Children who slept in the ‘wet-the-bed’ Sacred Heart dormitory were woken up at intervals during the course of the night. The 2:00 am shift was the worst one of all. The bed-clothes were abruptly flung back by staff, and they were frogmarched off to the loos at the back of the dormitory. They were made to sit two to a loo. Their sleepy heads were sometimes knocked together by staff, if they were deemed to have spent too long there, or snoozed off. Children often slipped on the urine flooded floor, whilst simultaneously being beaten by minor staff for being too slow or awkward. They were told to ‘get a move on’, as there would be a long queue. Such was the cruel regime in that dark, dank cold; inhospitable institution of the late fifties and sixties for young parentless children.
A lot of what happened in Goldenbridge was not allowed to be aired in the book, Freedom of Angels that Bernadette Fahy penned just prior to the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse. I know many survivors who get constant flashbacks to this very day because of the screams and crying that emanated from frightened children in the Sacred Heart wet-the-bed dormitory.
I remember a particular girl who used to sleep-walk in the Sacred Heart dormitory. I also remember being dreadfully frightened by black shadowy swaying movements of large branches of trees that came from a top window in my vision, as I lay there all forlorn at the dead of night in my bed. I since discovered that the trees belonged to the convent garden. The emptiness; the loss; the despair was so magnified in the wee hours of the morning as a wee child of less than communion age.
The loneliness felt at the dead of night was akin to the loneliness felt when leaving Cavan General hospital on the night of the death of my mother. I was with her when she died. (I also stayed by her side when she was in a coma for three months in the Richmond hospital.) I walked out of that hospital with not a single sinner to turn to, it was the ‘dark night of the soul’ period of my life. I just laid down in a dark green empty grassy spot, and wailed away. My stomach was rattling and jumping with the agony felt for someone I had missed out on the love of as a child. I would have lived in a matchbox with that woman and not have felt stifled. I was back there in the Sacred Heart dormitory, so helpless and alone.
I think from those very painfully grieving experiences that I’ve gained enough empathy to understand people when they’re tormented by grief after loved ones depart the world. I can identify with their sorrow. The isolation felt knows no bounds. “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” Kahlil Gibran. The loss of a mother is the worst loss of all. I’m relieved to have gone through that loss than to have lived with the unknown. The truth no matter how painful does set one free. It is a privilege to mourn the loss of a loved one, than to have been deprived of the loved one during their existence on earth.
Children went to bed when it was still bright during the summer months. It was hard for them to sleep, because of daylight gleaming into the dormitory. The staff marched up and down the dormitory and forced them to close their eyes and not to make a twitch or they would get a clatter on the face, or their ears pulled or arms ‘skinny’ pinched. Some children may not have been able to sleep because of either broken springs; torn mattresses; grey army blankets with big holes or perhaps because of the repulsive aroma from the newly laundered ‘destroyed’ sheets that left its nauseous imprint.
The gigantic wicket laundry basket was always full to the brim with wet and ‘destroyed’ sheets every single morning, despite children having being woken up every couple of hours, inclusive of the early hours of the morn, to prevent that from happening. The stress of being woken up would have added to the problems, instead of alleviating them indeed.
The children who slept in the Sacred Heart wet-the-bed dormitory were those on the lowest rung of the Goldenbridge ladder. One could be assured of getting host families who came from the lower socio economic echelons of society. There were no posh host families for the wet-the-beds at all.