Author Heidi Daniele Guest Post: The House Children
I’d first heard about Irish Industrial Schools during a trip to Ireland. A book titled Fear of the Collar by Patrick Touher came up during a conversation at an event I was attending. The story was an account of his experience in the Artaine Industrial School, run by the Christian Brothers. I bought the book the following day and was both fascinated and appalled by what I read. As a parent of two children and a Catholic, it was difficult to believe that Irish children had been treated so badly in an institution run by the Catholic Church.
Shortly after I read Touher’s book, “The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse” was formed by the Irish Government to investigate abuse in childcare facilities, including industrial schools. While waiting for the findings of the Commission, I continued to search for information about industrial schools. I scoured the internet for articles, blogs and message board postings. Most of what I read was about the horrible experiences and abuse endured by many of the children.
Further research shed light on the Irish culture of that era. Many families were poor, unemployment was high, and an old brand of Catholicism heavily influenced government policies and the moral views of the majority of the Irish people.
While compiling my findings it occurred to me that others might also be intrigued with this topic, so I began to entertain the idea of writing a book.
My journey led me to conversations with five women who were raised in Saint Joseph’s Industrial School in Ballinasloe between 1930 and 1960. I was surprised at how different their experiences were. It was a relief to learn that in spite of their many difficulties, they also shared fond memories of friends they’d made, and even some of the nuns.
I began to appreciate that the industrials schools, although a terribly imperfect system, had also served their primary purpose of sheltering and feeding these children, many of whom might otherwise have endured worse fates.
It became my mission to give a fair account of what happened in this particular institution. The characters in The House Children are based on these five women, and the story is based on actual events. There was one twist – the women asked to remain anonymous, so I was faced with the challenge of giving an authentic account of their experiences without revealing their identities. In some ways that limited what I could write, but it also gave me the freedom to use my creativity.
Originally, the story was almost double in size. I wanted to include every detail the women shared with me as a way of honoring their stories. The burden of shame they carried had kept them silent for many years. It was difficult deciding which elements of their stories would best give a fair account of life in the school.
The House Children is the end result of my mission to tell their stories honestly while also respecting their anonymity.
Heidi Daniele’s passion for history and genealogy opened the door for The House Children, which is her debut novel. She has a degree in Communications and Media Arts and has worked on several short independent films. She earned the Learning in Progress Award for Excellence at a Dutchess Community College Film Festival for coproducing, writing, filming, and editing the film Final Decisions. She also volunteers at The Lisa Libraries, an organization that donates new children’s books and small libraries to organizations that work with kids in poor and underserved areas. An empty nester who lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband, Heidi enjoys gardening, photography, and exploring her family tree.
About the book:
During the 1930’s, Mary Margaret “Peg” Joyce was born to an unwed mother during a time in Irish history when single pregnant women were often sent to special homes to give birth and then forcibly separated from their children. At age five, she is sent to an industrial school, an institution set up to care for “neglected, orphaned and abandoned children” by giving them harsh rules to live by and teaching them a trade. The one thing getting her through her rigid routine of prayer, work and silence is the annual summer holiday she takes with a local family, the Hanleys. However, once she finds out that Norah Hanley is her birth mother, she is overcome with anger and feelings of abandonment. Meanwhile, Norah also has her own battle to face, fighting the feelings of shame and guilt that bubble up from her past.
For fans of The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz and Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris, this engaging YA debut The House Children is a compelling story of familial love that highlights the struggles of both mothers and their babies during this dark and difficult time in Irish history.
Filed under: Guest Post
About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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