Goldenbridge: Confirmation day

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The colour of the two-piece suit worn on my Confirmation day at Goldenbridge, was the exact colour as the last rose of summer that was blooming in the garden yesterday evening. Alas, I don’t have any exciting memories of the day at all.

$T2eC16dHJFoE9nh6piqmBRYbklz6J!~~60_12I remember another Confirmation girl and myself were given a ten shilling note apiece on the occasion by Sister Fabian. I could not help but notice that the notes were the same colour as my Confirmation suit. Because of being institutionalised, we were clueless as to the significance of paper money. We were beside ourselves too when the money was given to us in the parlour. We didn’t know where to put our faces out of shyness. The parlour, you see, was a very special place, where children, visitors and staff alike were only ever allowed to enter whenever there was something very important occurring.

Indeed, our bent shy heads, as we stood there being nicely talked by the nun, were forcibly focussed on the paper money she had just given us for our special day. We were in awe and clutching tightly on to the notes. I was so fascinated by the lady figure on the note, as she looked a far prettier sight than ever the nuns did in their miserable black habits.

photoWe were imbued with the holy spirit after it had entered our bodies at the Confirmation service given by the bishop at St. Michael’s church, Inchicore. Children never went to mass outside Goldenbridge convent. This was a once off occasion.

Confirmation can be conferred only on those who have already been baptised and have not yet been confirmed. As St. Thomas says:

Confirmation is to baptism what growth is to generation. Now it is clear that a man cannot advance to a perfect age unless he has first been born; in like manner, unless he has first been baptised he cannot receive the Sacrament of Confirmation (Summa Theologiæ III.72.6).

I can still visualise Sr. Fabian standing behind me at the altar rails whilst awaiting arrival of bishop to confirm me.  She obviously would have been my sponsor, as I remember getting confirmation name ‘Margaret’, which I had learned was her namesake in lay life before she entered the convent. I happened to have discovered that years later when I was helping a staff member to make Sr. Fabian’s bed in the cell she occupied nearby the now infamous landing. I saw her full name on a plaque on the cell wall. I shan’t release it here. I was talking to a survivor who grew up with me, who would have also made her confirmation in the sixties, and she told me that she had chosen her own name. I was amazed when I heard that, as it would have never occurred to me to have chosen a name, as we were hardly called by our names in Goldenbridge, we were referred to by our numbers. A thought has just occurred to me that perhaps we may each have got a ten shilling note from the nun because of her being our sponsors?!

Miss H. with the glasses, as she was referred to by all, was of tall thin stature. She wore a plaid suit. She was very dour in character. She hailed from the country. Her sister worked in the kitchen. She was given the task of taking the bi-racial girl and myself into town. The other girl and myself did not really have anything in common with each other, let alone, the lay teacher, as she was called, despite not being trained as one at all. In fact I personally remember being very nervous of her, as she was in charge of the medicine press, and children who had to go to her for medicinal purposes were always scared stiff out of their minds, and would put up with their ailments, rather than have to face Miss H. Miss. H. although not physically cruel was very indifferent to children when they had to stand before her each morning in the wash-room. Children had to line up in front of her whilst she fine-combed their hair with a thick aluminium steel comb. She dipped the comb into a stainless steel jar that contained pink paraffin oil, and ploughed deeply into their heads. Some children were left with bleeding scalps as a result. She was sadistic in her steadfast duty to hunt out the hoppers and knits. There were plentiful to be had, that’s for sure, and the blighters too got no warm treatment from the lay teacher.

Bewleys-CafeI recall going into a tea-house, and having dainty cream cakes and tea, it may have been to the renowned Bewley’s on Grafton St.. There was nothing spectacular about the company. We were an odd mix. There was no sense of gaiety or laughter or any sort of elated freedom that I can recollect on the afternoon’s outing. Miss H. allowed the other girl to take off her box-style hat, as she was not pleased about wearing it. I rather liked mine, which was a full sun-syle one, which I could hide behind.

It’s rather ironic that the girl who went out for a short while (when she was approximately 6 years old) with a friend of the Boyne host family, who took me out of Goldenbridge from Communion age, till I was 9, was also the same girl who was with me on the Confirmation day outing.

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There is a tree overhead the washing-line at my abode in Donnybrook, Dublin, and it’s filled with beautiful berries. I don’t recall seeing so many of them last year. They’re in abundance all around. Their colour seem very appropriate to the subject to hand. I keep gazing on them, they look like flowers from a distance. So betwixt foxes and blooming berries and a plethora of cats and magpies, I’m in my element were nature is concerned.

