I mostly enjoyed those times spent there in the sixties.
Brittas Bay is one of the finest beaches on the East Coast. It has a 5km stretch of beautiful white sand dunes and clean beaches. This beach has won a European Union (EU) Blue Flag – the international emblem for the highest quality beach areas in Europe – for five consecutive years. With no headlands to interfere with the peaceful rhythm, it is ideal for bathing, sailing and walking. Brittas has a 2mile/3.2km stretch of powdery sand and sand dune system which is a designated area of significant interest. The dunes are home to many interesting wildlife species and plants, including a number of rare species.
Even though it was mostly hard work for older children, who, through no choice of their own, were forced to take on enormous responsibilities for 50 and more smaller children, they still found some time to enjoy themselves in the wide open spaces of their panoramic surroundings.
However, children invariably got sand-laced jam sandwiches to eat. The thin white sliced bread was indigestible. I abhor white sliced-processed bread to this day. I’ve also got an aversion to eating outdoors, and I think it stems from the times when I had to eat inedible food outdoors during summer months at Goldenbridge, Rathdrum and Brittas Bay. It also has huge psychological connotations with respect of being thrown scraps of bread and the like, by staff in the enclosed prison yard at Goldenbridge. Hunger and uncomfortableness concerning eating outdoors are subconsciously embedded in me from those days.
Children also got very raw red painful indentation marks on their thighs from wearing very tight elasticated stretch swimming togs all day. Not to mention red burnt scaling skin on most of the children’s bodies. They were doused with calamine lotion when they went back to St. Joseph’s and St. Kyran’s respectively. The young boys from the latter institution would have been with the girls. Nonetheless, the worst case scenario to witness was the tearful children who had massive water blisters all over their bodies from having been in the sun for the whole day. It was unbearable having to see them suffer so much. It was at times like these that wee children between the ages of four and six really should have been in the tender loving care of their parents, and not with other motherless and fatherless older children, who also needed kind figureheads to care for them.
The nuns always took themselves off to a private part of the beach to swim. Two boys from another industrial “school” drowned when they went on to Donegal on a seaside outing. They were in the care of the Christian Brothers. By all accounts, there was no big deal about their deaths in the aftermath in the media. Their three sisters were in Goldenbridge. The sisters were treated abominably by staff when they cried about the loss of their brothers. Children were nonentities. They were given two bulls-eyes and told to shut up basically. It’s amazing that children at Brittas Bay never had any accidents of that sort, as very small children were not too far away from the waters edge.
Children never saw nuns’ naked flesh at any time throughout their whole childhood. So it was utterly mysterious contemplating the fact that the black robed – from head to toe – nuns had quietly disappeared off to a quiet spot and donned bathing togs and hats. There was almost something sensual about that happening. There was a boy from St. Kyran’s, who later went to Artane Industrial “School” at ten years old. He could not distinguish between the genders of the nuns and the Christian brothers. They appeared all the same to him, as both genders were attired in long black robes down to their ankles. He also had sisters at Goldenbridge and would have encountered them at the beach. Children who never saw nuns in any state of undress also never saw nuns consume food. Well, I only ever mistakenly ever saw a nun eat food when she had afternoon tea in a quite tiny pantry. I had opened the door in error and got the shock of my life as I saw the nun munching away at a nice piece of cake. I apologised profusely, whilst speedily shut the door. Some children sneaked into that tiny area to rob bulls eyes that were in the shiny silver cans on the top shelves. That’s another story.
Children were always curious about the nuns’ heads. There were whispers every now and again, as to whether they were shaven, just like some children were in Goldenbridge. Nevertheless, all was revealed one day to a classroom of girls in St. Philomena’s , Goldenbridge, when one of the latter pulled the veil off a nun, as the girl tried to defend herself when the nun tried to strip her off her soiled clothing. The nun got more than she bargained for, and there was a sense of relief at the outpouring of longstanding pent up emotions in the girl, who had severe menstruations, and really should have been under the care of doctors, instead of being ridiculed and mortified by the nun.
I have good memories of Brittas Bay, and it really makes a change for me to write about something that was mostly gratifying during my childhood, as all I’ve ever written about are Goldenbridge experiences filled with doom and gloom.
In the early nineties I took a vagary and brought a group of survivors in my spanking new Ford Focus car to the spot depicted in the photo. We had a whale of a time en-route from Dublin’s Aislinn Centre, which was our pick-up point. We opened all the car windows and sang so loudly as we merrily meandered the winding N11 Wexford roads throughout the Garden of Ireland. We were breathless, as we had to take in gulps of strong wind air, but we didn’t mind, as we were in intoxicated on the atmosphere of such freedom. When we arrived in Brittas Bay we headed for the Sand Dunes and eventually the beach.
We decided to get rid of all our demons by screaming at the tip tops of our voices and casting off all our tension to the sea. There weren’t any people about, so we were as free as the birds overhead to yell and to make primal unpalatable noises and not have to worry about being criticised by anyone for being atypical in our behaviour. We let the roaring animal within us take over. We let the cries of our past institutional pent up lives come before us and decided dignity time was over for a while. We let all our hair hang loose. We splashed in the sea and jumped up and down like joyous children. It was something else.
The scene reminded me of the time when all the women in Dancing at Lugnasa – by Brian Friel decided to dance and there was a form of madness in the the way that it overtook their psyches. All the pent up emotions of being stifled because they were women living in a rural Irish community dominated by religious teaching just got to them and they went berserk. Well, it was the same with us survivors of industrial “schools” on the beach at Brittas Bay. All were cleansed by the outpouring of pain that was embedded in the gut of our beings. I was glad that there was another survivor of Goldenbridge who could relate to the happy time spent at Brittas Bay. There was also a younger woman, Barbara Naughton with us. She was not a survivor of an industrial “school”, but instead a survivor of incest. She could identify with our pain, as she too had similar symptoms. Whenever I met those survivors afterwards the first thing they always talked about was the day I took them off to Brittas Bay. Sadly one of the survivors has died since with cancer. Her name was Emma Sharma-Hayes. Barbara went on to write two books about her childhood experiences, and even learned to drive herself. Another survivor who was bi-racial discovered that she had Irish siblings that she never knew existed, thanks to Origins a family tracing service for survivors of industrial “schools” that comes under the umbrella of Barnardo’s.