ALMOST half a century after the Glin Industrial School was closed, a monument remembering the thousands of boys who were incarcerated there has finally been erected in the town park.
It all happened quietly in the end, and with only a handful of people in attendance.
But, say former pupils, Tom Wall and Tom Hayes, who are leading members of the Alliance Support Group, a more formal unveiling is planned for later in the year. And they hope that Mr Justice Sean Ryan, the author of the ground-breaking report on industrial schools which was published in 2009, will do the honours.
There was, however, a sad urgency to last Thursday’s quiet ceremony. In the five weeks before that, another four past pupils had died.
And the Alliance Support Group, which had initiated the monument project, felt there should be no further delays.
“It was very, very emotional to see this in place,” said Tom Wall. But it also brought back sad memories of the thousands who had passed through St Joseph’s Industrial School over the decades and those who had died without seeing this small monument to their suffering.
“It is a marvellous achievement,” he said. “For years we couldn’t even get the truth out. We got no recognition whatsoever. This means an awful lot, not just to me but to a lot of past pupils.”
Tom himself was incarcerated in the school at the age of three, was subjected to physical and sexual abuse there and wrote a book about it, The Boy from Glin Industrial School which was launched at a reunion of past pupils in 2013.
The erection of a monument was something which those past pupils very much wanted, Tom Wall pointed. But as both he and Tom Hayes recalled last Thursday, there were difficulties to be overcome in fulfilling that dream.
That dream involved a monument which carried the apology issued by the Christian Brothers as well as a quotation from the late journalist Mary Raftery, who played a definitive role in exposing the horrors of the industrial school system.
But the Glin Development Association objected to this design, and wrote asking that the apology be placed on the ground at the foot of the monument and that the Mary Raftery quotation be used somewhere else. They also objected to the height of monument.
But this was totally unacceptable to the monument organisers, the Glin Project Committee who were adamant the apology and the quotation had to remain. They did, however, agree to reduce the height. Despite this, and despite the fact that some people in Glin were very opposed to the idea, Tom Hayes is convinced that within the community, there is genuine goodwill towards the monument.
It now stands, a simple yet powerful reminder to all of a brutal and unjust regime which systematically inflicted deep suffering and damage on so many. Yet it is a testament too to resilience and courage in the face of that selfsame injustice and brutality.
And the hope is that closure will finally come on a sad chapter of Irish history.