Goldenbridge: Hallowe’en Bairín breac

When I was a teenager in Goldenbridge I distinctly remember getting Bairín Breac/Barmbrack during Hallowe’en. Doubtless that was due to ‘All Souls’ and ‘All Saints’ Days that followed each other in a row on the religious calendar. On feast days, in general in the institution there was always that little speciality regarding food. It was such a glorious treat, as children were normally each evening greeted at 6:00pm supper-time to twelve slices of white thinly processed bread and bitter black cocoa that lay in the centre of the six-seater tables. Two slices per person. No extra bread at all. Sometimes the bread was soggy or tasted mouldy, as it was placed in an aluminium container in a small damp pantry, that was mice infested. The ring was the most exciting part of all. Everyone hoped that they’d be the lucky ones to find the illustrious rings. The rings were wrapped in white cooking paper and indented inside each breac. There were also a handful monkey nuts to be had from what I recall. Children wished every day was Hallowe’en, as it meant their bellies were not rumbling during the course of the night. Even now I’ve a penchant for bracks.
The ancient Celtic festival Samhain was celebrated on November 1 — the first day of winter. In Christian times the celebrations were transferred to the night before — Hallowe’en, which is still one of the liveliest festivals of the year. Children who had visitors, if I quite rightly remember had plastic face masks, and they went around scaring other children.

The word barm comes from an old English word, beorma, meaning yeasty fermented liquor. Brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled – which it is, with dried fruit and candied peel. Hallowe’en has always been associated with fortune telling and divination, so various objects are wrapped up and hidden in the cake mixture — a wedding ring, a coin, a pea or a thimble (signifying spinsterhood). After dark children dress up, often as witches or ghosts in hats and masks and black shawls, light turnip lanterns in the windows and go from house to house collecting fruits and nuts. Even a medallion of the Virgin Mary was included while baking the bread.


    • 4 cups white flour
    • 1/2 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
    • 1/4 level teaspoon nutmeg
    • pinch of salt
    • 1/2 stick butter
    • 3/4 oz yeast (or 2 teaspoons dried yeast)
    • scant 1/2 cup caster (fine) sugar
    • 1 1/4 cups tepid milk
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1 cup sultanas
    • 1/2 cup currants
    • 1/4 cup mixed chopped candied peel Charms
    • 1 pea
    • 1 ring
    • 1 silver coin
    • 1 short piece of matchstick, each wrapped in greaseproof paper Glaze
    • 1-1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    • 2-3 tablespoons boiling water


1. Sieve the flour, spices and salt into a bowl, then rub in the butter.

2. Cream the yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the tepid milk; it should soon froth slightly.

3. Pour the remaining tepid milk and the egg into the yeast mixture and combine with the dry ingredients and the sugar. Beat well with a wooden spoon or knead with your hand in the bowl until the batter is stiff but elastic.

4. Fold in the dried fruit and chopped peel, cover the bowl with a damp cloth or pure clingfilm and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. Knead again for another 2-3 minutes and divide between two greased 1 lb loaf tins.

5. Add the charms at this stage, making sure they are well distributed. Cover again and leave to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes to 1 hour or until the dough comes up to the top of the tin. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 1 hour. Test with a skewer before taking out of the oven.

6. Glaze the top with the sugar dissolved in the boiling water. Turn out to cool on a wire tray and when cold cut in thick slices and butter generously. Barmbrack keeps well, but even when it’s stale it is very good toasted and buttered.

Recipe Source: Festive Food of Ireland, The by Darina Allen, Kyle Cathie Limited, 1992.

Reference to barmbracks is made in Dubliners by James Joyce. The following example can be found in the first paragraph of Joyce’s short story Clay:

The fire was nice and bright and on one of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to be handed round at tea.

