The operator of this non-commercial website is the highly motivated community-minded Martin Mitchell from Australia (himself an instititionalised and abused minor in church institutions in the former West Germany)

Mary Raftery and Eoin O'Sullivan – First published in 1999 – ISBN 0-8264-1337-4 –
(425 pages).
The MythsThe five main myths that the Catholic Church has spread about and
wants you to believe – laid wide open and once and for all laid permanently to rest.

Pertinent and highly revealing extracts from a most powerful book.

[ page 11 ]

[ Chapter One ]

The Myths

[ The five main myths that the Catholic Church has spread about and wants you to believe –
laid wide open and once and for all laid permanently to rest.

[ And the same holds true and can be said with regard not only to the Catholic Church but also with regard to the Protestant Church(es) all around the world, wherever they were involved in the running of children’s institutions of one kind or another, “residential schools”, “industrial schools”, “reformatory schools”, “missions” or “work houses”. This applies especially also to fundamentalist Evangelical-Lutheran Church institutions in Germany (institutions of this kind, of the “Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland”), and its ‘charitable’ and “missionary” arm, first known as the “Innere Mission” and later as the “Diakonischen Werke”, and particularly also to such church institutions (business enterprises = Wirtschaftsunternehmen) as the “v. Bodelschwinghschen Anstalten Bethel” (by Bielefeld), the “Rummelsberger Anstalten” (by Nürnberg), the “Marienstift” (in Braunschweig) and the “Raues Haus (in Hamburg) and their various subsidiaries in all provinces and city-states of Germany – church institutions, catholic and protestant alike (business enterprises = Wirtschaftsunternehmen) that could not have existed without the sanction and finance of the Federal Government of Germany itself. ]

It would be difficult to find an area of Ireland’s recent past that has been more bedevilled with myths than the country’s enormous system of industrial schools. Irish society continued until very recently to have little idea as to the real nature of its child-detention system. Even people who themselves went through that system shared many of the misconceptions surrounding the area – several of which had in fact been perpetuated by the religious orders who ran the schools.

[ The 1st Myth ] The first and most pervasive myth was that the children within the system were objects of charity, cared for by the religious of Ireland when no one else would do so. The children themselves were repeatedly told by their religious keepers that were it not for the charity of the Catholic Church, they would have been left on the side of the road, abandoned and starving. In the absence of anyone to contradict this, the children themselves accepted it, as did the general population.

However, it was fallacy. The system was entirely the responsibility of the State, established by law, funded and regulated by the Department of Education. The State paid a grant to the religious orders for each and every child committed by the courts to be detained within the system. While the level of this funding was not by any means overly generous, comparison with wage levels of the time clearly shows that it should have been enough to feed and clothe the children adequately. However, both the personal testimonies in this book and the Department of Education’s own files illustrate the extent of severe material deprivation suffered by the children in these schools.

[ page 12 ]

The charity myth was undoubtedly most useful. It served to explain away It served to explain away the often thin and ragged appearance of many of the children in industrial schools. While usually kept apart from the general community, the children were nonetheless highly visible within their localities – in towns the length and breadth of the country they were to be seen walking in file every Sunday along the roads. Many who remember this spectacle often describe it as a sad and pathetic sight. However, the general view remained that the religious, especially the nuns, were doing their best under difficult circumstances.

[ The 2nd Myth ] The second important myth is that these institutions were ‘orphanages’, and that the children behind the walls were orphans. The use of the word orphanages was highly inaccurate – under law, the vast bulk of children’s institutions were especially defined as industrial schools, established and funded for the industrial training of the children within them. Most of the children within the system had either one or both parents still living, and so could not in any sense be described as orphans.

The ‘orphanages’ myth reinforced the perception by society of the supposed charitable nature of these institutions. The description of the children as ‘orphans’ was far more likely to elicit sympathy for both them and their religious carers. It also undoubtedly assisted with fundraising and a range of other activities.

