The Belfast Charitable Society, and in particular the Ladies Committee, believed in education for life as well as work. The ladies, including Mary Ann McCracken, were determined to see that the children in their care should lack none of the benefits provided for children elsewhere. In education, the Poor House devoted a lot of energy to vocational training so that the children could earn an independent living. However, our unique archive records the varied education the children received: there were requests for storybooks, books on birds and geography too. Languages, art, technical drawing and music were also taught to the children. Alongside the introduction of artistic subjects in the class room, the Ladies Committee ensured that the children of the Poor House were taken on weekly walks to stop them becoming institutionalised, and to familiarise them with aspects of life outside of the Poor House.
The aim of the Belfast Charitable Society in offering diverse subjects was so the children could “be prepared for future usefulness in a higher sphere”. The musically talented boys were much sought after by the Army and Militias of 19th century Ireland. Three brothers, George, Richard and Samuel McAuley all joined the South Down Militia within three years of each other in the 1860s. Some of the girls, including Hannah Murray and Mary Kelly, became infant school teachers. Their education through the arts helped to break the poverty cycle, ensuring that the children of the Poor House would be able to stand on their own two feet, even if they had not had the best start in life.