The King's County Directory of 1890 recorded the following:
'For the reception and improvement of young male offenders, and official denominated "St. Conleth's Reformatory School, Philipstown, King's County," certified December 22nd, 1870. In the report of the Royal Commission it is stated that "the reformatory school at Philipstown especially appears to be in all respects excellently conducted." The rules for admission, shortly stated, are these - A judge, magistrate, or petty sessions bench may send to it any boy not exceeding sixteen years of age, who is convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment. He must be first sentenced to imprisonment for at least fourteen days in strict separation, and the term of detention shall not exceed five years. The manager has power to release a boy on licence at the expiration of half of his term of detention. There is accommodation for 350 boys, and the actual number maintained during 1888 was 253, and on the last day of the year there were 251. During the year 71 boys were admitted, and 51 in 1887. One boy was admitted for two years; two were sent for three years, and another for four years. But the rev. officers of the institution say in their report - "Experience teaches that it would, in all cases, be better to give the maximum period, so that with the power we possess of licensing at half the term of detention, we should be better able to control the boys and influence them for good." Of those admitted, 43 were committed for larceny; 2 for unlawful possession of goods; one for a fraudulent offence; one for housebreaking; one for housebreaking; one for vagrancy; and 5 for various other offences. Ten boys had been previously convicted. During the year 50 boys were discharged, of whom 19 returned to their friends; 13 emigrated; 9 were placed in situations; and 9 enlisted. Of the boys discharged over a series of years no less than 99.2 [sic?] per cent are doing well.
Dr. Henry M. Clarke, the Medical Officer, in his official report, says "The health of the boys has been very good, and no death has occurred during the year."
The Dietary consists of a breakfast of stirabout (made with two-thirds patent oatmeal) and milk for three days, and bread and cocoa or tea three days, and on feast days. Dinner - Soup, meat, potatoes and bread, four days; vegetable soup, potatoes and bread, three days; vegetables being added daily in the summer. For Supper they have stirabout and mile, but on Sundays or feast days it is changed to bread, tea or cocoa.
The Reformatory in the 1880's
The Representative of the King's Co. Chronicle having in 1888, been afforded an opportunity of paying a visit to St. Conleths Reformatory, Philipstown, we gave a detailed description of the buildings and the industries carried on. We now present a Pen and Ink Sketch executed on the spot, which will indicate the general appearance. The picture is that of the scene which meets the eye on passing within the Lodge Gates. These buildings forming three sides of a quadrangle, contain the offices, dining rooms, bedrooms, etc. of the Reverend Brothers who manage the Schools; and also a Theatre, or Concert-room fitted up with a large stage. The workshops which don't here come within in view, are behind; they are so extensive that it would be impossible to give an adequate conception of them within a short sketch. In the annual report appears also a type-photo, showing the front of the Chapel, and part of the large iron Dormitory wherein each boy is provided with a separate sleeping apartment. The interior of the Chapel is exquisite, the Brothers evidently having expended all the knowledge of Art in rendering lovely their place of worship. Many magistrates throughout Ireland are still unacquainted with the capabilities of the place: were they aware of them there is no doubt they would be availed of to a fuller extent. Each boy is educated soundly and taught a trade; and so admirable is the supervision that there is scarcely any fear of bad effects. They are divided into sections, the result of which is to keep together those of one age only, and this arrangement is carried out at school, work, play and in the hours of repose. Discipline is encouraged by promoting the best behaved among each section to the rank of Corporal, ascending to Sergt.-Major, and rewarding them with one, two, three, or four-pence a week, according to rank. This plan has been found to work right well; and a more orderly and healthier assembly of inmates it would be impossible to see anywhere. The Staff consists of the Manager, the Rev. J. H. Quested; Assistant Manager, Chaplain, sixteen "Brothers" - three of whom teach in the School - two Schoolmasters, Bandmaster, five Tradesmen, and five Farm Assistants, who help some of the boys to cultivate 136 acres of land. None of these are paid except the tradesmen, each "Brother" having taken to his vocation as a labour of love. Indeed there are those among them, who have sacrificed a life of ease in the outer world that they might do something to reclaim the waifs and strays of our country, and put them in the way of becoming honest and useful members of society.'
As stated earlier, few account of life in Daingean reformatory from the perspective of staff or inmate have been published. One account is that of Sean Bourke of Limerick who was sent to Daingean in 1947 when he was 12 years old. His account (published in the Old Limerick Journal, 1982) is very much in line with what has been emerging about many of these places of detention and homes in recent years.