babies they were taken off them and adopted out and sometimes given to couples overseas. Most of them were forgotten by their families. These ladies also worked in the laundry in the grounds of High Park — the Magdelene Laundries. The ladies who worked in these laundries were all known as the name "Maggies".

Anyway, at end of our dormitory was a door which led into the cubicles which the "Maggies" slept. I had a room cubicle there just before I left due to overcrowding in An Grianan. On a higher floor in our building was the infirmary for the Maggies who were ill and dying. There was also a stage in the Maggies part where the girls from An Grianan did plays. We also had a modern building at the back of the main building were we did pottery and arts and crafts.

It was not easy there but I got good education and good job now. I am glad some of the surviving Maggies are getting compensation, but most unfortunately went mad after their babies were taken off them and in most cases their family abandoning them. There is no compensation for us. But our childhood was lost.

In 2014, the former convent/reformatory and chapel buildings in the northern part of the site were being redeveloped for residential and community use.


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