Goldenbridge: Rosary bead making continuation: ‘Conclusions on bead making’ Ryan Report: 7.2731

Conclusions on bead making


1. Bead making became an industrial activity that was pursued obsessively; the work was difficult and uncomfortable and it was painful for children especially those who lacked dexterity and speed.

2. The quota system made the work onerous and pressurised and a source of stress and anxiety.

3. Supervision by lay workers or nuns to ensure quantity and quality on pain of punishment created work conditions that would not have been tolerated in factories.

4 . Using the children for this work deprived them of normal childhood recreation that was necessary for emotional, social and psychological development.



Goldenbridge: ‘Rosary bead making’ continuation: ‘The Congregation’s position’ Ryan Report: 7.270 – 7.272

The Congregation’s position

7.270 In contrast to the reminiscence of some of the Sisters that the bead making was a pleasurable activity, the Congregation recognised that learning the skill of bead making:

… could have caused fingers to be tender or skin broken initially, and trying to finish a “quota” must at times also have put unfair pressure on some children. We recognise that this activity is remembered with particular bitterness by some former residents and we deeply regret that something which was intended to be helpful was experienced as harmful and unhappy.

7.271 In its written Submissions, it accepted that it was not an enjoyable activity, as there was a lot of pressure to get the work done:

For those who were engaged in the process, the activity was undoubtedly experienced as a compulsory activity which was not enjoyable and had to be, at best, endured. While there was the radio to listen to, talking was muted and the main aim was to get one’s work done. There was clearly a pressure to get the work done; work was on occasion rejected as falling short of standards and there was a requirement to complete a quota.

7.272 The Congregation stated that the purpose of bead making was twofold: firstly, to provide useful occupation for the children after school; and, secondly, to provide extra funds for ‘pocket money, recreational activities and equipment for the children’. But they recognised that ‘there was too much emphasis on occupation as a means of management and control of the children’.


Goldenbridge: ”Rosary bead making’ continuation: ‘Evidence of respondents’ Ryan Ryan Report: 7.260 – 7.269

Evidence of respondents

7.260 Sr Alida described the beads room as ‘a room of relaxation rather than pressure’. She said that there was a radio or record player that was played in the room, and the children sang along and chatted amongst themselves. She did not consider the work difficult, and stated that ‘it didn’t take a lot of stress doing the work’ and she felt that the work was comparable to a knitting class.

7.261 Sr Alida denied that children were beaten for not reaching their quota and claimed ‘that there was no difficulty in making the quota in the beads class’. She admitted that it was her responsibility to check the quality and quantity of the decades of beads before they were returned to the factory. If the beads were not properly completed, they would be sent back and ‘it was nasty, to get them back to be repaired, very nasty’. This, she said, resulted in her staying up ‘odd nights’ with children helping her to finish the work to go back to the factory.

7.262 Sr Alida began the beads class with the permission of the Resident Manager, Sr Bianca. She explained that it was important for the children to have something to do:

My chief problem was that the children had nothing in the world to do after they left school in the evening, there was no occupation of any kind. They went to the play hall and they shouted and roared and pulled each other around from 3.30 until 5.45, we were in the convent at that time.

7.263 Sr Alida also viewed the bead making as a means of generating extra income for the School. At the time when she was approached to assemble decades of rosaries, she said Goldenbridge ‘was subject to considerable financial restraint’, and she saw the bead making as an opportunity to increase their financial income:

… I viewed this offer as an opportunity to increase the income of the home for the benefit of the children. I believed that this could provide us with a source of income to improve the welfare of the children and to provide them with little luxuries which were not available to us at that time.

7.264 Sr Alida said that the money from the beads was used to pay for Irish dancing classes, old-time dancing, dancing shoes and costumes for the children, sweets, yearly trips to Butlins, and day trips to Portmarnock during the summer. She also said that the children were given pocket money out of the proceeds of the bead money. These were the ‘luxuries’ that were provided by the beads money, and ‘everything that the children had as extras’ came from that money.

7.265 The bead making became a very profitable enterprise, generating a weekly income of at least £50 for the School. Sr Alida opened a Post Office savings account for the proceeds from the bead making, which she controlled, and Sr Bianca never queried what she did with it. The money made from the beads over a 20-year period was considerable. Sr Alida asserted that the money earned was spent on the children:

… All those things did not come from the allowance the Government paid for the children, it came from the children’s own hands … the beads bought those things for them.

