Goldenbridge “La La’s” = Pets

Goldenbridge inmates. Circa 1950

Goldenbridge inmates. Circa 1950

Goldenbridge had its fair share of – colloquially known in the institution – la la’s = pets.  Indeed – they were the bane of the lives of child inmates. Survivors, in the main, who went before the commission to inquire into child abuse in 2009 in Dublin, were very vocal in their condemnation of favouritism that was shown to certain inmates throughout their whole childhood, as they’ve never recovered from the psychological effects it had on their own personal makeup throughout their adult lives. The following are some examples expressed to the CICA:


7.193 Witnesses complained that children were not all treated alike in Goldenbridge. They were protected to some extent if they had a relative who visited them regularly. Favouritism was a complaint made particularly by witnesses who were in Goldenbridge during the 1960s.

7.194 A complainant, who was aged nine in the early 1960s, described the difference in the way that children were treated. This witness and her siblings were placed in care on the death of their mother, and she noticed particularly how two members of another family were treated so differently that it came as a shock to her to realise they were sisters. Whereas one girl was favoured as a pet, the other was treated with extreme cruelty and was often seen waiting on the landing for punishment.

7.195 Another complainant, objecting to favouritism, remarked that the very fact that the nuns and lay staff were capable of forming attachments with certain children demonstrated that they knew how to treat children properly and show them love and affection:

It was wrong there was no need for it, why couldn’t they treat us all like pets, why not? That’s a choice they exercised.

7.196 A witness, who was five years old when he was committed to Goldenbridge, gave evidence. He was transferred to Artane when he was nine years old. He stated that, before he was committed to institutional care:

I was a happy, young little kid and I believe I was turned into a nervous wreck in these places.

7.197 He was emotionally upset by the death of his mother and was a regular bed-wetter. He was left-handed and was constantly beaten for it in class. This vulnerability made him an obvious target for bullies. He summed up his situation as follows:

I remember just constantly getting beaten. Even in the classroom being nervous, and left handed, you weren’t allowed to do things left handed, the devil was in you, you were told … From constant beatings I had a stutter and I had a turn in my eye as well, and I used to get an awful time off the rest of the kids.

7.198 The Sisters of Mercy in their Submission accepted that this complainant’s circumstances made him more vulnerable.



I know for certain that discrimination has left its mark on me. Whenever, I see people being singled out for favouritism, it instantaneously transports me all the way back to Goldenbridge where I witnessed it every single day.

Ironically, though, those who do favour people can do tremendous harm to the la la’s in the long run, as not only do they give the latter a false image of themselves, the la la’s can also become targets of those who are not deemed good enough. Setting up one against the other is what happens, as those who feel discriminated against, feel they have to knock the la la’s off their high perches.

Discrimination can stir up all sorts of negative emotions in onlookers. It happened in Goldenbridge, where la la’s were constantly ganged up on by other inmates, who pulled off their fancy aeroplane special ribbons; who stuck their tongues out, and gave them digs, as well as ostracising them from the group.

La la’s in Goldenbridge also had the propensity to exude an air of superiority and show off in front of those who petted them. They could never get enough attention paid to them by their admirers and went to the ends of the earth to try to please their petters. La la’s always spent a lot of time reporting children to the staff for the slightest infractions – imaginary or otherwise – and those reported were subsequently punished severely because of their actions.

I know of one particular la la who was very damaged by being a pet, that it affected her life after the institution. She became an alcoholic.

It was mostly those who already had support systems and family, who were earmarked for special treatment. Those with any forms of disability, or, who in any other way – were displeasing to the eye – as Mary McCarthy points out in ‘Memories of a Catholic Girlhood’:

Those who stayed longest, were a raw, red, homely Irishwoman with warts on her hands, the faithful Gertrude, whom I disliked because she was not pretty.

were totally ignored by the staff. They, like Gertrude with warts and all, were going nowhere, as who would want them, with their ugly faces to boot. Not aesthetically pleasing enough to be deemed Goldenbridge “La La’s” = Pets!

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