Goldenbridge Twitter conversation

    1. Love where you’re at, but fight for where you want to be

      Retweeted by Marie-T. O’Loughlin


    2. Whenever you feel sad, just remember that there are billions of cells in your body and all they care about is you #earthproblems

       Retweeted by Marie-T. O’Loughlin


    3. @TheRavenxx Aye – I hear that water meters are going to be installed in all local authority houses. To think that we’re surrounded by water.

    4. @TheRavenxx Ah, so it’s an outdoor meter? That’s an awful shame about your green space. Must have bugged ye seeing them intrude, so to speak.

    5. @TheRavenxx In the past there was a huge rift. ‘Twas Culchies v Jackeens. Not as noticeable now. I’m of country stock, as discovered as an adult.

    6. @TheRavenxx Yes, so much better. I talk about the past because I like to jot down memories as they flow. Really shouldn’t be inflicting them on other Twitterers. I can be insufferable in that sphere.

    7. @TheRavenxx…Even though Goldenbridge was on the periphery of the heart of Dublin, the children did not know that fact. Nobody told them so. 2/2.

    8. @TheRavenxx An untrained ‘jam’ teacher travelled up to Dublin each day from Kildare. She constantly reminded GB children of DIRTY Dublin. 1/2

    9. @TheRavenxx Did u live in one of those Georgian houses on St. Stephen’s Green? Never knew Dublin as a young person, due 2 being incarcerated.

    10. @cybernoelie The minutes of the meeting they tried to hide are back on the #RISF website 😉 and their illegal use of data been exposed

       Retweeted by Marie-T. O’Loughlin


    11. Lived in hostels until my mid-thirties. Was so clueless about home life. I did not even know how to cook. Was so naive and institutionalised.

    12. @TheRavenxx It was first time I’d ever learned about that mental illness. It’s the mother of all inherited mental afflictions. Hostel was ok

    13. @TheRavenxx I knew a person during my time who was at art college. She had schizophrenia, and wanted to throw herself out of the top window.

    14. @jackcolleton Thanks for link. I know many survivors who were diagnosed with a PD condition… along with many others besides. @czarkaztik

    15. ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at Grand Canal, Harold’s Cross Bridge, Dublin. Wednesday, 24th February, 2011. 

    16. The Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) was founded in 1875. Striking Wrennaissance style hostel was my abode for years 

    17.  View summary
    18. @czarkaztik I know. There were survivors of rape from general public, who could identify with survivors & their ways. They joined the groups

    19. @czarkaztik Precisely. Survivors of Industrial “Schools” are well used to spotting idiosyncrasies of other survivors. MALADAPTIVE BEHAVIOUR.

    20. “The ego is the false self-born out of fear and defensiveness.” ― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara:

       Retweeted by Marie-T. O’Loughlin


    21. Your noble friend will not accept pretension but will gently and very firmly confront you with your own blindness.  John O’Donohue,  Anam Cara

       Retweeted by Marie-T. O’Loughlin


    22. It can pay to play ‘stringing along games’ in response to whims of needful people. Because that way, one gets to save face by keeping MUM.

    23. Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition. Anam Cara:

       Retweeted by Marie-T. O’Loughlin


    24. In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. ― John O’Donohue,  Anam Cara

       Retweeted by Marie-T. O’Loughlin


    25. Feeding into NEEDINESS of emotionally frail people is actually not healthy. It can have the opposite effect. The former thrive on NEGATIVE attention.

    26. It reminded me of grown-up Goldenbridge children who sucked their thumbs, fingers, and who even bit their toes. Human condition is very frail.

    27. I once witnessed a very disturbed woman in Birmingham going into a foetal shape, and sucked her thumb, as she was carried off in an ambulance.

    28. The survivor had been so denigrated in her past life that her way of expressing anger was to be overly sexually provocative. Pitiful to see.

    29. I knew an emotionally disturbed Industrial “School” survivor who always provocatively used her physical assets to draw attention to herself.