7.266 The money from the beads provided one-third of the cost of the purchase of a holiday home for the children in Rathdrum in 1954. The entire cost of the holiday home was £3,000. The Investigation Committee instructed Mazars, Financial Consultants to review the accounts of Goldenbridge. They confirmed the figure of at least £50 per week.

7.267 Prior to introducing bead making, Sr Alida had a knitting class where girls made their own jumpers. This work was superseded by bead making, although a very small number of bigger girls continued to do knitting.

7.268 Sr Gianna recalled that Ms Thornton, a former resident of the Institution, often supervised the beads class. Although she was of the view that Ms Thornton was kind to the children, she conceded that she had a bad temper and that she heard her shouting and roaring at the children in the class.

7.269 Ms Garvin remembered Ms O’Shea, another lay worker and former resident, supervising the beads class. During her time in Goldenbridge from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, she went to the beads class most days before teatime, where she remembered seeing the girls chatting to each other and that music was playing. She insisted that the atmosphere in the beads room was pleasant, and she never saw a child being beaten in the beads room. There was, however, evidence that Ms O’Shea was violent and irascible.

Goldenbridge: Rosary bead making continuation: ‘Evidence of complainants’ Ryan Report: 7.251 – 7.259

Evidence of complainants

7.251 Over half of the complainants who testified spoke of the hardship associated with stringing decades of beads. From their evidence, it was an activity they clearly did not enjoy and, instead, viewed it as a chore. The daily quota system of each child having to make 60 decades each evening was, according to many of the witnesses, a source of stress and pressure. They said that assembling the beads into decades was hard work, which resulted in calluses, welts and cuts on their hands from the use of the pliers and the steel wire.

7.252 Some of the complainants recalled that they commenced this activity at the age of seven, after their First Communion. Initially, they were involved in stringing the beads on a wire for the older girls, before progressing to making the decades. One witness recounted her introduction to bead making as follows:

The beads class was something that you were introduced to after Communion. In the early stages the younger children would be asked to pick the beads up off the floor or maybe wire, anything that had fallen. You would also be asked to string beads for the older girls. This allowed them to move quickly to reach their quota, which was 60 decades per evening.

7.253 Some witnesses spoke of the difficulty in reaching their daily quota and being punished for not attaining it. The punishment could take the form of a slap there and then, by whoever was supervising the class, or sometimes they would be sent to the landing to await their punishment. Ms Thornton and Ms O’Shea at different times took charge of supervising the class, and both were considered to be violent individuals. A witness described it as follows:

… you had little pliers and wire and the wire was constantly digging into your skin and you just couldn’t work fast enough to reach the quota every day. We were lined up every night, those who hadn’t reached the quota and beaten.

7.254 This witness was regularly punished for not reaching her quota, and eventually, when the pressure became too much for her, on one occasion, she resorted to stealing another girl’s beads to avoid another beating. The other girl was punished instead of her. She said:

… I had been beaten every night for not making enough … On one occasion … I just couldn’t stand it anymore so I stole a handful of beads from the girl across the aisle when she was out of the room. When the nun came round she said, “I did them, I did them, somebody stole them”, the nun wouldn’t believe her, took her to the front of the room and beat her. It has haunted me all my life …

7.255 A common complaint referred to by many of the witnesses was the tense atmosphere of the beads room, which was generated by the pressure they were placed under to reach their daily quota. The tension resulted in the work being carried out in silence. A witness described the tense atmosphere as follows:

… There was always somebody ready to shout at you and come down and hit you … you weren’t really meant to talk to one another, you did of course, you whispered, but it was all the time you were sort of watching your back.

7.256 Again and again, the witnesses spoke of the silence in the room. One witness said:

We all sat down and made our rosary beads. We had a little box and we made our rosary beads. It was work. We weren’t allowed to talk, we didn’t talk. We only talked when she left the room. Whoever, was there in that room, when they left, we talked. When they came back we stopped. We had to work because we had a quota to do, we had so many to do.

7.257 Another witness said:

… there was a radio in it and PJ O’Connor used to tell a story once a week on a Wednesday. Most times the radio wasn’t on and you had to do it in silence.

