No Birthday acknowledgements in Industrial “Schools” / Reformatories

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I oftentimes – to this very day – cry bucketfuls – over something that penetrated deeply, the inner lives of most survivors of Industrial “schools” and Reformatories in the past. It had / has to do with lack of acknowledgement by people on special occasions, i.e., most notably birthdays. Most family members and friends take birthday cards and gifts that they receive from each other for granted – not so survivors of Industrial “Schools” and Reformatories. During whole incarceration periods in their respective institutions they mostly would have been ignored when it came to birthdays. Survivors mostly never knew how old they were, let alone know their birthday dates. The lucky inmates in this respect were those who had family visitors, as the latter made sure to make a big deal of said occasions. It was the parent/s way of making up for the loss of not being permanently in the children’s lives. Survivors never cried as children because of not receiving birthday cards and gifts, as they obviously never knew what they had missed out on in their lives – being utterly ignorant and all that of such joyous occasions. They certainly made up for it when they grew up and discovered differently in the outside world. The only celebratory identifications Goldenbridge inmates could relate to were religious feast-days. During those times they got ice-cream after dinner and at supper-time a dry sponge-cake that was left in the middle of each six-seater table in the dining-hall.

Christine Buckley, who grew up with me in Goldenbridge, and who runs Aislinn Centre for survivors of Industrial “Schools” and Reformatories in Dublin, made it her remit to see that survivors would be acknowledged on their birthdays. A birthday cake and gifts are a specialty on the agenda. Christine sees it as being acknowledgement of the births of survivors, when there weren’t any parents to acknowledge existence of said survivors in the past. It is always an emotional time for them, as they feel validated, and it goes a long way into correcting that much needed healing. It takes the sting out of things by somewhat making up for lost care that should have been naturally present in their lives in the past. I wholeheartedly give praise to the big deal that is made of survivors on their birthdays. The smiles on their faces is a sight to behold, as they open the wee presents given to them by Christine et al. They were so bereft of gifts as children in the past in institutions and it just means so much.

I know that to those who were never in any kind of State care – it might appear as some kind of conundrum, as to why survivors get frightfully upset when they’re ignored at birthday times by people. It may appear to be very hard to take on board for some people, who may find it thoroughly confusing that survivors should make such a great commotion over birthdays. I know many survivors who have fallen out with people over the years because they were never recognised during birthday times. I don’t celebrate my own birthday, as it is far too emotional. I just cry; cry and cry the live-long day, as the loss of birthday celebrations in the past come flooding back. A counsellor once pointed out to me – when I told her about how I felt at birthday-times – that she came across similar sad emotions with every survivor who had darkened her office. She told me to go out and specifically nurture and indulge myself on those days each year, or soon thereafter. I definitely heeded her advise. This kind of self-nurturing has definitely taken on – and when I also find myself in very negative situations where I feel alienated, I make it my business to treat myself to something nice.

My mother and special uncles and aunts in the past – when they discovered me  – were particularly sensitive to celebratory occasions. It made me feel important, that someone in the world acknowledged my existence. I was spoiled rotten by them. I miss so much being important to people. It lasted such a short time in my life.

Ironically – whenever child inmates in Goldenbridge went out to annual charitable parties, the first thing they did was to save the presents that they got for the host families who took them out. They loved giving presents to people, despite never having had the experience of receiving them as children. Even to this day – they love giving gifts to people. I know I do for certain.

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