Newtownforbes was chosen as the first module for investigation by the Committee because, at that time, there were just six complaints made against the School. The scheduling of the hearings was halted, however, by the review process in 2003. Much of the evidence had already been gathered, and discovery directions had been issued to the Department of Education and Science, the Sisters of Mercy, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise and three of the complainant witnesses in 2002. Two procedural hearings took place in 2002 regarding variation of the discovery directions issued to the Department of Education and Science and the Sisters of Mercy respectively. The first procedural hearing was at the instigation of the Sisters of Mercy and was held in private on 14th November 2002. The second procedural hearing was at the instigation of the Department of Education and it also took place in private on 6th December 2002.
Five complainants were heard by the Investigation Committee.
Newtownforbes was certified as an industrial school for girls in 1869. The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy managed the School from that date until its closure in 1969. As with all other industrial schools, Newtownforbes was regulated by the Department of Education.
The establishment of the Industrial School in Newtownforbes was brought about by the then local landlord, Lord Granard, and the Sisters of Mercy from the convent in Longford. In 1869, Lord Granard invited the Sisters of Mercy to establish an orphanage for abandoned children and a school to educate the poor of the town. To this end, he obtained the certification for the Industrial School from the Department of Education on 29th November 1869, one month in advance of the Sisters of Mercy arriving there. Three Sisters from the convent in Longford were sent to Newtownforbes under the direction of the then Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Dr McCabe. They arrived on 13th December 1869. Lord Granard provided the Sisters with a vacant house and gardens rent-free, in addition to an annual cash donation of £90.
The Sisters established St. Michael’s Convent in the house provided by Lord Granard, and this convent became autonomous from the Longford Convent in 1871. The Sisters then embarked on a large building project, which by 1879 consisted of the Industrial School, a day school, a laundry and dormitories on the grounds. These buildings were added to over the years. In 1904, an 11-acre farm was acquired by the Sisters in Newtownforbes across the road from the convent on the main Dublin to Sligo road. A bakery was also in operation on the grounds. In 1913, a further 15·5 acres were obtained through the Land Commission in the adjoining townland of Carrickmoyragh which was beside the convent. Also, in 1913, the laundry was expanded and new machinery was installed.
Until 1942, the Industrial School had its own internal primary school. However, in 1942, the internal primary school was closed and the industrial school children from then on attended the external primary school, which was also run by the Newtownforbes Sisters. This change was made presumably in response to the Cussen Report recommendations.
In 1951, a secondary school was established at Newtownforbes, which also became a boarding school. When the Industrial School closed in 1969, the boarding school took over parts of the building.
In 1869, the School was certified for the reception of 145 girls, but with accommodation provision for 240. The School received children committed by the courts, children placed by local authorities under the Public Assistance Acts, and later the Health Acts, and it also accepted voluntary admissions.
The number of children in residence in the School fluctuated from year to year. Over the period 1940 to 1969, approximately 320 children passed through the School. The highest number of girls recorded in the School during the period under consideration was in 1948, when there were 175 girls in total in the School, of whom 159 were committed through the courts, nine placed under the Public Assistance Acts, and the remaining seven were voluntary admissions. After 1948, the numbers in the School began to steadily decline. In 1953, there were 126 girls in total in the School, of whom 101 were court committals, 18 were placed under the Public Assistance Acts, and seven were voluntary admissions. This number dropped to 94 in 1955, which consisted of 73 court committals, 14 Public Assistance cases and seven voluntary admissions. Then, in 1958, the numbers further dropped to 68 in total, which consisted of 47 court committals, 14 Public Assistance cases and seven voluntary admissions. By 1969, when the School closed, there were only five pupils resident in the School.
The decline in numbers was of major concern to the Resident Manager of Newtownforbes in the 1950s and 1960s. It became such a concern to her that she sought to increase the numbers by having young boys admitted to the School. In 1956, the Resident Manager wrote to the Department of Education seeking permission for the acceptance of boys under eight years of age. The Department Inspector had indicated that this would not be possible as there were already schools for young boys which were not full.
The majority of children who were sent to Newtownforbes came from Dublin, and in fact 60 percent of them were committed through the Children’s Court in Dublin. The main reasons for the committal of these children included poverty, death of a parent, or being an illegitimate child. Poverty, in short, was the overriding reason for many of the admissions to the School.
The Industrial School closed on 31st August 1969. The Resident Manager, Sr Lucia,1 wrote to the Department of Education on 27th August 1969 informing them of their intention to close the School at the end of the month. However, she had forgotten to provide the requisite six months’ notice of intention to resign the certificate for the School, as required by section 48 of the Children Act, 1908. The Department therefore took the letter of 27th August 1969 as notification of resignation of the certificate of the School, the expiration of which took effect on 26th February 1970.
The Resident Manager wrote to the Department on 19th September 1969, apologising for overlooking the requirement of six months’ notice. In this letter, she pointed out that they had no option but to close the School because of the decline in numbers: May I mention we very much regret having to close down “Our Lady of Succour School”. It has been our principal work for almost 100 years, now, and the work we dearly loved, but with the great fall in numbers we were forced to do something about it. Now the whole building is fully occupied as secondary school classrooms.
At the time of closing, there were five pupils resident in the School. The two youngest girls were transferred to Moate Industrial School, and two others were returned to their respective fathers. The fifth girl was retained until the expiration of her committal term, with a view to sending her to nursing school in England.
The buildings which housed the Industrial School were subsequently subsumed by the secondary boarding school. The boarding school closed in 1987 and the property was sold in 1990. In that same year, the laundry was demolished and, by 1999, the convent and its grounds were sold and apartments were subsequently built on the site.