Extracts from Chapter 7 of Raftery's book entitled ‘The Child Labourers'
There are two overwhelmingly consistent aspects of the testimony emerging from the experience of industrial schools. The first relates to the enormous workload of the young inmates in maintaining the buildings, grounds and farms of what were generally very extensive complexes. The second is the almost universal lack of proper education provided for the children in these schools. ..
This [timetable] showed that the rules were being flagrantly breached in several areas ? specific recreation was allowed for only 20 minutes a day (the rules specified a minimum of three hours for the under-fourteens) and many of the fourteen to sixteen year olds were only receiving just over one hour of ordinary schooling a day (the rules stipulated not less than three hours) .....
Artane's vast army of 800 boys worked the school?s 290-acre farm of prime land, tended its herd of up to forty cows and assortment of other farm animals. It had facilities for example for up to one hundred pigs and butchered its own meat on the premises......
There was also of course the famous Artane boys band. It was run as a commercial operation with the Band engaged and paid to play a large number of venues each year throughout the country, culminating with its performance before major GAA matches in Croke Park. The band was regarded by Artane boys as the best place to be. Because they appeared so often in public, punishments for this privileged group were not so severe, as they could not be visibly marked or damaged. .......
Many of the industrial schools were in fact little more than forced labour camps for children. Working the children so hard saved the considerable expense of having to hire outside help ......
In general terms, the schools placed no great emphasis on mainstream education. While the children were expected to attend primary school classes, indeed obliged to, by law it seems clear that this was often regarded as being of secondary importance when compared to the labouring tasks assigned to them. .....
That the educational standards in industrial schools were so low, however, is remarkable when viewed in the context that both of the religious orders who dominated the industrial schools system, the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, prided themselves for their achievements in educating the children of the nation.
However it would appear that for a particular class of children, these orders did not regard education or even literacy as being particularly important.
Recently, there has been a lot of criticism of the industrial school system. Artane Industrial School, in particular, has come in for very severe criticism. Among the allegations levelled at Artane are: (1) standard of education was poor; (2) students were given very little time for recreation. Such assertions are inaccurate.
One significant feature of the media coverage of Artane is the refusal on the part of the vast majority of writers and presenters to deal with the positive aspects of life there. The usual `justification' for such failure is that journalists and researchers were unable to come across evidence of a positive side.
Perhaps nowhere is this lack of balance more evident than in Suffer the Little Children, by Mary Raftery and Dr Eoin O'Sullivan. Chapter Seven states that ``two overwhelmingly consistent aspects of the testimony emerging from the experience of industrial schools'' are the enormous workload on the children and the ``almost universal lack of proper education''.
The chapter presents a picture of these institutions as places where children were used, as the title of the chapter puts it, as child labourers.
Such a picture of Artane is so far from the truth that one must query the quality of the authors' research. Complaints by the authors about lack of access to some records only reinforce the fact that they were aware of the inadequacy of their data. Yet they drew very dramatic conclusions from this inadequate data.
The authors give a time-table which was in operation in Artane during the 1940s. This timetable is then used to demonstrate that the Department rules ``were being flagrantly breached in several areas specific recreation was allowed for only 20 minutes''.
Actually, the timetable quoted in the book contains the following: ``11.40-12.00 recreation; 2.30-3.00 recreation; 3.00-5.00 trades drill and recreation.'' Dr O'Sullivan and Ms Raftery seem to have a problem with arithmetic.
A look at the standard of education in Artane Industrial School in the 1940s proves very interesting. The report on the General Inspection (Primary) of 1940 states: ``This is a highly efficient school. The members of the staff are earnest and devoted to duty, discipline is very good and there is an excellent spirit of work.''
The primary certificate examination results during the forties illustrate even more clearly the high standard of education. In the school year 1942/43, 39 boys sat arithmetic, English and Irish. All students passed, most of them achieving very high marks. The average mark in arithmetic was 86 per cent, English 65 per cent and Irish 79 per cent. Four boys obtained full marks in arithmetic. The highest mark in English was 93 per cent and in Irish 97 per cent. No boy failed the Primary Certificate in Artane from 1943 to 1949, inclusive.
The assertion that the pupils were not given adequate time for recreation is also inaccurate. Artane had its own tiered cinema, where films were shown to the boys up to the end of the Sixties. By then, it was one of the few schools in the country to have an indoor heated swimming-pool.
Artane had its own playing field and pavilion. School teams won Corn Fianna Fail from 1937 to 1942, winning it again in 1944, 1945 and 1947. What a sporting achievement for a school of undernourished, overworked, poorly educated child labourers!
Besides their prowess on the fields of play, the Artane boys were also noted for their musical ability. This is not just confined to the Artane Boys' Band. Newspapers frequently carried accounts of the annual concerts.
Because the timetable reproduced in the Raftery/ O'Sullivan book relates to the Forties, this letter has confined itself mainly to that decade. Similar claims could be advanced and supported for achievements in the Fifties and Sixties.
The facts speak for themselves. One must ask why they have been omitted in media coverage of artane. Was this omission due to sloppy or lazy research methods? Or was it due to a mindset which had already prejudged the case without regard for the evidence, indeed in blatant contradiction of the evidence?
The above information is easily available from Cumann na mBunscol and newspapers of the time.
Bro Michael Reynolds, member of St Mary's Province Leadership Team, Christian Brothers.
You published a letter from me last week regarding the Artane Industrial School. This was an edited version of a longer piece and I would like to clarify some points:
The selection of the 1943 Primary Certificate Results, by way of example, might give the impression that the number of pupils taking the exam in Artane was disproportionately low. This was not the case. The exam became compulsory in 1942. However, by 1949 the number of students taking the examination had increased to 83, which would have been the norm. Once again, all students were successful.
These results are all the more remarkable since the standard of education of most of the boys at intake was very low, a fact noted in inspectors' reports in 1943 and 1952.
The above information is located in the Examination Section and the Primary Administration Section of the Department of Education and Science, not in Cumann na mBunscoil.
In addition to winning the Fianna Fail cup several times in that period, Artane also won the Herald Cup (the premier hurling competition) on three occasions and the Sweet Afton cup (the premier football competition) on one occasion in the 1940s.
Bro M Reynolds, member St Mary's Province Leadership Team, Christian Brothers.
Once again the question must be asked: Is Mary Raftery deliberately hiding evidence or did she really not know about examination results at Artane or the prowess of the boys on the football and hurling field? Her use of such phrases as "in general terms", "no great emphasis", "it would appear", suggest to me that she knew the facts but choose to act "in blatant contraction of the evidence" (to quote Brother Michael Reynolds).
Mary Raftery mentions the Artane Boys Band because everybody knows about it and she cannot ignore it. However she describes it as a "commercial operation". When the Artane boys won the premier football and hurling competitions in the 1940s were they also engaged in "commercial operations"? Mary Raftery ignores these victories because she assumes (correctly) that we have all forgotten about them.
We have forgotten far too much.
12 May 2005