7.258 Two of the witnesses, who came forward at the request of the Sisters of Mercy to give evidence of their time in Goldenbridge, also spoke of the silence and tension in the room. One such witness said:

The beads class, I don’t know why I always felt everything was sort of so quiet. I don’t remember really much chat in the beads class. We probably whispered to one another but I don’t remember conversations with anybody … I think we were too busy, I took all my time to make them anyway, we were so busy making them so I wouldn’t have had that much time to do anything.

7.259 The second positive witness said that she could get into trouble for talking loudly in beads class but she could talk to the person beside her as long as it was done quietly.

Goldenbridge: ‘Rosary bead making’ Ryan Report 7.233 – 7.250

Rosary bead making

7.233 A particular feature of Goldenbridge was rosary bead making. Sometime in the mid-1940s, Sr Alida was approached by a businessman with the proposition that she might get the children to make rosary beads in return for payment. She saw this as a wonderful opportunity to acquire much-needed funds. In addition, she thought that it would keep the children occupied. So began an enterprise that was to continue until the 1960s.

7.234 After school, at about 3.30pm, the children had something to eat and then went to the beads class. The location was Ms Dempsey’s classroom. The children were required to make decades of the rosary by putting the beads on lengths of wire. After each bead was positioned, the wire had to be looped and cut using pliers, and each bead then had to be attached to the next bead until all 10 beads were completed.

7.235 The children each had a quota of 60 decades per day and 90 on a Saturday. This meant that, in the two hours of the weekday afternoon allocated for this work, 30 decades an hour had to be made by each child. Not surprisingly, few children reached their quota in the afternoon, and they had to return to the beads class in the evening and remain there until their 60 decades were completed.

7.236 There is some controversy over the age at which children began to make beads, but it appears that, after they made their First Holy Communion, that is around seven years of age, children were expected to do this work. There were younger children in the room, who helped by picking up beads or by stringing the beads to leave them ready for the older girls to make the decade.

7.237 Skill and dexterity were required. It would have taken some time to develop expertise. It was also painful, and witnesses described cuts and calluses on their hands as they tried to learn the work. A child starting would be slow at first, and might never acquire the necessary skill to be able to do it quickly.

7.238 Sometimes, an older girl would help out a younger who was having difficulty in reaching the quota. Similarly, friends might help each other. In this way, the great majority of the children between seven and 16 years were occupied every day from Monday to Friday. For a variety of reasons, some children would not have to do beads, but the vast majority of children between the ages mentioned had to attend for this work. On Saturdays, the quota was 90 decades, and there were, of course, other chores (called charges) to be completed.

7.239 Sr Alida conceded that it was difficult work:

… it wasn’t soft work to be working with the pliers, it was not like needle work, you had to use energy to bend the wire.

7.240 When Sr Alida first attempted to make a decade of beads that the representative from the bead making company had given her, she admitted it took her an entire Saturday to make one decade. She also conceded that she ‘had so much hardship making them’. But thereafter, she said, it was like knitting.

7.241 Different types of beads were used, and this made the task of stringing decades more difficult, depending on the type of bead. Horn beads and plastic beads posed no problem, but glass beads tended to break, and the mother of pearl beads were very difficult to string through.

7.242 Bead making was supervised by one of the care staff or, more likely, by one of the care assistants, and it was often Ms Thornton. A child who had the necessary skill could complete her quota by teatime but not much before that. Others found difficulty in completing their assigned task. The work was inspected by the person in charge and sent back to be redone if it was not found satisfactory for one reason or another. Some beads were easier to work with than others, even for people who were good at the work. If the quota was not reached, the child was in trouble. It might happen that, even after going back to beads work after tea and staying there until perhaps 9pm or 9.30pm (some witnesses said even later), the quota would still not be achieved. In those circumstances, the evidence was that the child would be punished by being beaten. If the work was found unsatisfactory, the result was punishment at the hands of the person in charge of the beads room.

7.243 It happened occasionally, when a dispatch was due to go to the factory, that some of the children had to stay as late as 10pm to complete an order and ensure that it met the required standard.

7.244 In the Opening Statement delivered by Sr Helena O’Donoghue, the bead making work was characterised as a pleasant activity to while away the time, which was enjoyed by the children and often done to music from the radio. A picture was painted of a busy workroom, where happy children chatted as they carried out this routine work. It is apparent that this description is based on information from Sr Alida.