    Goldenbridge passport


    I’ve had many passports during my life time.  I’ve also lost many passports – that saw me stranded in various countries. Not funny, when you have to make your way to the Irish Consolate in Bern, Switzerland, and the like to explain your losses. It never dawned on me when I first had to get one, as a young teenager in order to work as an au-pair in Switzerland that I could have got details about my true identity. I was so gullible and straight out of Goldenbridge, and knew no better. I kick myself when I think of all the years that were wasted in not knowing who my mother was… so much could easily have been rectified at the time had I got an enquiring mind.  Alas, to my chagrin, it was never to be. One of mama’s first words to me, when I eventually encountered her in the early eighties in Victoria, London, were… that she had thought I would come looking for her straight after I had left the institution at 16. That was simply not possible, as the nuns only divulged very minuscule information to me about her. I was told that I had once got a mother, but that she was dead. Nothing else was said about my background. I was almost leaving Goldenbridge at the time. Those words meant absolutely nothing to me in the slightest, as I had never got a visitor from a single relative after the first year I entered Goldenbridge to the day I stepped outside the gates on my own. I had no inkling of what a family was indeed. However, I do know that whenever the nuns did talk to others vis-à-vis moi, it was always in whispers. When I made new found discoveries, I had so much resentment towards the nuns, because it completely impaired any chance of coming together in a normal way with a real family. I definitely would have sought out my mother had I been given the correct information.

    As you can see from the photo, youth is not exactly on my side. Nonetheless, that has not deterred me from obtaining once again another new new passport. It’s one of the newest variety that was introduced in Ireland at the beginning of October 2013. Even though, the photo sent in to the passport office via postal express from the GPO was a coloured one, the photo embedded in is back black and white. The inbuilt photo can’t automatically be removed from the page. Unlike its predecessor. So – security-wise that’s indeed a very positive factor.

    Goldenbridge: Feelings not considered at all


    Amool ‏@amalhoss1

    I was very taken with the imagery in this painting that Amool put up on Twitter, and retweeted it. It is self explanatory, despite the Arabic caption. The shadow is very threatening.

    Some children were sent out to families from Goldenbridge and were allegedly sexually abused on a regular basis by predator members.  

    Two sisters had been adopted by a family who had consistently raped one of them. She has publicly spoken out about it.  She claimed that she had reported the abuse to the nun in charge in Goldenbridge after they had been sent back to the Industrial “School”. (I clearly remember the girls returning to Goldenbridge, and leaving once again.) Alas, it went on deaf ears, and the girls were sent back to the family once again. It was despicable to say the least. The  feelings of the girl was not considered at all. The survivor who spoke out also reckoned that her sister was abused, but the latter has never given any indication of such abuse.


    Another young girl of eight stayed temporarily with a married couple, who were related to the host family. She was molested by the husband, as she slept in a bed in the corner of the marital room. Unfortunately for the child, her bed was right next to where the husband slept. All he had to do was stretch over his hand and abuse her. The same man, she later found out, became head of a charitable religious organisation. Hypocrisy knows no bounds.  

    Another girl was also abused, even when she was menstruating.

    Christine Buckley spoke out very strongly about the times children were lined up in the prison yard, and were ogled, by what she termed potential paedophiles, who were given the cream of the crop.

    There was a daily outside maintenance worker at Goldenbridge who abused children. The abuse happened at the back of the stage. It was a very convenient spot, as the stage was positioned in the Rec hall, which was separated from the main arm of the institution. Children were given sweets in a small brown paper bag. Some of them were only too glad to do what the worker wanted with them, as it meant that they got sweets. The sweets, were a novelty to them. Fortunately, the abuse was reported by a sensible child and the worker was instantly removed from Goldenbridge.

    One survivor who went to outside school each day, and was noted for being very advanced for her age was in a serious relationship with a man of nearly forty. He was married with children. The 15 year old girl met him when she went out on weekends. It was abuse of power on the part of the man, to have taken advantage of the innocence of a young vulnerable girl. He had no intention of leaving his marriage for the girl. In my estimation, he just used her. A lot of that kind of thing happened to many survivors who wanted so much to be loved, that they would fall into the arms of men of any age or status, who would meet their desperate needs.

