A Poor Relief Commission in 1925 heard conflicting evidence over whether industrial schools or “boarding out” with families was better for “destitute” children. The manager of Artane Industrial School and secretary of the Industrial Schools Association, Brother P O’Ryan, put their case.
BROTHER O’RYAN, referring to authoritative statements on the work of industrial schools since their establishment in 1868, mentioned the late Cardinal Logue said there was no doubt Irish industrial schools were doing good work, and, as the work extended, the reformatories became almost depopulated. The witness went on to say that in the industrial school the moral tone of the children was kept high, and they were safeguarded from the evils of the times. Those who advocated the boarded-out system claimed it was more natural. No one would dispute the advantage of life in ideal homes, but the people who took children under the boarded-out system did so because it added to their income. These children were known from the beginning and were often shunned in school and used as drudges in the houses. Were [they] all to gravitate to swell the agricultural labour market, and were they to have no chance of advancement in life? [. . .]
Giving some particulars about Artane School, he said 96 boys were disposed of and sent out to trades and other occupations. Ex-pupils of Artane held lucrative positions at home and abroad; three or four were Colonels or Captains in the Free State Army, and 42 were in Colonel Brase’s famous band [Army No. 1 Band]. Replying to the Chairman [civil servant Charles O’Connor] as to the distinction between reformatories and industrial schools, he said children sent to reformatories had committed crime, but those sent to industrial schools had not, but were sent on account of destitution or not having proper guardianship. There was no reflection on a child sent to an industrial school. There were 52 industrial schools in the Free State now, since Northern Ireland was knocked out. Between 4,000 and 5,000 children were in industrial schools. At one time before the great trouble there were about 8,000. A great reduction had taken place, and at Artane they were working at a great loss, and were doing it at their own expense for the last four or five years, and that was owing to the fewness of committals from Dublin. The expense of working the institution was practically the same for the small as for the larger number. [. . .] There might be an odd child in the school under three years of age, but the general minimum age was six. He saw no objection to having very young children given to foster-mothers.
In answer to Sir Joseph Glynn, the witness said he did not think that a boy would get as good a training with a foster-mother as in an industrial school. At the present moment they had in Artane Industrial School seventy applications for farm boys that they were not able to supply.