independent

Sunday 20 October 2019

Foreboding school held dark secrets

LACK OF LOVE FOR CHILDREN HIGHLIGHTED

The former St Joseph's Industrial School in Seatown Place.
The former St Joseph's Industrial School in Seatown Place.

Margaret RODDY

EVEN on a sunny day, the building which housed the former St Joseph's Industrial School is a forbidding-looking place.

The austere threestorey row of houses, with a statue of St Joseph over the front door, was an industrial school for over 100 years from 1881 to 1983.

The original school was set up at the height of the Famine in 1847 when the Sisters of Mercy were invited to Dundalk by the parish priest and concerned townspeople.

It became home to hundreds of children until its closure in 1983, children sent there because they were orphans, the offspring of unmarried mothers, or because of family breakdown.

Due to its presence close to the town centre, the townspeople, in the words of a Mercy nun, 'seemed to have embraced the children because there was tremendous interaction, there was a lot of support and care from the people of Dundalk for the children right through the 100 years including a god -pa ren t ing programme where people god-parented each child within the institution'.

But the people of the town didn't know what went on behind the gray walls of the building, which was described as 'a death trap' before its closure.

They didn't know about the beatings, the cold, the lack of recreational facilities, the failure to encourage pupils to reach their full potential, the separation of families, and, worst of all according to witnesses who appeared before the Ryan Commission, the lack of love and affection which all children crave.

'I always remember (the teacher) would say you are the lowest of the low, you are the worst of the worst. We were never encouraged to think beyond the four walls we were in.'

One witness said that while she didn't blame the nuns for the bad food, she did blame them for the psychological abuse and lack of love. ' That would have cost them nothing. A kind word.'

'We weren't people, we were kind of fodder and nobody thought enough to give us a hug or love us, or do anything that would have made our lives better.'

However, the Ryan Report says that while St Joseph's was 'not an ideal institution', 'it was a more benign place than many other such schools'.

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