7.245 This description of bead making by Sr Helena was inaccurate. The work was hard. The hours were long. While some girls were well capable of doing the work once they had got used to it, for many others it was difficult to master the dexterity required. There was pressure to achieve the quota and to keep to the required standard of work. The work could fail in a variety of ways, including obvious ones like not having the right number of beads in a decade. Less obvious and more difficult to avoid were errors such as having inconsistent-sized loops of wire joining the beads. The atmosphere was not the pleasant group activity imagined by Sr Helena and remembered by Sr Alida. The essential requirement was of quietly, if not silently, getting on with the work; the children did converse but mostly in whispers, and the radio was turned on only occasionally while this work was being done.

7.246 The fact that punishment hung over the activity, for failure to achieve either quality or quantity, inevitably affected the atmosphere. The work was relentless, with demanding quotas. This was hard work over long hours during six days a week, for children obliged to do the work with no reference to their capacity to manage it.

7.247 Sr Venetia in her interview with Mr Crowley confirmed that:

the bead making and that failure to obey rules were normally punishable by physical beatings.

7.248 The money made from bead making was considerable. Sr Alida gave evidence of being able to produce £1,000 to contribute to the sum of £3,000 in the 1950s for the purchase of the holiday house at Rathdrum. The best estimates as to the earnings are that an income of approximately £50 per week was achieved by this activity.

7.249 Management saw this work as a practical and useful occupation that kept the girls out of trouble during many hours of the week, when they would otherwise have needed amusement or diversion or other occupation. Instead, it conditioned them to drudgery, with the added threat of being beaten for failure.

7.250 The authorities lost all sense of importance about bead making. It became a relentless production line. Sr Alida’s enthusiasm became obsession. Occupation became drudgery. The pursuit of extra money by way of profit from the bead making became exploitation. All this was carried out under the threat of being beaten for failure.

Goldenbridge: ‘Conclusions on physical abuse’ Ryan Report: 7.2321

Conclusions on physical abuse


1. Overall, there was a high level of severe corporal punishment in Goldenbridge, resulting in a pervasive climate of fear in the Institution.

2. Beatings on the landing were a particularly cruel feature of the regime.

3. A parallel, unofficial system of punishment permitted every member of staff to use corporal punishment, which was often excessive. Some former residents, who were unsuited for outside employment, were retained as helpers and often administered severe punishment.

4. Children were beaten and humiliated for bed-wetting by both nuns and lay staff.

5. There is no evidence that a punishment book was kept in Goldenbridge, as was required by the regulations, and the absence of this important record should have been noticed and reported by the Department Inspector.

Goldenbridge: ‘The Crowley Report’ Ryan Report: 7.211 – 7.231

The Crowley Report

7.211 Among the discovered documents was a report commissioned by the Sisters of Mercy in 1996 on the conditions of life in Goldenbridge. It was commissioned to prepare the Congregation for the television programme ‘Dear Daughter’ and its aftermath.

7.212 The ‘Dear Daughter’ programme was shown on RTE in February 1996, and it produced a massive response from the media and the public. Complaints were made to the Gardaí and an investigation followed, but there were no prosecutions. The Congregation was aware that the programme was being planned and that serious allegations would be made about how children had been treated in Goldenbridge. In advance of the screening of the programme, the Congregation decided to find out what it could about conditions in the Institution. One of the first things that it did was to commission a professional childcare expert to give an initial assessment of the allegations, and that inquiry gave rise to the first apology that the Sisters of Mercy issued in February 1996, following the screening of the programme.

7.213 The preliminary inquiry was undertaken by a senior social worker with the Western Health Board. His brief was to develop an assessment of the allegations being made regarding the care received by children in Goldenbridge in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr Crowley gathered information from the following sources:

  • Transcript of the Gay Byrne interview with Ms Christine Buckley in 1993.
  • A meeting with Mr Louis Lentin, the producer of the programme that was going to shown on RTE.
  • A meeting with a former resident of Goldenbridge.
  • Meeting with Sr Alida.
  • Meeting with Sr Venetia.

• Report and feedback from Sr Bettina17 on her interviews with former residents.

7.214 Mr Crowley approached his task in two ways. Firstly, he sought to establish and clarify the broad nature and patterns of the allegations being made. Secondly, he examined the information and carried out interviews, with a view to forming an independent professional assessment of the general nature of the care provided in Goldenbridge in the context of the allegations.

