Criminal children in post-Famine Connacht: Poverty, crime and punishment, with a particular focus on the period 1854-1870
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This study examines the extent and nature of juvenile crime in Connacht from 1854 to 1884, and looks at how poor and criminal children were treated in the west of Ireland in this period. Most studies of juvenile crime in the nineteenth century have looked at the urban child. Nineteenth century Connacht was predominantly rural and this thesis shifts the focus to the rural child. Despite the great poverty which existed in the province at the time, Connacht children were less likely to find themselves in gaol or in the new reformatories than children from other provinces. This study challenges the prevailing connection which many historians make between chronic poverty and crime. By using a wide range of sources, both official and unofficial, it looks in detail at the treatment of destitute and criminal children at a local level, and explores the religious tensions which frequently determined their fates. The value of the labour, paid and unpaid, of poor children, was recognised by both their families and communities, and the way in which this affected their treatment is explored. The integrated nature of rural communities also had an impact on their treatment. The establishment of the reformatory system, and the response to the legislation in the west of Ireland, is discussed. In 1864 the sisters of Mercy opened St. Joseph's reformatory for girls in Ballinasloe. While it was the only reformatory in the west of Ireland, and was considered to be one of the best in the country in its treatment of inmates, it was undersubscribed and it traded its licence for that of an industrial school in 1884. The lack of engagement with the reformatory system in Connacht contrasts sharply with the expansion of the industrial schools.