The reality – namely that thousands of children were detained in a State-funded system essentially because their parents were poor – would not have produced the same levels of either sympathy or charity from the wider community. Had there been a proper understanding of the true nature of the system, it is likely that it would not have survived for so long. Public concern would most probably have been voiced at a much earlier stage (as in Britain) about the inappropriate nature of such institutions for child care. In Ireland, the State’s policy of removing children from their families and funding religious orders to care for them remained unchanged until 1970. The ‘orphan’ myth essentially meant that the obviously preferable option of giving that same funding to families to allow them to keep their children at home was never publicly debated.

[ page 13 ]

This misconception was so pervasive that even many of those who grew up within the system were not aware that they had actually been in an industrial school. This deeply-rooted misunderstanding of the system was publicly repeated as recently as 1966, in the seminal television documentary Dear Daughter, which dealt with the appalling abuse suffered by Christine Buckley in what was known (and referred to by the documentary) as Goldenbridge ‘orphanages’. In fact, this was St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, and had never been an orphanage. It was funded, inspected and regulated as an industrial school by the State.

It is important to note that there were indeed several real orphanages in Ireland. A small number were Church of Ireland institutions, but most were run by Catholic religious orders. The majority charged fees, and were usually described as catering for the children of the middle-classes who had fallen on hard times. They served a very specific purpose in maintaining a rigid class divide between children from different backgrounds – a strategy which was clearly and publicly stated by the Catholic Church in its various Handbooks for Catholic Social Workers during the 1940s and 1950s.

[ The 3rd Myth ] Another myth relating to the system was that it mainly dealt with the children of unmarried mothers. While it is true that there were a number of such children within industrial schools, they always made up only a relatively small proportion of the general child population detained.

One of the more damaging misconceptions concerns the industrial schools for boys over the age of ten. The religious orders running these schools were far less likely to refer to them as orphanages. In fact, there was an erroneous view among the general public that these institutions were reformatories for children who had been found guilty of criminal offences.

Once again, this was largely untrue – only a relatively small number of the children in these schools had any criminal convictions. The vast majority detained in senior boys’ industrial schools such as Upton, Glin, Artane, or Clonmel were there because of the poverty of their parents. This association

[ page 14 ]

between the boys’ institutions and criminality was to dog the footsteps of many who grew up there.

Allied to this specific misconception was the general view that the system was mainly for boys. In fact, the opposite was the case – girls significantly outnumbered boys for most of the hundred years of the existence of the industrial schools in Ireland. This was so marked during the 1930s und 1940s that it was the cause of considerable concern to the Department of Education.

[ The 4th Myth ] Yet another myth, which continues to this day, is that no one really knew about the nature of these institutions and the suffering of the children in them. While it is true that the public at large were probably unaware of the enormous scale of the system for detaining children within the Irish State, it is nonetheless evident that there was a clear popular knowledge of the existence of a punitive and incarceral system for children.

In every part of the country, people remember how as children they were threatened with specific industrial schools. The threat was made in the knowledge that these were highly unpleasant places to be. While it is probably true to say that the general population did not know the true horror or extent of the abuse and maltreatment, it is clear that people knew that children could be and often were locked up and punished.

In recent years, a number of arguments have been made to mitigate the stories of horrific abuse which have emerged from the industrial schools. Primary among these is the contention that it is unfair to judge what happened in the past by the standards of today – that in the Ireland of the 1950s children everywhere were badly treated, and that this was the accepted norm. Consequently, the argument goes, it is unfair to single out the religious orders in the industrial schools for blame. This is an important argument, and bears close examination.

Any detailed analysis of the system reveal a far more complex picture than this argument supposes. There had, for instance, been a number of statements from leading Christian Brothers, including their own founder, Edmund Ignatius Rice, that corporal punishment of boys was wrong and should be discontinued. These had often been repeated internally through the decades. The fact that this particular congregation chose to

[ page 15 ]

ignore these views does not mean that they were in ignorance of an alternative and more enlightened way of relating to the children in their care.

