Record of industrial schools

Madam, - Thomas P. Walsh's letter (March 8th) suggests that the so-called industrial schools were operated for charitable motives…

Madam, - Thomas P. Walsh's letter (March 8th) suggests that the so-called industrial schools were operated for charitable motives.

The institutions were in fact privately owned State-funded commercial concerns and some simple arithmetic shows just how profitable they were.

Artane, for example, had on-site factories and a 300-acre farm. Manufactured goods and farm produce were sold commercially. Each boy at Artane was made to work. As well as factory and farm work, the inmates did all the day-to-day work of running the prison - cleaning, laundering, baking, cooking, painting and decorating, etc. The boys made their own clothing and footwear. They even made the leather straps that were used to whip them.

I was sentenced to Artane in September 1961 at the age of 13. In the months before my sentence I had worked as a fruit-picker and I frequently earned as much as £6 on piecework for a week of five eight-hour days. So we can say that my labour was worth at least £5 per week. At Artane I worked as a houseboy from morning to night seven days a week for no pay and I was whipped if I failed to perform. In short, I was a slave, owned body and soul by my slave-masters. Just like the slaves in the Confederate States, I was free labour.


Taking into account economies of scale and the extremely poor all-round provision for the prisoners, as well as other factors, I estimate the unit maintenance cost (per boy), including per unit overhead, at about 5 shillings per week in 1961. The weekly maintenance grant per child (capitation) was £2-5s at the time. This was paid to Artane by the child's parents or by the State.

Hence, in labour and grant I represented a net weekly income of £7 (£364 p.a.) to the prison operators (the Christian Brothers). There were 413 prisoners at Artane in 1962. Assuming each boy had the same value as me, then together we represented a net annual income of over £150,000 or, conservatively, £1.5 million at today's values. The prison also received income from the Roman Catholic Church. It benefited from charitable status and received donations in cash and kind from individuals and from business concerns.

The Artane Boys Band was another money-spinner, though the boy musicians never received a penny. In addition, most of the Artane Christian Brothers drew a teacher's salary from the Education Department, though few were qualified teachers or did any teaching. Artane was a nice little earner.

The resident Christian Brothers lived in luxury, while they starved the boy slaves.

Profit, not charity, was the motive for operating an industrial school. There may, of course, also have been even less wholesome motives but we can say with certainty that Artane was part of a highly profitable child slave business.

According to Christian Brothers' internal records seen by Fintan O'Toole, Letterfrack, with a much smaller prison population than Artane, made a profit of almost £12,000 in 1973 (Letterfrack Reports Show Controlling Mentality, Irish Times, January 21st, 2000). More light might be shed on the profitability of Ireland's child slave trade were we able to read the archives of the Education Department and the Christian Brothers. But those archives remain top secret. - Yours, etc.,

JIM BERESFORD, Salendine Nook, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.