    Goldenbridge a la Twitter

    To be read in reverse chronological order. 

    No teddies in Goldenbridge


    I never knew what it was like to have teddies on my bed when I was growing up in Goldenbridge. Teddies were unheard of in the Industrial “School”. The bed housed my nightdress which was placed under the pillow of my single iron bed. Nothing else. It used to fascinate me when I left the institution at first – at how people of all ages seemed to adore teddies. When I went to London to get away from the harsh regime in Ireland, and any reminders of Goldenbridge, I discovered that Paddington Bear was all the rage. I’ve a soft spot for Winnie the Pooh as well.


    So – as you can see from photos here, I’ve certainly made up for the loss of teddies, which should have been a natural part of life as a child. I even went as far as buying a handmade teddy when it was announced that the doll hospital in Dublin was closing down. That was over a year ago. It has since re-established its business in the outer suburbs of Dublin. I know someone who is a collector of steifel teddies. I’ve oftentimes been tempted to get one. It’s so vital for any child to be given toys to explore, and play with, as their inquisitive minds are so open to absorbing everything around them. Toys given to children at Christmas time by businesses, who also gave parties, were immediately snatched away from the former in the immediate aftermath of visitors departure. So farcical.  The toys were placed in a large wicker basket at the back of the stage. Never to be seen again, until the following Christmas, then the same pattern was repeated. So hypocritical.  What was so wrong with the religious that they deemed the children not fit enough to be given Christmas presents. The religious forced us to smile at the hosts who gave of their generous time, – but they needn’t have done that, as children were able to smile at them naturally because they showed so much kindness and care. It was such an anti-climax after they left. I remember one man who was the boss of Bush, who took a shine to a child of African background. The nuns who would not have favoured this child, who perpetually went around with a dribbling nose, had no say in the matter. The tall boss man actually carried the child in his arms. I could see the mortification on the nuns’ faces. I often wondered was it because the child was not a pet, or someone who stood more of a chance because of being all doey-eyed.

    Goldenbridge: Needlework classes

    Photo: new day of the dead/skeleton cottons now in stock!
    I want to experiment with creating a simple fabric bag. I had been thinking of perhaps a shoulder bag made with Paisley, which I absolutely adore, or even washed linen or a Russian dolls, birds, butterflies, or some such feel good modern material, when I came upon this real funky patterned new fabric – courtesy of Murphy-Sheehy at Facebook. The shop is an old respected established fabric outlet situated nearby Grafton St. Dublin.
    I think the skulls deign is so apt for this time of year. Besides, I’m not a conventional person at the best of times. I recall one day recently in town passing by a shop, and couldn’t help admiring a bag made full of skulls. It was not dissimiliar to the pattern displayed here. What specifically drew me to the pattern was the amazing sense of humour and the vibrancy of colours set against the black backdrop. The skulls rock!
    I first learned needlework in Sr. Fabian’s class in Goldenbridge. The class took place in St. Patrick‘s – where all the flogging of children had systematically occurred in years gone by – by another nun. I think the needlework class work was part of requirements needed to gain the Primary certificate. I discovered that I had in fact passed it upon receipt of records from the Freedom of Information Act 1997.
    The work done by inmates such as myself, indeed, was very intricate. We made children’s fancy knickers with delightful flowery patterns. The elastic parts were the hardest to come to grips. Safety pins were used to edge elastic into their rightful positions in appropriately narrow slotted folded material. The edges were finely top-stitched with exquisite lace. From what I’ve gathered the finished handwork products were placed in swanky tissue boxes – just like the pope’s attire is wrapped – and were sent off to a posh shop in the vicinity of Inchicore, where rich people frequented to purchase select homemade items for their posh children.
    We also made beautiful handkerchiefs with lace trimmings. I always remember the corners being very tricky to contend with indeed. There was a knack in using the end of a large needle to tuck the corners in neatly.
    We hand made fancy aprons as well. All without the help of a sewing machine. I think there may have been a Singer sewing machine encased in an old-fashioned bench with a black wrought-iron flat pedal. placed nearby the piano at the top left hand corner of the classroom. The classroom was situated nearest the main porch hall and opposite the parlour. It was the last class-room in the institution. It catered for 5th/6th classes. In normal outside schools children would have graduated from 6th class at 12 years of age to secondary school. Or, otherwise have left school to go to work at 14, which was the norm in working class areas in my day in the late sixties. We were still in 6th class at 16 years of age. Disgraceful. For the most part we were working in the laundry and the kitchen and scullery. We were incarcerated till we were 16, so were left with no other choice.
    So from being in these needlework classes I’ve never forgotten how to do the various types of hand-sown stitches, such as blanket stitch, tacking stitch, top stitch, hem stitch, and many more types of stitches. Sr. Fabian was very expert. I can still see her with a pin stuck in her mouth. It’s such a shame that she did not make herself available to us in all of the classes. It would have helped us along the way. We were doing work equivalent to 10/12 year olds when we were grown teenagers.
    So with the help of lessons learned then – which I’ve never forgotten, I’m embarking on creating a hand-made bag. They’ve been the rage for years.
    The inmates in Goldenbridge also learned to do Aran knitting – which I adore. Their handiwork, I believe was so good that it was went to far-off places like America. It was slightly before my time. I also learned to knit men’s and ladies Aran stockings on four needles. We also made Irish wool carpets. Despite not learning to crochet – I have spoken about it elsewhere about learning how to crochet on one gigantic knitting needle from a little girl who lived overhead on the verandah of the Boyne host family at Boyne St. off Westland Row.

