Ancestry UK

St Joseph's Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys, Tralee, Co. Kerry, Republic of Ireland

In 1859, John Mulchinock, a Tralee draper, gave six acres of land to the Congregation of Christian Brothers for the establishment of a boys' National School. Mr Mulchinock also donated £4,500 to pay for construction of the school building, which was opened in April 1862, with 160 day pupils and two teaching Brothers.

In 1870, the parish priest, Dean Mawe, asked the order's Superior at that time, Brother Vincent Hayes, to open an Industrial School in Tralee, and this was built on the site of the existing National School. St Joseph's Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys, on Pembroke Street, Tralee, was certified to begin operation on 25 March 1871 with accommodation for up to 100 boys.

An 1871 inspection described the School as a fine Gothic building which consisted of a residence for the teachers, and school two storeys high, measuring 72 feet by 26. The upper storey was a dormitory, the lower fitted up as two schoolrooms, each measuring 36 feet by 26 feet each, and in which a number of children belonging to the neighbourhood were educated alongside the children of the Industrial School. An additional wing had recently been erected, the same height as the original building. Seven acres of land were attached to the institution, comprising two large fields and a garden. The boys were taught tailoring, shoemaking and gardening. The school was managed by six Christian Brothers, of whom four were qualified as school teachers.

In 1873, a shed, 88 feet long and 18 feet wide was erected to house workshops for a carpenter, cart maker and smith. Industrial training now included baking, carpentry, cart making, smithwork, tailoring and shoemaking. The younger boys were engaged in knitting.

In 1876, a class was formed to train clerks for mercantile pursuits. A boys' band had now been established at the School.

In 1878, an additional workshop was erected measuring 100 feet by 38 feet. The School site was substantially enlarged by the acquisition of an adjoining twenty-eight-acre farm, followed by another eight-acre field. This allowed the training of the boys in agricultural work to be considerably expanded.

In 1881, the School's main building was been enlarged by the addition of a wing, providing additional dormitory accommodation for about 40 children. An infirmary and nurses' room were erected, and a plunge and swimming bath was constructed. The classroom teaching now included music, shorthand, and composition.

In 1883, A four-horse power steam engine was acquired to power the workshop lathe. In 1885, the School's industrial training included baking, book-binding and the manufacture of wire mattresses.

The School site is shown on the map below.

St Joseph's Industrial School site, Tralee, c.1900.

St Joseph's Industrial School, Tralee.

An inspection report in 1911 recorded the staff as comprising the Manager, Rev. Brother P. R. Gibbs, and the assistant manager, Rev. Brother J. H. Nolan, assisted by four Christian Brothers, a housekeeper, bandmaster, drill master, farmer, carpenter, shoemaker, tailor, miller, and baker. New workshops had been constructed and were said to be some of the best to be seen in any school. As regards industrial training, the School's drawing and manual instruction had each received the award "excellent" from the Inspectors of the Technical Education Department. Twenty boys were receiving lessons in manual instruction, 22 tailoring, 18 shoemaking, 15 carpentry, 3 wood carving, 2 baking, 2 painting, 3 milling, 9 farming, and 3 gardening. Physical training included drill with dumb-bells and Indian clubs. The boys were also very expert at step-dancing. They had country walks, and some excursions are arranged during the summer. The band, with around 35 members, gave frequent performances at public concerts.

The School continued in operation until 1970. The buildings no longer survive.

St Joseph's was one of the institutions to be investigated by Ireland's Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, launched in 1999. After reviewing extensive evidence and the testimonies of former inmates, the Commission concluded that over a period from the 1940 to 1970:

  • Physical abuse was systemic and pervasive. It only became a matter of concern when it threatened the interests of the Congregation but not when it endangered boys.
  • Predatory physical and sexual behaviour by boys on other boys was a prominent feature of life in the Institution and a source of anxiety and pain for younger boys.
  • Trade training offered limited opportunities and became irrelevant and obsolete over the years.
  • Witnesses complained of a climate of fear in the Institution, of humiliation by the Brothers, the fear of sexual and physical bullying by their peers, and of the isolation experienced by children who were separated from families. A former member of the Congregation who visited Tralee briefly in the 1960s described the atmosphere as 'a secret, enclosed world, run on fear.'


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