Sad story of two sisters sent to industrial school in 1800s Kinsale

September 2nd, 2016 11:50 AM

By Southern Star Team

The Industrial School in Kinsale where the girls were sent

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The tale of two sisters taken from all they knew and loved, into a industrial school in Kinsale, is a story that author Martin McCarthy felt he had to tell.


THE tale of two sisters taken from all they knew and loved, into a industrial school in Kinsale, is a story that author Martin McCarthy felt he had to tell.

Martin, originally from Cork city, is a history buff who completed the MA Course in Local History at NUI Maynooth and his book, The Committal of Two Mallow Children to an Industrial School in 1893, was part of his thesis.

‘I started from a family angle, as I searched for evidence about my great-grandfather, Patrick McCarthy,’ Martin told The Southern Star. It was while undertaking that research that Martin came across details concerning Patrick’s family, and especially his two daughters. 

‘Copies of the committal papers for the two girls that were sent to Kinsale had recently become available to our family. Elizabeth and Bridget McCarthy were Patrick’s daughters and were the sisters of my grandfather, and therefore my grand-aunts.’

For Martin the discovery of these documents meant that there was a personal and dark story to be told about his ancestors, who hailed from the Mallow and Doneraille area. Following their mother’s death, the two girls, Elizabeth (11) and Bridget (3), were arrested for begging and brought before a court session in Mallow. 

‘The girls were then sentenced to be committed to an industrial school until they reached the age of 16. 

‘This was not unusual during these times, especially following the death of a mother,’ he said. 

An effort was initially made to get the girls into a convent in Mallow when their mother died. 

‘However, their case was taken up by a local woman, a Mrs Tuckey, and with help from her mother, a Mrs Anderson of Ballinaboy, Ballinhassig, they arranged for the girls to be sent to Kinsale. Perhaps places were not available in Mallow,’ suggested Martin. 

In early November 1893, they were taken by train from Mallow to Kinsale, changing at Cork. The McCarthy sisters we then taken to the Mercy Convent in Kinsale from where they joined 160 other girls at Our Lady of Mercy Industrial School.  

Here they would have been taught the basics of reading and writing, but also instructed in domestic skills as well as lace-making. 

‘The two sisters would have been expected to work for no less than six hours in the industrial school with just two hours allocated to school work and a further two hours set aside for recreation and religious instruction,’ Martin explained.

Having completed their service at the industrial school, Elizabeth was discharged and returned to her father in 1899, while Bridget left Kinsale in 1906.

 Martin McCarthy’s book, which is published by Forecourts Press, examines the systems in place for children in State care in Ireland during the latter part of the 19th century. 

While his book is concerned with the broader historical picture, there is always present the personal story of Elizabeth and Bridget McCarthy whose lives were, like so many other children of their time, changed for better or worse in an Ireland that seems very far from the country we know today.

The book is available in all local bookshops or online from

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