7.215 He identified four areas of complaint which were interrelated. They were physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect of children’s basic needs. Mr Crowley compiled a summary of allegations that were made about the regime:

Physical Abuse

1. A constant pattern of physical abuse.

2. Severe beatings resulting in children being physically marked was the dominant form of discipline.

3. The beatings were carried out by a number of lay staff but most especially by Sr Alida. Beatings were so routine that they were witnessed by and colluded with by all members of staff.

4. Children were deprived of food.

5. Children were kept awake late into the evenings while awaiting physical punishments and were thus deprived of sleep.

6 . Children were deprived of heating and warmth.

7. Children were routinely involved in inappropriate physical tasks connected with maintaining the establishment.

8.  Some of the severe punishments were inflicted in circumstances in which there were sexual and humiliating elements including, for example, public and forceful removal of clothes before physical punishment.

9. Children were not clear as to why they were being beaten.

10. Children lived in constant fear of experiencing and witnessing physical abuse.

Emotional Abuse

11. Routine derogatory references to the children’s background and to their parent’s behaviour.

12. Verbal abuse which combined with other interactions had the effect of reinforcing negative self images and damaging self confidence and feelings of worth.

13. Denial of appropriate recreation.

14. Imposing onerous responsibilities on children who were too young to carry them out, such as taking responsibility for the care of other children.

15. Public humiliation of children suffering from bed-wetting and soiling and making them display wet and soiled sheets publicly to other children.

16. Children were constantly in fear.

17. Children’s emotional needs were neither understood nor responded to.

18. Favouritism.

19. Deprivation was made worse for children when they saw some others being treated as pets and getting better treatment.

Sexual Abuse

20. Children were exposed to sexually abusive experiences by befriending families and employers with whom they were placed.

21. No proper assessment or supervision or aftercare arrangements were made to prevent these abuses.

22. Some care practices reflected insensitivity to adolescent sexuality.

23. Two former residents alleged cases of specific sexual abuse, one by a male member of staff and one by two female members of staff.

Neglect of Children’s Basic Needs

24. The total organisation of the children’s daily routine was contrary to their developing needs.

25. There was a failure at all levels to understand or meet their needs.

26. The general climate and regime were excessively harsh and abusive even by the standards of the time.

27. Expectations about children, for example, in relation to the length of time they were expected to concentrate or to stay silent or to work were not normal.

28. Particular forms of punishment, such as being left alone for hours in the furnace room, were particularly frightening for children who had experienced traumatic separations.

29. Generally, there was an absence of consistent and positive adults to whom supportive attachment could develop.

7.216 He interviewed Sr Alida and Sr Venetia, and put these allegations to them and noted their responses. The statements made by these two nuns are of real importance in the Inquiry because they come from people who worked in Goldenbridge over a combined period from 1942 until 1972.

7.217 Mr Crowley formed the impression that Sr Alida was well prepared for the interview, and that she energetically attempted to direct the focus and pace of the discussion. Whilst she regularly stated that she could not remember events, this memory lapse was not consistent across the range of topics covered: it appeared to relate principally to material that was critical of her.

7.218  She presented as a ‘committed and energetic person, who appeared well defended psychologically’. Mr Crowley found her very controlling in her interaction, ‘but this may be related to her evident need to control her feelings’.

7.219 Mr Crowley reported as follows on his interview with Sr Alida:

Sr Alida described her initiation to Goldenbridge as being told not to talk or take the attitude of Sr Felisa,18 who had been working with the children in care and had been critical of the service.

Sr Alida recalls her early years in religious life as being dominated by fear. On reflection she cannot understand how she accepted so many demands and pressures without protest.

She was trained by Sr Bianca, whom she describes as a very large powerful woman with a harsh aggressive and unpredictable personality.

On reflection Sr Alida perceived the policies and practices of the 1950s and 1960s as being based on ignorance and failing to understand or care appropriately for the children.

The use of former residents as staff was influenced by limited finance and tended to be limited to those who could not survive in aftercare. These were probably the most unsuitable people to care for vulnerable children. Older residents also cared for younger children in a semi formal system. She described much of the care as being “gang care”.

Sr Alida identified Ms O’Shea19 as being one former resident who she understood was physically abusive.

Sr Alida, in effect, acknowledged that she continuously shouted and beat children “too much and too long” and used a stick routinely. She tended to go to bed very late and this led to children being kept on the landing.

Sr Alida acknowledges being confronted by a parent for threatening to place her daughter in the tumble dryer, she confirmed children’s involvement in activities such as grass cutting with their hands but minimised the impact on children.