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I heard from Christine Buckley, after inquiring about her, that she now lives in Germany, and went into adult education, which is very positive. I had asked Christine to apologise to her because of having fled from her when we had both landed up in the Chamberlains office in London working in a temporary office job. I ran away because I didn’t want any haunting reminders of my past institutional Goldenbridge life. I was this other person in my minds eye, who had gone to a boarding school in Ireland. It was wrong of me, but the same thing was done to me as well on umpteen occasions in the recent past. I’ve written about this type of fear of each other that is very common with survivors of Industrial ‘Schools’. Suffice it to say, I’ve mostly overcome it, as I now write about it.

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Miss H. was not unfriendly to us on our Confirmation day. She was also not a person who was able to communicate with children per se. She was a very serious person, but then again, Irene, a member of the Boyne host family, told me as an adult that I was a strange child, so perhaps I was in the right company after all. Anyway, I really don’t know how we could have interacted with the teacher, as we did not have any skills to talk to adults, despite us being teenagers.

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Goldenbridge: ‘Conclusions on physical abuse’ Ryan Report: 7.2321

Conclusions on physical abuse

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1. Overall, there was a high level of severe corporal punishment in Goldenbridge, resulting in a pervasive climate of fear in the Institution.

2. Beatings on the landing were a particularly cruel feature of the regime.

3. A parallel, unofficial system of punishment permitted every member of staff to use corporal punishment, which was often excessive. Some former residents, who were unsuited for outside employment, were retained as helpers and often administered severe punishment.

4. Children were beaten and humiliated for bed-wetting by both nuns and lay staff.

5. There is no evidence that a punishment book was kept in Goldenbridge, as was required by the regulations, and the absence of this important record should have been noticed and reported by the Department Inspector.

Goldenbridge ‘wet the bed’ Sacred Heart dormitory

Children who slept in the ‘wet-the-bed’ Sacred Heart dormitory were woken up at intervals during the course of the night. The 2:00 am shift was the worst one of all.  The bed-clothes were abruptly flung back by staff, and they were frogmarched off to the loos at the back of the dormitory. They were made to sit two to a loo. Their sleepy heads were sometimes knocked together by staff, if they were deemed to have spent too long there, or snoozed off. Children often slipped on the urine flooded floor, whilst simultaneously being beaten by minor staff for being too slow or awkward. They were told to ‘get a move on’, as there would be a long queue. Such was the cruel regime in that dark, dank cold; inhospitable institution of the late fifties and sixties for young parentless children.

A lot of what happened in Goldenbridge was not allowed to be aired in the book, Freedom of Angels that Bernadette Fahy penned just prior to the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse. I know many survivors who get constant flashbacks to this very day because of the screams and crying that emanated from frightened children in the Sacred Heart wet-the-bed dormitory.

I remember a particular girl who used to sleep-walk in the Sacred Heart dormitory. I also remember being dreadfully frightened by black shadowy swaying movements of large branches of trees that came from a top window in my vision, as I lay there all forlorn at the dead of night in my bed. I since discovered that the trees belonged to the convent garden. The emptiness; the loss; the despair was so magnified in the wee hours of the morning as a wee child of less than communion age.

The loneliness felt at the dead of night was akin to the loneliness felt when leaving Cavan General hospital on the night of the death of my mother. I was with her when she died. (I also stayed by her side when she was in a coma for three months in the Richmond hospital.) I walked out of that hospital with not a single sinner to turn to, it was  the ‘dark night of the soul’ period of my life. I just laid down in a dark green empty grassy spot, and wailed away. My stomach was rattling and jumping with the agony felt for someone I had missed out on the love of as a child. I would have lived in a matchbox with that woman and not have felt stifled. I was back there in the Sacred Heart dormitory, so helpless and alone.

I think from those very painfully grieving experiences that I’ve gained enough empathy to understand people when they’re tormented by grief after loved ones depart the world. I can identify with their sorrow. The isolation felt knows no bounds. “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” Kahlil Gibran. The loss of a mother is the worst loss of all. I’m relieved to have gone through that loss than to have lived with the unknown. The truth no matter how painful does set one free. It is a privilege to mourn the loss of a loved one, than to have been deprived of the loved one during their existence on earth.

Children went to bed when it was still bright during the summer months. It was hard for them to sleep, because of daylight gleaming into the dormitory. The staff marched up and down the dormitory and forced them to close their eyes and not to make a twitch or they would get a clatter on the face, or their ears pulled or arms ‘skinny’ pinched. Some children may not have been able to sleep because of either broken springs; torn mattresses; grey army blankets with big holes or perhaps because of the repulsive aroma from the newly laundered ‘destroyed’ sheets that left its nauseous imprint.

