7.22 The convent at Goldenbridge housed approximately 30 Sisters who were engaged in work throughout the local community. The Sisters ran a large national school in the Goldenbridge complex and also had a laundry that was a separate commercial enterprise. The laundry was closed in the mid-1950s, to facilitate the development of the secondary school. In addition, prior to 1954, there was what was known as a secondary top, which was an extension of the national school for children up to the age of 14.
7.23 The Industrial School in Goldenbridge was a large institution but very few Sisters worked in it. Prior to 1942, the Reverend Mother of the convent was always the Resident Manager of Goldenbridge. Although there were four different Resident Managers notified to the Department of Education between 1936 and 1942, these Sisters had very little contact with the daily administration in the School or with the children who were committed to it. The testimony of Sr Alida,3 who came to Goldenbridge as a young nun in the early 1940s, was that administration in the school and management were delegated to one nun, Sr Pietrina,4 who was elderly and diabetic when Sr Alida was appointed.
7.24 Sr Alida had no recollection of any other nun in the Community being involved in the running of the Institution other than Sr Pietrina. She said that, apart from visiting the Industrial School to watch films or concerts, there was no contact between the Industrial School and the convent, and the nuns in the convent would not have known the children in the Industrial School.
7.25 The day-to-day operation of the School and the care of the children were left to two lay teachers, Ms Dempsey5 and Ms Kearney.6 After classes, these teachers supervised the children and put them to bed. They were assisted by four care workers, one in the kitchen, one in the laundry and two generally in the house. In the evening, Sr Pietrina returned to the convent, and the two lay teachers looked after the children until the next day. There were 150 children in Goldenbridge at that time.
7.26 Before Sr Bianca was appointed to Goldenbridge, Sr Vincenza7 of Carysfort had appointed Sr Divina8 as Resident Manager in the early 1940s, which prompted the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education to protest. He wrote:
I am desired by the Minister for Education to call your attention to the fact that the new Resident Manager whom you have appointed in St. Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, is 79 years of age. The Minister feels that the management of an Industrial School would constitute a very heavy burden and responsibility on a lady of this advanced age. The supervision of the feeding, clothing, education and health of about 150 children, together with the keeping of the many accounts, records etc., which are required and, in addition, the fulfilment of her duties as Reverend Mother of the community would, in the Minister’s opinion, constitute a heavy burden on a much younger and more active person.
The Minister would accordingly be glad if you would reconsider this appointment with a view to appointing a much younger Sister who has had experience of children and on whom the complex duties of management would not be so burdensome.
7.27 Sr Vincenza replied immediately to the Assistant Secretary:
In reply to your letter of 29th September regarding the appointment of an aged Sister as Manager of Golden Bridge Industrial School, I have this day appointed as Manager one of the Staff – Sr. Bianca– to that position.
When appointing the Manager on the 12th September I sent an extra Sister to the Ind. School, who holds very high qualifications and certificates for Domestic Economy, Cookery, Needlework and Household Knowledge, to help with the management with the household work and management of the children, so that Sr. Bianca could be free to devote some time to the duties that the Manager would have to undertake.
The appointment made today leaves Mother Pia9 free to devote herself to the Community in Golden Bridge Convent.
7.28 That, however, was not the end of the matter; the Department immediately replied, seeking clarification:
Please state whether it is your intention to authorise Sister Bianca to exercise all the powers, functions and duties of the Managers in accordance with the provisions of the Children Acts, 1908 to 1941.
7.29 The Department of Education wanted to ensure that the actual day-to-day running of the Institution would be in the hands of a young, energetic, qualified Sister. Sr Bianca was appointed as Sister-in-Charge of the Industrial School in the early 1940s, and was appointed Resident Manager the following year. At the same time Sr Alida, who was a young newly professed Sister, in her mid-20s, was appointed as her assistant. Sr Bianca continued as Resident Manager until the mid-1950s.
7.30 According to Sr Alida, when Sr Bianca took over ‘she was a very powerful personality, controlling person. She went to her major Superior in Carysfort and said she would take the running of the school … provided she got the handling of the finance’.