Hunger and humiliation were acknowledged with regret, when discussed in general terms, however specific allegations tended to be met with long silences and eventual comments such as “It could have happened accidentally”.

Sr Alida did not in effect reject the substance of the allegations.

7.220 Sr Venetia worked in Goldenbridge for many years and became Resident Manager in the 1960s.

7.221 Mr Crowley conducted a lengthy interview with Sr Venetia. She was in some physical pain and discomfort because of her medical condition during the course of the interview, but she had no obvious difficulties with memory. Mr Crowley observed that the allegations were weighing heavily on Sr Venetia and she presented as resigned to the process of being interviewed. It was evident to Mr Crowley that she wished to be honest and forthright, but this was complicated somewhat by ambivalence and conflicting loyalties. Mr Crowley was satisfied that she made every effort to be honest, but it was clear to him that she had some difficulty in discussing issues such as sexual abuse and, in general, she did not volunteer new information. He said ‘Sr Venetia communicated generally as being a somewhat fearful and isolated person.’

7.222 Mr. Crowley reported:

Sr Venetia described the care system and organisational structure as having been established by Sr Bianca who died…. She initially described Sr Bianca as a hard and rigid woman but over the course of the interview it emerged that she viewed Sr Bianca as a paranoid schizophrenic who she considered was grossly insulting to adults and children and who in effect established a reign of terror.

Sr Venetia communicated that subsequent managers maintained many of the features of the system as established, without substantial reflection but gradually modified and improved the care arrangements.

Sr Venetia confirmed that the general atmosphere was excessively and consistently cruel even relative to standards of the time. She confirmed that fear of and actual physical beatings and verbal abuse was a matter of routine and that the general account of children, for example, waiting on the landings was accurate. Wetting was defined as a crime and, therefore, punishable through humiliation and physical beatings. Sr Venetia confirmed the allegations in relation to the tumble dryer and drinking from the toilet cistern. She also confirmed the bead making and that failure to obey rules was normally punishable by physical beatings.

Sr Venetia made particular reference to one member of the lay staff, who was employed by Sr Bianca and subsequently fired. It was very evident that Sr Venetia was very afraid of this staff member and that the children were terrified of this person. Sr Venetia was quite fearful and reluctant in any discussion of sexual abuse.

Essentially Sr Venetia confirmed that the essential elements of the allegations were correct and it was clear that she was of the view that almost anything could have occurred in a very unsafe environment.

7.223 Mr Crowley was guarded in his report. He cautioned that the sample of former pupils from whom he had obtained information was not randomly drawn, and he said that it could be expected that other women might have different experiences in relation to Goldenbridge. He warned that caution would have to be exercised about any particular allegation that arose from early childhood experience, especially in regard to the identity of the perpetrator, and that there was a particular danger of confusion occurring between Sr Bianca and Sr Alida. He made clear that the allegations of the former residents had been listened to without challenge or cross-examination, and that his interviews with the Sisters were structured to maximise participation and effective communication, and that he consciously did not structure inquiries in a manner that might have been experienced as interrogatory or pressurising. He noted that Sr Alida initially requested, but subsequently cancelled, a second interview. He also advised that substantial information would continue to emerge as more former residents were interviewed. But, having set out all these cautions, Mr Crowley was satisfied that it was possible to establish a broad picture of the care practices in Goldenbridge during the period.

7.224 Mr Crowley ended his report with comments expressed as a ‘Conclusion’, followed by observations headed ‘General Commentary’:


Clear and consistent patterns can be identified in the allegations. The various accounts are consistent with each individual recalling personal experiences which reinforce the overall picture. The accounts are accompanied with appropriate feeling and a richness of detail. The accounts of subsequent life stories and relationship issues are consistent with the childhood experiences as described.

Those former residents who have been interviewed have been experienced as credible.

Some of the care practices may be understood by reference to the harsh historical context. Some actions experienced as abusive may not have had such intent, but were experienced as such due to insensitivity, ignorance and a failure to communicate. Other actions, such as forbidding liquids to bed wetters, may have had unintended consequences, such as children drinking from toilets at night.

However, the broad nature and pattern of the allegations, which have in effect been confirmed by the sisters with management responsibility, namely physical and emotional abuse, are clearly accurate descriptions of the experiences of children in Goldenbridge.

The care arrangements did not meet children’s basic needs. Children experienced physical and emotional abuse and were almost certainly exposed to sexual abuse.

