Madam, - In the light of the bad press given to the former industrial schools in recent years, it might prove interesting and helpful to view these institutions from the point of view of those Victorian gentlemen who were responsible for founding them.
On recently perusing some past numbers of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record for the years 1884 and 1885, I came across a number of articles which attempted to put forward an apologia and justification for the practice of committing young children to these schools.
Far from being ashamed of what they were doing, it is quite plain that these gentlemen considered that committing children to such schools was a noble act of charity, and of justice.
One author, John Curry, who is described as an administrator, described the task in the following way: "to provide for such children \ is always a work of great charity, and to do so satisfactorily is frequently a task of great difficulty, if not an impossibility. . .the workhouse is, admittedly, a bad place to bring up children. . .the Poor Law system for relieving destitute children is not a good one. . .There is a better way to provide for such children than by sending them to the poorhouse, or by 'farming' them out and that is by having them committed to industrial schools".
Men like John Curry quite obviously and unashamedly viewed the Industrial School Act, 1868, (amended in 1880), as a heaven-sent opportunity to assist them in doing their Christian duty. "It is by virtue of these two pieces of legislation \ the schools in question do so much good to the poorer classes and to the country at large." These children "are legally detained - for the purpose of being so educated and trained that they may afterwards become useful and respectable members of society".
Perhaps nowadays, by focusing too particularly on the misdemeanours of a number of religious who taught in those schools, we may be in danger of doing an injustice to the imaginative vision of these original founders who, inspired by a blend of Christian charity and practical utilitarian philosophy, attempted to solve a real social problem and to do their duty; and they did this often in very difficult circumstances. - Yours, etc.,
THOMAS P. WALSH, Faussagh Road, Dublin 7.