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.