From within the Department of Education, there was also some dawning understanding of the needs of children caught within the industrial schools system. In 1943, the Medical Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Dr Anna McCabe, attended a conference in England on child psychology. She strongly recommended the establishment of child guidance clinics to assist these most vulnerable of children. Her recommendations were ignored, once again not out of ignorance of the value of such an approach, but rather out of a choice made that such clinics would cost too much.

Fr Edward Flanagan, the Irish priest who founded the famous Boys Town in the United States, also published long articles in the Irish papers in the mid-1940s, condemning the highly abusive and punitive culture within Irish industrial schools. He also was ignored.

It can be argued from these and many other similar examples that there was, certainly from the 1940s onwards, an awareness of the complexities of dealing with children in need of care. This awareness was clearly not acted on. The norm remained one of frightening levels of physical violence within industrial schools, combined with complete emotional deprivation of the children. To say that no one knew any better at that time is to ignore the important attempts which were made to reform the system.

[ The reality ] The reality is that the Catholic Church and the State in partnership made certain choices, not so much out of ignorance but more for financial expediency. The institutional model for the processing of children into adulthood by religious orders was undoubtedly the cheapest option available. From the State’s perspective, any of the more enlightened approaches that they were aware of would not only have cost

[ page 16 ]

more, but would also have been strenuously resisted by the Catholic Church as an erosion of its power.

[ The 4th and 5th Myths ] Two other interesting lines of argument have emerged to mitigate the accounts of child abuse within the industrial schools. The first [line of argument] is the “bad apple” theory. This holds that in every group of people there will always be one or two who behave reprehensibly, and that this should in no way detract from the good works undertaken by the others. Furthermore, that in this regard, the Catholic Church is no different than any other area of life.

Were this true, it would indeed be a valid point. However, the scale of the abuse of children within the industrial schools system was so vast as to pose the most fundamental questions about the nature of religious orders in this country. The testimony in later chapters of this book gives a clear sense of the overwhelming extent of that abuse – children were savagely beaten and treated with extraordinary levels of cruelty by their religious carers in almost every single one of the fifty-two industrial and reformatory schools which existed in Ireland for most of the twentieth century. Very large numbers of the boys in particular were sexually abused and raped by male members of religious orders into whose care they were entrusted.

It is undoubtedly the case that by no means all nuns or Brothers within institutions were cruel to the child detainees. However, it is equally clear that those who did not either beat or abuse children did not stand in the way of the often sadistic excesses of their fellow religious. This is a point repeatedly made by the survivors of this abuse. It is a crucial area which the religious orders have so far failed to address publicly. This specific issue provoked much comment in the wake of the States of Fear series, but no explanations or reasons for it have so far been advanced by the religious congregations involved. [ For a transcript of the television documentary States of Fear, see ]

The final line of argument to excuse the behaviour of the religious orders in the industrial schools is that the system was never really an Irish one – that it was imposed on Ireland by the British Government, and that this country merely inherited its flaws. Chapter Three and Four deal in considerable detail with the origins of the system, and how it changed and adapted

[ page 17 ]

to post-independence Ireland. Suffice it to say that the system became very much one of an Irish creation in the 1920s, at a time when Britain itself was beginning to see the dangers involved in institutionalising large numbers of children. The British Government had decided even at that early stage that such a system caused more harm than good to its small inmates, and had begun the process of reform. The newly independent Ireland took the opposite course. It decided for reasons which had very little to do with child welfare to consolidate even further the institutional system.

The legacy of the industrial schools continues to pervade many aspects of Irish life. The revelations in recent years of such severe child abuse within the system have shocked the nation. It is probable that such revelations will continue as the Government Commission of Inquiry into Childhood Abuse, headed by High Court judge Mary Laffoy, begins its hearings of testimony from the survivors of the schools.

There are also many hundreds of cases for civil damages waiting to be heard before the courts. So far, they are being vigorously contested by both the religious orders involved and by the State. While this is of course their entitlement, it does appear to somewhat mitigate the effect of the various apologies issued to victims by these agencies.