A number of the particular incidents described were violent and sadistic. The entire regime was unsafe and was characterised by a pervasive controlling of children through fear.

General Commentary

The children cared for in Goldenbridge had, prior to their reception into care, experienced gross neglect, deprivation and multiple trauma. They were often rejected by their immediate and extended family and by the broader society. They were admitted in large numbers to a service which could not even begin to provide an appropriate level of care.

The physical environment was totally unstable and did not facilitate either supervision or privacy. The financial resources were grossly inadequate and determined the availability of personnel and material necessities.

The Care System and culture was created by a dominant and dysfunctional personality. The religious sisters who subsequently held management responsibility lived in a tightly controlled and authoritarian world. Questioning was defined as arrogance and led to blaming of the individual. The most extreme example of this was Sr Alida’s account of how her request to be released from teaching to concentrate on care was responded to by a decision to immediately transfer her to Co. Wicklow.

No distinction appears to have been made between being a ‘good’ religious and being a ‘good’ childcare worker. The characteristics that were valued appear to have been obedience and dedication.

No professional training was available to provide understanding or direction to service organisation or therapeutic interventions. Consequently the only available models were adopted with the corporal punishment in school becoming the beatings in the care centre and the daily routine and practices of religious life determining the day to day life of young children.

Religious sisters and lay staff operated under constant pressure and clearly worked hard at an impossible task.

The unsafe world of Goldenbridge developed a very particular culture which could not meet the needs of children. Very powerless people had enormous and immediate power over troubled and troublesome children. The abuse of the power and powerlessness was almost inevitable.

Almost any kind of abusive incidents could have occurred.

7.225 Mr Crowley’s views and conclusions are not part of the investigation process undertaken by the Committee. The apology issued by the Sisters of Mercy following the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme was issued because Mr Crowley had advised in the way that he did. His report and his conclusions are, therefore, a part of the background to the investigation and to the positions taken by the Sisters of Mercy at different stages. However, the statements made by Sr Venetia and Sr Alida to Mr Crowley are different from the rest of the report because they have direct relevance to the investigation. They are records of the recollections and responses of persons who participated in the running of the Institution over a period of 30 years, and one of whom is now deceased.

7.226 Mr Crowley completed his report in February 1996 and he stated that it was evident that a comprehensive inquiry by a multi-disciplinary team would be necessary which would be dependent on cooperation from both former residents and staff. The Sisters of Mercy explain in their Opening Statement that such an inquiry was impossible, as at that stage legal proceedings had been instituted by a number of former residents.

7.227 The Congregation have asked the Investigation Committee to note the limitations of the Crowley report, which they identify as being four-fold:

(1)The report was based on interviews with a small number of complainants; with Srs Alida and Venetia; and with Louis Lentin (producer of ‘Dear Daughter’).

(2)There was little, if any, questioning of the complainants on the details of complaints.

(3)There are no notes, transcripts or tapes of the interviews and there is therefore some difficulty in assessing precisely what was said. ‘For example, Sr Alida explained to the Committee that she had always had problems with the account in the report of what she had said’ (emphasis added). [This is factually incorrect. Sr Alida did not allege that she was misquoted by Mr Crowley but did make a comment about the report as a whole:

I have to say that……from the very beginning I was quite unhappy with Mr Crowley’s report.]

Sr Venetia never had an opportunity to give evidence to the Investigation Committee either in general or specifically in relation to the Crowley Report.

(4)The information-gathering exercise was conducted very quickly and the conclusions were intended to be preliminary in nature. The exercise was intended to be a first step in a process, rather than a final conclusion.

7.228 The Sisters of Mercy note that the issues which were the subject matter of the Crowley Report are precisely those which fall within the Commission’s remit and given the substantial bank of both oral and documentary material which the Investigation Committee has at its disposal they submit that it would be inappropriate for the Investigation Committee to place excessive reliance on the earlier preliminary report.

7.229 Sr Alida has never challenged the accuracy of the statements attributed to her in the report. Had she done so, it would have been necessary for him to give evidence to the Committee. However, because the accuracy of Mr Crowley’s recording of statements was not an issue, such evidence did not become necessary.

7.230 The nature and circumstances of the Crowley report must be taken into account. The description of Sr Bianca given by both Sr Venetia and Sr Alida is consistent with accounts given by former residents and with the atmosphere described as pervading the institution during her time as resident manager. The comments quoted by Mr Crowley are also relevant to subsequent conditions about which the sisters spoke to him and tend to corroborate much of the oral testimony.

