Goldenbridge: ‘Worldly’ v ‘Unworldly’

Frank and children

Frank Duff with Regina Coeli children

I learned as an adult, that there were girls of 14 years of age with children also taking charge of babies belonging to other unmarried mothers at the Regina Coeli Hostel, whilst their mothers went out working. Apparently, it was the rule at the mother and baby unit during my time there in the fifties.

Photo: Children outside the Regina Coeli with Frank Duff; founder of The Legion of Mary and said hostel.

During my youth – a girl of 14 in general from a Dublin working class area was considered old enough to work, as there was no choice due to poverty-stricken times. So presumably, if she was old enough to work, she was also old enough to have her own children, notwithstanding having to also look after those belonging to other girls/women in aforementioned institutional setting to boot.

A child of ten years of age was considered old when entering an institution, by the standards of those who were wrought by the system since birth and not long thereafter. For example, children sent to Goldenbridge at 10 years of age and older had a ‘worldly’ wherewithal, and also were the ones who clashed with those who were there from very young ages. Some of the former had the propensity to look down on the latter. They could not comprehend the maladaptive instututionalised behaviour patterns of the ‘unworldly’ ones. The ‘worldly’ children also had the emotional capacity to form close bonds with certain children, and that caused resentment, as the ‘unworldly’ ones felt threatened by their insular ways of carrying on. The parochial clannish ways would have been more expected from those children who never saw the outside world.

The ‘worldly’ children could be callous and ruthless in their treatment of  ‘unworldly’ ones, because they could differentiate between them, and the children they had encountered in their 10 years in the outside world. So it was far easier to just shun the ‘unworldly’ children. The ‘unworldly’ children were classed as ‘orphans’ because they did not have any visitors. I would have been in the ‘unworldly’ category, despite having had 10 months experiences of the outside world with a host family, before I was carted back to Goldenbridge at 9 years old. That didn’t count, though, as I was still seen as part of the overall system, because the family were only a host family – not a biological family per se.

Children who entered at an older age had the capacity to be utterly compassionate and defensive towards their own siblings. I’ve got vivid memories of trying to befriend a girl who went to Goldenbridge at an older age, as I saw that she was different. She had such ‘worldly’ ways about her. Alas, she didn’t want to know me. Instead she made friends with a girl who was a La La (pet) and who went to outside school. They had far more in common from her standpoint.

An ‘unworldly’ boy could have had his 10 years stint done at Goldenbridge or St. Kyran’s in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow before starting off again at an Industrial “School” of the ilk of Artane, or St. Joseph’s in Kilkenny. So – you can see here, why a child entering for the first time was so obviously seen as a new-timer as opposed to a very old-timer.

Life was very difficult for those ‘unworldly’ boys, who had no choice but to be sent to a second institution. They rarely would have had any kind of family looking out for them. They simply had to figure out their newfound settings all on their own. I know one chap who had been in St. Kyran’s all his young life, who just could not decipher between the genders of the nuns and the Christian Brothers, as they were attired in similar long black robes.

Boys such as the one mentioned were likewise deemed as ‘orphans’ in their new found settings, and in order to survive had to become lackeys for those big WORLDLY boys who were sent there directly from home at older ages. By all accounts they had a far more brutal time in their dealings with them.

I know a lot of survivors were extremely peeved at the outset of the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse when those who had only been a mere ‘wet-week’ in institutional care were lapping up all the limelight. Prominent survivors who had spent their whole childhood in Goldenbridge and other Industrial “Schools” were stunned that those who were a mere 12/15 months in those hellholes, at the ages of approximately 12-15 were gaining the most notoriety. It was unfathomable. Those ‘worldly’ children of the past seemingly, once again, were acting out behaviour patterns that albeit were far too familiar to the ‘unworldly’ past children. I remember pointing it out to a now prominent politician. However I was greeted with the following – if it was not for the ‘worldly’ ones the longstanding ‘unworldly’ survivor voices would not be heard.  The politician was so right, as the latter were still bereft of wherewithal. They were the most voiceless silent section of Irish society.


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