Clonmel Borstal

Clonmel Borstal

(St. Joseph's Industrial School, Clonmel).

St. Patrick's Borstal Institution, Clonmel was established in 1906 as a place of detention for young male offenders aged between 16 and 21. Located in the centre of Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland, it was the only Borstal instituted in Ireland and was established on the site of the historic town gaol, the former adult prisoners having been transferred to other jails.



Clonmel Borstal was established following the recommendations of the 1895 Report of the Departmental Committee on Prisons, more generally known as the Gladstone Committee.[1] In contrast to nearby St. Joseph's Industrial School, Ferryhouse, which had been initiated by Arthur Moore, a local Nationalist and Catholic M.P., the Borstal was promoted by the Unionist and Protestant M.P. Richard Bagwell. Bagwell, a commissioner for education, became the president of the Borstal Association of Ireland, which, among other duties, sought to find employment for those who had completed their sentence.[2]

The institution was modelled on an innovative approach to young offender reform then being developed at a similar facility at the town of Borstal in England. On the transfer of the adult prisoners to other institutions, the Clonmel Borstal acquired all of the old prison grounds.

Borstal system in Clonmel

The Prevention of Crime Act 1908 envisaged that youths aged between 16 and 21 who were charged with serious offences could undergo a programme of discipline intended to rehabilitate them, segregated from the influence of adult prisoners. The Criminal Justice Administration Act 1914 extended the borstal programme to those charged with less serious offences.[3]

A District Court could not impose a borstal sentence directly but could only recommend to a Circuit Court that a detainee might be considered for borstal. If the Circuit Court judge agreed, he could order the confinement of the youth at the borstal from 2 to 4 years. Unlike Industrial Schools, the borstal was under the authority of a Governor and a staff of warders.[4]

The average number at Clonmel at any given time was about 50. Only about half of these had been sent directly by a court. The others were transferred by Ministerial order from the ordinary prisons. The regime in Clonmel allowed a level of trust to develop between the staff and detainees. At the discretion of the Governor, the boys could be allowed out into to town to find work.[4]

Post Irish independence

Clogheen Workhouse

For a brief period during the Irish Civil War, the prisoners were transferred to the Workhouse at Clogheen, while the Borstal buildings at Clonmel were occupied by Irish Free State military forces. While the exact date of the transfer in 1922 is disputed, Reidy gives it as most probably 3 October. The inmates at Clogheen Workhouse were in turn transferred to other Unions. One week later, 17 of the boys escaped and on the night of 4 November, the town was suddenly abandoned by the Free State forces and occupied the following day by Republicans. Four days later, the Republicans gave notice that the facility was to be vacated immediately as they intended to set it on fire. The 81 inmates and the staff were hurriedly moved to the sanctuary of the nearby Fever Hospital. Petrol was used to ensure that the main buildings were totally destroyed despite the torrential rain. The boys were marched to the nearby town of Cahir where they were accommodated for a few days before removal to Kilkenny. The institution remained in Kilkenny until 1924 when it returned to the original accommodation at Clonmel.[5]


Again, in 1940, during the Second World War the Irish Army occupied its buildings and detainees were transferred temporarily to Cork prison.


The Irish Borstal continued to operate until 1956, when all remaining occupants were transferred to St. Patrick's Institution, Dublin.

End of the Borstal system in Ireland

This Borstal system came to an end in 1956 when St. Patrick's Institution was transferred to a disused section of the Women's Prison at Mountjoy Jail. The system of 'reformation' through a programme lasting years was dropped and instead the sentencing regime more closely mirrored that for the broader prison population. In 1958, of the 256 youths sent to St. Patrick's at its new location in the grounds of Mountjoy, over 100 served sentences of from one to three months. The practice of allowing the detainees to leave the grounds for work in the locality was also ended.[6]

The Criminal Justice Act (1960), introduced by Minister for Justice Oscar Traynor, brought sweeping changes to the system of detention regarding young adults, and abolished the term 'Borstal' from the working lexicon of criminology and penal reform in Ireland.[7]

References and sources

  1. ^ O'Sullivan, Eoin; Ian O'Donnell. "Imprisonment and the Crime Rate in Ireland". The Economic and Social Review 34 (1, Spring 2003): 33–64.  p.34.
  2. ^ O'Donnell, Seán (1999). Clonmel, 1840-1900: anatomy of an Irish town. Geography Publications. ISBN 9780906602515.,+1840-1900%22+Borstal+richard+bagwell. 
  3. ^ "II: The Youthful Offender". Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review (Irish Province of the Society of Jesus) 52 (205 (Spring), 1963): 87–96. 
  4. ^ a b The Youthful Offender, p.89.
  5. ^ Reidy (2009) p199 - 203
  6. ^ The Youthful Offender, pp.90-91.
  7. ^ The Youthful Offender, p.91.

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