7.31 Sr Alida said that this gave her ‘great ease of conscience’ because it meant that nobody could ever question that the money given to the Industrial School was spent by the convent in any other way. She explained:
there were lots of allegations at that time made, rightly or wrongly, that school money went to the convent. That was the system. Sr Bianca ended that system and the money was – she had the cheque book, Pietrina never had a cheque book, and paid the bills.
7.32 Sr Alida maintained that only a person as powerful as Sr Bianca could have succeeded in having this change made to the management structure of Goldenbridge. She said that, before Sr Bianca’s intervention, the money came into the convent to the Superior and was lodged to the bank:
I know we used to say that it wasn’t all totally honestly done, I have absolutely nothing to say about that. I am not saying that. What I am saying was that the person running the school, Sr. Pietrina, would have said to me one day, and she was a long time in the school, “all the money I ever handled while I was in the School was the money for the dripping”.
7.33 Sr Alida described Sr Bianca as a woman with a forceful personality:
I am saying it now with gratitude in my heart to her, she was a very controlling person, she could achieve things that I would never have done. I would have started in Goldenbridge if I were in her shoes doing a very different thing. I would have started looking for money to buy knickers and vests for the children. She saw the bigger facilities. They matched her personality. She got the walk-in fridge, she got two big steamers, the hotels wouldn’t have them at that time, the kind she got.
She had massive immediate improvements in the School, massive. She didn’t see the need for changing the blankets or changing their homemade knickers. The School wouldn’t have advanced as much as they did only for the power she had.
7.34 Sr Alida spoke at length about the changes that Sr Bianca introduced into Goldenbridge Industrial School immediately upon her appointment. In many ways, these changes speak more of the regime that existed before Sr Bianca’s appointment than anything else. They point to a management which had been so poor and so negligent that the children could not possibly have received even a minimum standard of care.
7.35 The two areas which Sr Bianca tackled immediately were (i) the medical care of the children, and (ii) the standard of education.
7.36 The issue of the medical care in Goldenbridge is dealt with later. As will be shown, the condition of the children was so bad that the School had to be closed down for two weeks whilst the problems of scabies and ringworm were tackled. Bedding had to be removed and disinfected by Dublin Corporation, and all the children’s clothing had to be boil-washed.
7.37 Sr Alida vividly described the problem tackled by Sr Bianca which had reached crisis proportions at the time of her appointment. The Institution had been allowed to deteriorate into an appalling condition and Sr Bianca tackled these problems energetically.
7.38 Similarly, the provision of education was extraordinarily poor at that time. Sr Bianca had to get basic equipment for the schoolroom. There were only two untrained lay teachers, and they were there in the dual capacity of carers and teachers. Sr Alida said:
… I never asked and I have no idea how they taught the 150 children of a school going age or how schooling was managed, but there was a programme for industrial school girls over 13 years of age. Everyday, five days a week, they had domestic training, cooking, laundry and dressmaking after 12.30, after the lunch hour.
7.39 Sr Alida described a lack of any facilities in the classroom. Only two of the four classrooms in Goldenbridge appeared to be in use. This led her to believe that no other Sister from the convent was actively engaged in teaching in Goldenbridge in the years prior to her arrival with Sr Bianca. She confirmed that Sr Pietrina did not teach.
7.40 For the first few weeks of her time in Goldenbridge, the efforts of both Sr Alida and Sr Bianca were concentrated on the children’s health and dealing with the medical conditions that they found there. Once these medical problems had been brought under control, schooling was resumed.
7.41 Sr Bianca ordered playground equipment from England at this time, including a number of swings and a merry-go-round and a drinking fountain for the playground.
7.42 Sr Alida went on to describe the extremely primitive conditions in the Industrial School generally. It appeared that the only washing machines were so old and ineffective that they were not used, and all the washing for the 150 children was done by hand. She said the machines were eventually re-serviced and brought into use, but that they were always ineffective and it took a long time to wash the clothes.