The gigantic wicket laundry basket was always full to the brim with wet and ‘destroyed’ sheets every single morning, despite children having being woken up every couple of hours, inclusive of the early hours of the morn, to prevent that from happening. The stress of being woken up would have added to the problems, instead of alleviating them indeed.

The children who slept in the Sacred Heart wet-the-bed dormitory were those on the lowest rung of the Goldenbridge ladder. One could be assured of getting host families who came from the lower socio economic echelons of society. There were no posh host families for the wet-the-beds at all.

No Birthday acknowledgements in Industrial “Schools” / Reformatories

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I oftentimes – to this very day – cry bucketfuls – over something that penetrated deeply, the inner lives of most survivors of Industrial “schools” and Reformatories in the past. It had / has to do with lack of acknowledgement by people on special occasions, i.e., most notably birthdays. Most family members and friends take birthday cards and gifts that they receive from each other for granted – not so survivors of Industrial “Schools” and Reformatories. During whole incarceration periods in their respective institutions they mostly would have been ignored when it came to birthdays. Survivors mostly never knew how old they were, let alone know their birthday dates. The lucky inmates in this respect were those who had family visitors, as the latter made sure to make a big deal of said occasions. It was the parent/s way of making up for the loss of not being permanently in the children’s lives. Survivors never cried as children because of not receiving birthday cards and gifts, as they obviously never knew what they had missed out on in their lives – being utterly ignorant and all that of such joyous occasions. They certainly made up for it when they grew up and discovered differently in the outside world. The only celebratory identifications Goldenbridge inmates could relate to were religious feast-days. During those times they got ice-cream after dinner and at supper-time a dry sponge-cake that was left in the middle of each six-seater table in the dining-hall.

Christine Buckley, who grew up with me in Goldenbridge, and who runs Aislinn Centre for survivors of Industrial “Schools” and Reformatories in Dublin, made it her remit to see that survivors would be acknowledged on their birthdays. A birthday cake and gifts are a specialty on the agenda. Christine sees it as being acknowledgement of the births of survivors, when there weren’t any parents to acknowledge existence of said survivors in the past. It is always an emotional time for them, as they feel validated, and it goes a long way into correcting that much needed healing. It takes the sting out of things by somewhat making up for lost care that should have been naturally present in their lives in the past. I wholeheartedly give praise to the big deal that is made of survivors on their birthdays. The smiles on their faces is a sight to behold, as they open the wee presents given to them by Christine et al. They were so bereft of gifts as children in the past in institutions and it just means so much.

I know that to those who were never in any kind of State care – it might appear as some kind of conundrum, as to why survivors get frightfully upset when they’re ignored at birthday times by people. It may appear to be very hard to take on board for some people, who may find it thoroughly confusing that survivors should make such a great commotion over birthdays. I know many survivors who have fallen out with people over the years because they were never recognised during birthday times. I don’t celebrate my own birthday, as it is far too emotional. I just cry; cry and cry the live-long day, as the loss of birthday celebrations in the past come flooding back. A counsellor once pointed out to me – when I told her about how I felt at birthday-times – that she came across similar sad emotions with every survivor who had darkened her office. She told me to go out and specifically nurture and indulge myself on those days each year, or soon thereafter. I definitely heeded her advise. This kind of self-nurturing has definitely taken on – and when I also find myself in very negative situations where I feel alienated, I make it my business to treat myself to something nice.

My mother and special uncles and aunts in the past – when they discovered me  – were particularly sensitive to celebratory occasions. It made me feel important, that someone in the world acknowledged my existence. I was spoiled rotten by them. I miss so much being important to people. It lasted such a short time in my life.

Ironically – whenever child inmates in Goldenbridge went out to annual charitable parties, the first thing they did was to save the presents that they got for the host families who took them out. They loved giving presents to people, despite never having had the experience of receiving them as children. Even to this day – they love giving gifts to people. I know I do for certain.

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Freedom of Angels – by Bernadette Fahy

“I entered Goldenbridge orphanage in my Communion outfit. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing there.’ At age seven, Bernadette Fahy was delivered with her three brothers to Goldenbridge Orphanage. She was to stay there until she was sixteen. Goldenbridge has come to represent some of the worst aspects of childrearing practices in Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s. Seen as the offspring of people who had strayed from social respectability and religious standards, these children were made to pay for the ‘sins’ of their parents. Bernadette tells of the pain, fear, hunger, hard labour and isolation experienced in the orphanage. Can a person recover from such a childhood? How does the spirit ever take flight — and gain the ‘freedom of angels’? This is Bernadette Fahy’s concern. Now trained and working as a counsellor, she has had to dig deeply into her past to understand the patterns laid down by her upbringing. She has had to rebuild her life, and now she helps others to do the same. This book is a story of triumph over the harshest of circumstances.”  Amazon.