Patrick J. Mahoney studied cultural history at NUI Galway's Centre for Irish Studies, and now teaches in the department of history at Sacred Heart University, Connecticut. He is interested in the study of emigrant narratives, and the Irish historical experience as it relates to those in the United States and Britain. This column highlights the stories of significant people and places with West Cork connections, throughout the world.
At Mallow petty sessions on 31 October 1893, it was ordered that in accordance with the Industrial Schools Act of 1868, two young Cork girls, Elizabeth and Bridget McCarthy, were to be committed to an industrial school in Kinsale, on the grounds that they were found begging in the town. The industrial school to which they were sent, and where they were to remain until they were sixteen years of age, was one of the most established in County Cork, and the first to be certified under the aforementioned Industrial Schools Act. Yet, long before its recognition by the state, the Sisters of Mercy had begun to develop their reputation for assisting the poor in the local Kinsale area. Beginning with an analysation of the possible circumstances that led to the girls depraved state and subsequent detention, author and grandnephew of the girls, Martin McCarthy, skillfully draws from a wide range of sources to present a microhistory which places their tale within the wider social contexts of both the world in which they lived and the system of which they were a part.
In the recently released ‘Committal of two Mallow children to an industrial school in 1893’, McCarthy examines the context of the case, summarises the workings of the Irish industrial schools system in the 19th century, and presents an in-depth look at Mallow town, its social structure in the 1890s, and the nature of the place to which the girls were sent. The work is released as a part of the Maynooth Studies in Local History Series, whose mission is to present wide-ranging analyses of the Irish historical experience, both chronologically and geographically. In the preface of the work, series editor and Professor of History at NUI Maynooth Raymond Gillespie, recognises the importance of the series in developing a more well rounded view of the Irish historical experience, noting, “These works do not simply chronicle events relating to an area within administrative or geographically determined boundaries, but open the possibility of understanding how and why particular regions had their own personality in the past.” Through his careful analysis of the various personal and external factors surrounding the girls’ detention, McCarthy has certainly supported such a claim. His presentation of their case provides the reader a window into both the religious and socioeconomic factors in Mallow during the 1890s – a time of great hardship for many within the local population. It also conveys the significant influence wielded by the Sisters of Mercy in the Kinsale area during the post-famine era. McCarthy’s thorough consultation of available sources, including transcriptions of several letters from the Mercy Convent Archives, coupled with a straightforward delivery and a level of readability make the work an accessible and desirable human interest story for anyone interested in learning more about the changing nature of the industrial schools system in the 19th century.