7.43 The cooking facilities in the kitchen were also primitive, and Sr Bianca acquired two large steamers that she used to prepare vast quantities of food. Conditions were difficult on other levels: it was very difficult to heat the Institution, and very difficult to get basic provisions for the children; all the clothing was handmade on the premises by the older children under the supervision of a lay worker.
7.44 Sr Alida said that the older girls did all the domestic chores in the house.
7.45 When Sr Bianca left Goldenbridge in June 1954, Sr Laurella10 took over as Resident Manager, although Sr Alida, who arrived in Goldenbridge on the same day as Sr Bianca, was the effective Manager of the Industrial School from 1954 until she left in 1963.
7.46 The first former resident who gave evidence had been in Goldenbridge from 1949, and the Committee has relied on oral testimony to establish conditions after that time. Very little documentary evidence is in existence for conditions in the 1930s and 1940s.
7.47 The Department of Education Medical Inspector, Dr Anna McCabe, inspected the premises and from time to time made suggestions regarding the care of the children. Her first two inspections were significant, because they coincided with the appalling conditions described by Sr Alida. The first was in 1939 and the second was in 1941. Nothing in these reports would indicate the level of neglect encountered by Sr Alida.
7.48 At some time in the early 1950s or even the late 1940s, Sr Alida was approached by a businessman who suggested that the Institution could become involved in making rosary beads. Thus, the bead-making industry in Goldenbridge was introduced into the daily routine of the pupils, and it continued until the mid-1960s.
7.49 In the early 1950s, Sr Bianca made the decision to acquire a holiday home for Goldenbridge in Rathdrum, County Wicklow. In 1954, a large house was bought for £3,000. According to Sr Alida, the money earned from the bead-making contributed £1,000 of this purchase price. According to the Opening Statement:
… it enabled everyone to have a summer holiday away from the institution. All children would spend some time in the summer at the holiday house and those who could not go home for a holiday spent the entire summer holidays there.
Although some former residents did not enjoy going to Rathdrum during the holidays, for most of them it represented a welcome respite from school and, in particular, from bead-making.
7.50 Ms Kearney, a teacher in the Institution, gave evidence that, prior to the purchase of the house in Rathdrum, children went on holidays to other Sisters of Mercy homes that were in the countryside or beside the sea. To spend £3,000 on a house that was only used for a few weeks every year, at a time when food and clothing and basic educational equipment were lacking, does not appear to be the most appropriate allocation of scarce resources.
7.51 In 1954, when Sr Alida took over the management of the Industrial School, Sr Venetia joined her as a full-time assistant. She was a qualified primary teacher. Ms Dempsey and Ms Kearney were still the two lay teachers in Goldenbridge at that time, and there was also a small number of other lay staff employed by the Institution. In addition to the lay staff and the two Sisters, the running of Goldenbridge was also entrusted to the care of what were known as ‘care workers’. These care workers were girls who had grown up in Goldenbridge and were unable to get work outside the Institution.
7.52 The template for the day-to-day running of the Institution had been established by Sr Bianca. Sr Alida said that she continued the methods and systems introduced by Sr Bianca although she did, as might be expected, make some improvements along the way.
7.53 Sr Alida left Goldenbridge in 1963. She told the Inquiry about the circumstances of her departure. She had asked her Superior in Carysfort if she could be relieved from teaching duties, so as to be able to devote herself entirely to the administrative and caring side of her work. The response from Carysfort was to remove her entirely from Goldenbridge. Sr Alida was clearly unhappy at the manner of her removal, and she was in no doubt that it was because she had complained of overwork to her Superiors.
7.54 Sr Alida was succeeded by Sr Simona11 for a short period, after which, in mid-1963, the management of Goldenbridge was taken over by Sr Venetia. Sr Venetia was responsible for many of the positive changes that occurred in the School throughout the 1970s. She was the person who steered through the change from institutional care to the group home arrangements that were introduced in the 1980s, and she ultimately oversaw the closure of Goldenbridge.