Goldenbridge: ‘Climate of fear’ Ryan Report: 7.149 – 7.163

Climate of fear

7.149 Many complainants gave evidence of living in a perpetual state of fear in Goldenbridge. Children were punished for trivial misdemeanours.

7.150 A complainant who spent the 1950s in Goldenbridge recalled that ‘the beatings were constant’. This witness gave evidence of one occasion when she was the only child on the landing waiting for punishment. Sr Alida took her into her cell and called Sr Venetia to join them. The complainant was told to take off her nightdress, and she was then beaten by both nuns. Sr Venetia used her hand, but Sr Alida beat her with the stick across the buttocks and on the hands. She said it was a more severe punishment than usual and that she did not know what she had done to merit it.

7.151 A further complainant, who was resident in Goldenbridge from 1954 until 1966, recalled being punished by Sr Alida:

… If you were walking say down the thing, she would say, “what are you doing here?” And she would lash out at you. “You dirty article”, she would just give you a lash out. Like being on the wet-the-bed line. I was always so frightened of her. When I used to see her I used to shiver inside.

7.152 A complainant, who spent the 1960s in Goldenbridge, remembered Sr Alida as being particularly severe:

Sr Alida was extremely cruel. She beat children, she had us standing on landings where she beat us. She beat us down in St. Patrick’s for having wet sheets. We were beaten in the yard for having wet sheets, for wetting the bed. You couldn’t pass her, you were just terrified passing her. The swish of her. You would see her coming.

7.153 A complainant, who spent a number of years in Goldenbridge, gave evidence of the fear induced by Sr Venetia:

There was one person you were frightened to look at with her blue eyes and her pale skin … She had a dreadful habit, I don’t know why she did it, you had to stand in a half circle with you. She would come behind you, her presence, as she passed, you always thought you were going to get a whack on the legs. She had a dreadful habit of (indicating) “who can I smell?” We all knew we smelled. Is she going to pick us?

7.154 This complainant recalled being punished on a regular basis by Sr Venetia. She said that Sr Venetia would beat children for wetting the bed, and she also recalled being beaten by her on the legs during Irish Dancing classes, for not raising her legs high enough:

Sr Venetia had a way that you had to stand a distance from her. She never got close to you. She stood so far and you stood and your hands at all times had to be out straight … If you bent your elbows she would come close to you then and she would just whack those elbows. In the end, you just held your arms out. Sometimes you would just think to yourself “when is she going to stop?” She had this way of looking at you, I don’t know. She seemed to get redder and redder as somebody who was hitting you, whereas she was quite a pale person any other time. She seemed to get into this frenzied type look. She was a very cruel woman.

7.155 Another resident from the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s, recalled a high level of physical abuse in Goldenbridge. On a regular basis, she was slapped with a cane, even as a very small child. She later said:

Physical abuse was part and parcel of everyday life in Goldenbridge. Sr Venetia would have many, many times abused me physically and verbally. It didn’t have to be for anything specific. It could be your laces weren’t tied or it could be your hair was untidy. It could be that she didn’t like the look of you that particular day.

7.156 A complainant who was in Goldenbridge for 10 years from the mid-1960s stated that her initial memories of Goldenbridge were of hitting, taunting and name-calling, and that she was constantly in front of Sr Venetia, who slapped her with a hand brush for minor misdemeanours. She recalled being beaten on one occasion because she had a button missing from her nightdress. This complainant asserted that Sr Venetia called her names, either that she was dirty or that she was ‘man mad’.

7.157 On one occasion, this complainant, who was only seven years of age at the time, suffered from diarrhoea during the night. She had an accident on her way to the bathroom, and the next morning, when questioned, she denied being responsible. Nevertheless, she was sent to Sr Venetia and was identified as the culprit. Sr Venetia slapped her with the hand brush, and she was slapped by everybody who had any dealings with the situation at all, including the lay workers on the dormitory.

7.158 One witness from the 1950s and 1960s said that occasionally you would get a smack across the face from Sr Venetia when she checked the rosary beads in the evening, but on the whole she did not have any complaint about Sr Venetia. She later said:

She never actually hurt me. I am here for myself. She never actually hurt me … she would slap but she wasn’t cruel. What I mean by a slap, I never saw her giving anybody a hiding.

7.159 She contrasted Sr Venetia to some of the lay workers who were there, whom she described as very cruel.

7.160 This complainant, as with so many other complainants, was able to make the distinction between the corporal punishment administered by Sr Venetia and that administered by the lay care workers and by Sr Alida. Sr Venetia was not perceived as being unfair, cruel or brutal. She was singled out as having taken action when complaints by the girls were made to her about the treatment meted out to one of the younger children by the lay workers.

7.161 Another unusual complaint was that children were put into the large, industrial-sized tumble dryers. Complainants named lay staff, other children and, in one instance, Sr Alida as being responsible. The dryer was not turned on when the children were put into it, but they found it a very frightening experience.

7.162 One complainant recalled being put into the tumble dryer by some of the older girls:

There was a dryer on the right-hand side, quite a rounded looking thing, not like what you would see a dryer today and it was quite a lot off the floor. One of them picked me up and put me in there and they shut the door. I can see one of their faces now looking in that.

7.163 In the Crowley Report, Sr Venetia confirmed the allegations in respect of the tumble dryer. Sr Alida acknowledged to Mr Crowley about being confronted by a parent for threatening to place her daughter in the tumble dryer. In evidence, she said that a person had come to her to tell her that her child was afraid of the tumble dryer and advised her about it.

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