Perhaps most seriously, the Gardaí are now in the process of investigating hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse and rape against members of several of the congregations who ran the industrial schools – to date, allegations of this nature have been made against up to 150 Brothers. Eleven have been charged so far and are awaiting trial.

As the enormity of the crimes committed against so many tens of thousands of vulnerable children begins to dawn on the general population, the question most frequently asked is how could it have happened. The following chapters provide some clues as to the ways in which industrial schools became such living hells for their child victims.

[ Date of first publication on this Website: 8 December 2006 ]

Subindex No. 1

DW WORLD.DE - DEUTSCHE WELLE on 23.01.2009 in English ( Sabina Casagrande reporting )
( relating to the former West-Germany ) »Abused Wards Of The State Demand Reparations In Germany«
An apology and compensation are long overdue

( The current CDU/SPD Government of the German Federal Republic, however, is dragging its feet. )

News in brief in the German news-magazine FOCUS, Munich the 12 August 2007:
»The Association of Former Wards of the State [ of the former West-Germany ] /
Former Institutionalised Children / Care-Leavers-Survivors demand compensation -
"The firms that made use of institutional child labour ( "unpaid forced labour" ) have to pay"« -
announced the lawyer for the victims, Munich
human rights lawyer Michael Witti.

Media reports pertaining to an Australian compensation case indexed by GOOGLE:
Court Judgment:
Compensation for Aborigine of the "Stolen Generation":

Judgment of The Honourable Justice Gray - 1 August 2007

Former wards of the state take the initiative.
German care-leavers-survivors take Government to task.
The German Federal Government is being challenged to answer the following simple question:
Ehemalige Heimkinder stellen eine sehr einfache Frage an die Deutsche Bundesregierung:

Legitimate critical observations by the Australian operator, Martin Mitchell, of the
cum postwar German history site Care-Leavers
@ with regard to specific human rights violations -
extra-judicial incarceration and "forced labour" and the profiteering therefrom
by the postwar West-German State
, the churches and private enterprise
(between ca 1945 - 1975) - which should concern us all.

Absolute prohibition of all forms of forced labour / compulsory labour !, or not ?
Was "forced labour" / "compulsory labour" / "work therapy" /
"indoctrination by toil" / "labour discipline" / "pressganged labour"
"hiring out of involuntary labour" / "forcing people to work without pay" ever permitted
in the Federal Republic of Germany, or not? Was it ever permitted in the 1950s, the 1960s,
the 1970s and the 1980?
Is it permitted in the Federal Republic of Germany today?

The use of and the profiteering from forced labour are crimes under international law and they
constitute a serious violation of human rights and an unlawful curtailment of human freedoms.

German wards of the state / institutionalised children used as slave labourers (in the former
West Germany
) demand adequate compensation and the making of appropriate amends;
they don't want to be "paid off" / "to be bribed henceforth to keep quiet"; no "compromise" !

Deutsche Heimkinder / Kindersklaven verlangen eine anständige Entschädigung und
Wiedergutmachung; keine "Abfindung" / "kein Schweigegeld", keinen "Kompromiss" !

Horrific (hidden) POSTWAR GERMAN HISTORY unearthed !!!
Justice at last for abused wards of the state being detained
and slave laboured in ‘institutional care’ in
(West) Germany
by church and state
(a couple of million of them between 1945-1975+;
the exact number has not as yet been able to be determined).

However, whether these victims will in fact obtain justice remains to be seen.


Mary Raftery and Eoin O'Sullivan – First published in 1999 – ISBN 0-8264-1337-4 – (425 pages).
Well-researched non-fictional documentary-type account of Irish institutional child abuse –
in this case perpetrated almost solely by Catholic orders of religion in institutions run for profit
and enrichment of themselves, and to the total disregard of the needs of the children in their ‘care’.

Forgotten Children – The Secret Abuse Scandal in Children's Homes.
[ Institutional child abuse in the UK ]
Author Christian Wolmar – Vision Paperbacks . October 2000.

Visit also “Ehemalige Heimkinder” (former Wards of the State) Blog @

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