7.231 Mr Crowley placed much of the blame for the conditions that pertained in Goldenbridge on ignorance, insensitivity and a failure to communicate. In this regard, it is interesting to look at the lecture entitled ‘Institutional Management’ which was delivered by Sr Bianca in February 1953. This lecture indicates awareness of the special requirements of institutionalised children. The preparation for this lecture was done in consultation with Dr Anna McCabe, who in her Visitation Report of 1953 referred to regular meetings with Sr Bianca to discuss this lecture.

Goldenbridge: ‘Evidence of respondents’ Ryan Report: 7.203 – 7.210

Evidence of respondents

7.203 Sr Alida stated in evidence that, during most of her time in Goldenbridge, there were 150 children and four staff members. In order to maintain discipline, she had to be very controlling. Given the nature of the work and the constraints under which the staff operated, she stated that it was very possible that staff were bad tempered.

7.204 It was the system that obliged her to use corporal punishment as often as she did. She explained:

Today I would hate to think of the things I had to do or the things I did, but in the system as it was I don’t know what resolution there was to it. Maybe it was a too easy situation to get rid of a problem, instead of sitting down to talk or to advise you slapped and that was the end of the problem.

7.205 She asserted that she never saw anybody else use a slapper except for Sr Venetia. She said, ‘Lay people could give a clout with their hand but that would be the most that I would see them doing’. She said that no lay person ever beat the children, as far as she knew, nor did they have authority to punish the children in any manner.

7.206 Sr Alida had a clear memory of children being on the landing during Sr Bianca’s time, but she had no real memory of that being a feature of her time there. Although she could remember chastising a child on the landing, it was not on a regular basis. She also said that lay staff did not chastise children but left it for her to deal with.

7.207 Sr Alida maintained that she and Sr Venetia were the only persons who administered corporal punishment in the School: the lay staff were not authorised to slap children and, as far as she was aware, they did not do so.

7.208 Ms Garvin,15 formerly a Sister of Mercy who had worked as an assistant teacher in Goldenbridge from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, was adamant that, while there was corporal punishment, it was not excessive.

7.209 Sr Gianna16 gave evidence to the Investigation Committee. She worked as an assistant in the School from 1960 until she took her final vows as a Sister of Mercy a few years later. She stated that, although Sr Alida used a stick for corporal punishment, it would cause no more than temporary discomfort to a child. She agreed that it could leave bruising on a child’s body, but she said she never witnessed such injuries.

7.210 Both the above witnesses said that they believed the atmosphere was very good in Goldenbridge and that the children were happy there.

Goldenbridge: ‘A change in atmosphere’ Ryan Report: 7.199 – 7.202

A change in atmosphere

7.199 Many complainants gave evidence that the atmosphere in the School improved under Sr Venetia’s management. She did not resort to physical punishment to the same extent as her predecessor. One complainant described her relief when Sr Alida left in the early 1960s:

I was relieved when she left. I was relieved to the extent that I knew Sr Venetia had done some things, but she was still never on a par with Sr Alida, where bullying and beatings and things were concerned … I got some beatings from Sr Venetia, but she would never have – let’s face it when somebody is beating you they are not happy and smiling. She would never have had that harshness in her face or in her voice that Alida had, that horrible horrible venom that was dished out for me by Sr Alida.

7.200 Another complainant described the relief after Sr Alida left, and stated that the children were happier:

I felt personally that there was an air of lightness in the place … it just seemed that there was something – there was a little bit of fear gone … We didn’t have to see that big figure coming down the hall, and if you were running or anything like that, and getting a slap on the head. That’s the way I used to be afraid, you would see the big black figure.

7.201 At the same time, the witness added that Sr Venetia was moody, which could create a tense, uncertain environment:

Sometimes I found her alright. I think it depended on her mood. She did punish severely as well.

7.202 Another difference between the two nuns was that Sr Venetia was verbally cruel and sarcastic, and witnesses spoke about how they were hurt by her comments. One witness recalled how Sr Venetia deliberately ridiculed her because her mother had spent time in a psychiatric hospital:

She used the term “cracked like your mother” many, many times. I used to live in fear of her coming into my view because – I was terrified that she would say these words.

Goldenbridge: ‘Discrimination’ Ryan Report: 7.193 – 7.198


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.