When a local judge in Cork requested the setting up of a reformatory school to serve the area, the Cork Society of St Vincent de Paul set up the Cork Reformatory Committee in 1858, to plan such a school to contain juveniles outside adult prisons. They bought a 112-acre farm at Upton, 14 miles from Cork city, and asked the Rosminians, who had experience of such work in England, to take charge of the Reformatory. A building was designed by Richard Brask, architect, and was completed at a cost of £5,000 in 1860. The lease was transferred to the Rosminians in 1872.
The buildings formed a square, surrounding a central courtyard. Fr Moses Furlong, the first Superior of Upton Reformatory, launched a Patronage Fund to gather public support for the work of the Reformatory. He pointed out in 1867, that the boys in the Reformatory came from all parts of Ireland. He reiterated the founding ideal when he wrote: An instant’s reflection will convince anyone that no matter how carefully a lad may be trained for a few years, his safety is fearfully imperilled if he be returned to his old haunts and old associations, with no money, no assured occupation, no friends but his former criminal companions, and no character but that of one who had been a criminal.1
When the Industrial Schools Act was extended to Ireland in 1868, the Rosminians sought to have the School reclassified as an industrial school. It was certified as one in 1889, and was called Danesfort Industrial School. It continued as an industrial school until it closed in 1966.
It was an imposing building, two storeys high, with extensive farmlands around it. One witness who was there in the late 1950s, told the Investigation Committee: It was a beautiful place ... [it] was beautiful for a visitor going there. It was better than Butlin’s, but for us inside the walls it was a completely different thing. It wasn’t just one day, it was every single day of your young lives. It was beautiful sometimes.
A former resident from the late 1950s and early 1960s said: On arrival, as far as I can recall, it was into a yard that looked like a prison. It was a kind of castle yard, like an old military parade ground, which a lot of children of my own age, younger, a few maybe older, had been walking around almost in circles. It was frightening. Naturally, I was crying – lonely it was.
Another witness, from the late 1950s and early 1960s, said simply but evocatively: When I arrived at Upton first, when I saw it, it looked like a mental home to me. That’s what it actually looked like, a mental home.
Initially, Upton consisted of a big house, located on a farm of 112 acres. The size of the farm was increased over the years and, at the time of its closure, it was approximately 220 acres. The main building was in the form of a square around a central courtyard. In later years further buildings, such as a chapel, a hall and various outhouses and workshops, were added.
The School was under the control of the Resident Manager, who was appointed by the Superior or Provincial of the Irish Province. The School was run according to the principles laid down in the Rules and Regulations for Danesfort Industrial School. The Resident Manager was responsible for the staff. They may be grouped into four categories: the Members of the Institute of Charity; the Dominican Sisters; the Teaching Staff; and the lay staff who worked in the various trade shops or on the farm. In addition, members of the Institute of Charity sometimes lived in St Patrick’s while studying elsewhere, in University College Cork, for example.
The Religious staff worked in various capacities: some were Prefects, with responsibility for the control and supervision of the children; some were Secretaries, with responsibility for administration; and some taught in the School, or worked in the various trade shops or on the farm. The Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St Catherine of Siena worked in the School in various capacities from 1946 to 1955. The School also employed a number of lay teachers, who were paid by the Department of Education. The staff also included a number of farm hands or lay staff that worked in the trade shops. The School was funded by the Department of Education and the appropriate local authorities.
A large part of the building was destroyed when an accidental fire occurred in Upton on 21st July 1966, but it was not the reason for the closure of the School.
Upton closed on 1st October 1966. There had been ongoing discussions within the Order for a number of years previously regarding its closure. The falling numbers, lack of trained staff, and the reorganisation and rationalisation of the schools run by the Order ultimately led to its closure as an industrial school. The minutes of a Provincial Council meeting held on 19th November 1964 recorded that ‘the writing is on the wall as far as this particular work of charity in Upton is concerned’.
On 1st March 1966, the decision was finally taken to close the School within six months from April 1966.
The certificate of the School was resigned on 1st October 1966. At the time of its closure, there were 83 boys in the School. These boys were either released or transferred to other industrial schools. 16 boys were transferred to Letterfrack, 10 to Artane, 10 to Tralee, and 28 to Ferryhouse.
It reopened in 1972 as a centre for adults with mental handicap and learning disabilities. The Institute of Charity handed over ownership of the School to the State in 2003, but it continues to exercise a pastoral role.
In 1889, Upton was certified for the reception of 200 boys, with an accommodation limit of 300. The number of boys in the School who were committed through the courts fluctuated during the years 1937 to 1966. In 1937, there were 137 boys detained in the School, and this number increased to 217 in 1943. As can be seen from the table below, the numbers declined between 1943 and 1958. In 1959, however, the numbers increased significantly to 216, owing to the closure of Greenmount Industrial School and the transfer of boys from there to Upton. Thereafter, the numbers declined steadily and, at the time of its closure in 1966, there were 83 boys in the School. During its life as an Industrial School, approximately 3,000 boys were admitted.
|Year||Number of boys committed|