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In Defence of Industrial Schools

Added to on June 1, 2009


Sir, Having seen the news today regarding Irish Industrial Schools abuse I would like to make some comments.

I attended St Joseph's Industrial School Tralee from 1942 to 1949 having been sent there by the courts in Dublin as in need of care and protection. My mother died aged 31 having had seven children of which I was the youngest. My father later remarried a lady who had six children. Father left Ireland and joined the British army -- at that time there was a great deal of deprivation in Ireland and very little work -- an my stepmother could not take proper care of us hence our being sent to industrial schools.

There was, of course, quite a lot of discipline. St Joseph's had 120 boys from different parts of the country who were sent there for different reasons some, like me, in need of care and some offenders.

The point I want to make is that, yes, there was discipline. The Christian Brothers were very strict, some more than others. In fact, from memory, some brothers were very nice and kind even though dealing with 120 boys could not have been easy.

We went to the classrooms in the morning and trades in the afternoons from which a great many boys benefited for the rest of their lives. There was considerable emphasis on religion. My first job was darning socks and to this day I can do invisible darning. My next job was working in the laundry. At the age of 14 school classes finished and the concentration was on trade training. I was chosen as the head boy and worked in the brothers' kitchen and was the only boy who was allowed out. I went out to the town of Tralee to order the messages from the shops as ordered by the brothers and supervisors of the workshops.

I spent some nine years at St Joseph's and I can honestly say that I was never abused in any way. It was not easy but growing up never is, no matter what the circumstances. There were some hard and difficult times and some pleasant times. I respect the Christian brothers who made many sacrifices in their lives they were good men who dedicated their lives to God and wanted to help those less fortunate than themselves, working away from their families and friends, not always in the most pleasant of environments. I thank God that I have always had a positive outlook on life and always count my blessings.

I have lived here in Kent for the past 46 six years and have been an elected councillor continuously for the past 41 years. I am a cabinet member for adult social care and was Mayor of Rochester upon Medway in 1984/5 and again in 1995/6 and hosted her Majesty the Queen on her visit to Rochester in 1994. I spent five years in the Royal Air Force, two and a half years of which was in the Far East. I then worked as duty free shop manager on the P and O Shipping Co. passenger liners and ran my own hairdressing business for 29 years. I believe that I have been blessed and compensated for any shortfalls in my life.

I am writing this letter in the hope that you will publish it so as in some small way redress the balance of the reputation of Irish industrial schools. I believe that they were not all bad in fact they turned out some very excellent citizens. I would like to express my thanks to the Christian brothers of Ireland to whom I owe quite considerable thanks and appreciation.


Tom Mason {Councillor}
1 Leeds House,
Cypress Court,
Rochester Kent, ME2 4PU.