    Goldenbridge: Lass of Aughrim

    If you’ll be the lass of Aughrim
    As I’ll take you to be
    Tell me that first token
    That passed between you and me
    Oh don’t you remember
    That night on yon lean hill
    When we both met together
    I am sorry now to tell
    Oh the rain falls on my yellow locks
    And the dew soaks my skin;
    My babe lies cold in my arms;
    Lord Gregory, let me in
    Oh the rain falls on my heavy locks
    And the dew soaks my skin;
    My babe lies cold in my arms;
    But none will let me in

    This is absolutely an exquisite song. I first heard  it when I was a teenager in Goldenbridge in St. Bridget’s rosary-bead factory. It was played on an old record player that was placed in an alcove. I still adore old 98 vinyl records. I now realise, Sr. C. who was over the bead-making had an exquisite taste in Irish music. At the time, though, it sounded dreary to children, as the song was about consumption, and not really appropriate for young ears. I’ve since learned that the song is connected to James Joyce. In fact the gent is playing the restored version of his guitar. He does a marvellous job. I also enjoyed the backdrop of the song being played against an old sash window of a Georgian house overlooking onto St. Stephen’s Green.

    “The Lass of Aughrim,” an Irish version of “The Lass of Roch Royal,” figures prominently in the story “The Dead” by James Joyce.

    “The Dead” contains another reference to a song that is relevant to the plot of the story. “The Lass of Aughrim,” which Gretta hears the tenor D’Arcy hoarsely singing, reminds her of Michael Furey, who “used to sing that song” (231). Columbia’s Julianne Macarus notes, “D’Arcy’s hoarseness is another emblem of mortality,” a theme present in the story (Columbia, “Aughrim” Lyrics). The image featured in the refrain, that of the “lass” standing in the rain outside “Lord Gregory’s” window, is strikingly similar to the image of Michael Furey, standing outside Gretta’s window in the rain (233). Specifically, the line that Joyce cites, “O, the rain falls on my heavy locks, and the dew it wets my skin,” further describes the two scenes.

    Read more analysis at Song Lyrics


    Restored guitar of James Joyce

    Lass of Aughrim by Susan McKeown