Goldenbridge: Dining-hall…

Goldenbridge: Dining-hall

Description of Dining-hall and the like…
There were Victorian type windows in great quantities that almost reached the full measurement lengthwise of what seemed like a colossal dining-hall. This great hall seated over 200 children. The gigantic windows looked out onto the side access of the main building as well as onto the back scullery yard and a dilapidated field which held an incinerator at the farthest end. It was, so to speak, far away from harms way. In the right hand corner of the dining-hall from main entrance there was a door with two steps, it led one either to a cubby-hole pantry, or to another door which led one moreover to the side entrance of the institution.
There were as well brown sliding presses which were later-painted bright blue along the entire left access side of dining-hall. They housed neat and tidy plastic cutlery trays, delph and cocoa pots. The management later in the sixties introduced delph and then only on Sundays did inmates get stewed tea. Prior to that, children had to make do with malodorous picnic plastic tupper-ware. Some special plastic cups had plasters on the handles; they were in usage for sick children. So much for Mother Catherine McAuley – who quoted to the Sisters of Mercy before her death:
When I am dead and gone do not forget to comfort yourselves with a nice cup of tea.
The nuns drank tea from the best of Irish china every day. While children resorted to drinking black cocoa (and stewed tea in later years) from plastic cups. To the furthermost left of dining-hall where all the hub-hub went on there was an annexe, which had a small sized kitchen. It had a hefty cooker/fryer and a water trough, and adjoining it again was still an even less significant unpretentious type consumption room with a table that fitted approximately into the total of the low ceiling room – it was for the senior staff. It was called St. Ita’s.
The scullery, which was also in close proximity to the kitchen, was a corporeal place.
It should have been incontrovertibly so out of bounds to children because of the treacherous and hazardous apparatus within its precincts. The nuns never got their priorities right – it was tolerable for them not to allow right of entry by children to the much-needed washbasins. Nevertheless, it was another kettle of fish, despite the fact, when the sisters endorsed young children, access to precarious and perilous equipment that was ubiquitously universal in the scullery. Zum beispeil, it had a massive bread slicer, and the staff hauled children out of the classroom to work in the scullery every living Goldenbridge day. They had no alternative other than to slice bread on the dodgy risky slicer as well as having to clean out the lethal boilers.
On snowy icy days also children had to cart very heavyweight churns of milk up ten steep slippery ice-ridden steps. Two grounds men employed by the sisters should have been obtainable to do this work, as one of them only lived at the lodge-house at the main entrance into Goldenbridge. This was against all constitutional rights of children, but then again one is dealing with a very harsh Industrial *school* regime.
There was, too, a hatch, which delivered food from the kitchen to the dining hall. In addition, another one opened up from the kitchen on to the main corridor. The cold stone floor had a white/green speckled pattern with large black square shapes. The minor staff did not eat with staff. They had a separate table in the dining-hall next to the kitchen/scullery area for easy access of course…
A staff member, who unremittingly beat up children, worked distinctively in the scullery. Children were scared stiff of her and worked their guts to the bone in order to please her. For illustration, children had to carry heavy milk churns up about ten steps, and place them in the walk-in fridge. The minor staff with the walk-in fridge threatened children if they did not behave. Kathleen O’ Neill, was, one day pushed into the open fridge by a minor staff member who closed the door on her for a short while. The inducement to do such was fierce. Some times it was also done out of play-acting. Inmates had to wash and peel the vegetables and take the eyes out of the potatoes in all weathers in the back scullery yard.
Children’s hands as a consequence were forever full of scabs. Or they suffered with chilblains. One girl ended up in hospital for months on end because of incalculable dent that occurred. The staff until the end of time gave the lowest possible of the lowest household tasks to the children. As I have over and over again reiterated. children were measly nonentities who were forever recurrently used and abused. No staff member ever did humble jobs in Goldenbridge it was always, merely the children. The latter sliced bread on a gigantic bread slicer, just like one sees in butcher shops for cutting meat. It was a very precarious machine. Valerie whom I mentioned most conscientiously was very adept at using the machine; no contemplation throughout her sentence was given by any member of staff as to her suitability for the harsh serious dangerous job to hand. Having sliced bread for the entire institutional needs for a couple of days the little children then had to put margarine on each sliced cut then place them in batches and neatly pile them into an aluminium bread casket. Two children then carried this enormously heavy casket to the pantry.
Dinnertime at Goldenbridge.
Twice daily a big hand bell was rung by staff and heard throughout the whole industrial *school* to let child inmates know it was mealtimes. The first deafening ding-dong din was belted out at 12: 00am. Children instantaneously left relevant class-rooms or cleaning responsibilities and stood noiselessly in a long queue on the two L shaped unswervingly long corridors outside the dining-hall.

They then had to bless themselves and in unison recite the Angelus. Throughout the year, except during Paschal time, Roman Catholics recite instead the Regina Coeli prayer. The latter also traditionally recite the Angelus in the mornings at 6: 00am and then again at 12: 00 noon and once again in the evenings at 6:00pm

The Angelus:

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, etc
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done- unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. And the Word was made Flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises through Christ our lord
Let us pray:
Pour forth; we beseech Thee, O Lord,
Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son
Was made known by the message of an angel,
May by His Passion and Cross-be brought to the glory of His Resurrection.
Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen!
(For nearly twelve years during incarceration period, the prayers here, were recited by me and other child inmates, so hence my not wanting to link to them only, as that would reduce the significance of same. Inmates lived, thought, prayed these words, daily and nightly, as if their very lives depended on them to survive. They have huge impact on the psyches of survivors of Goldenbridge and industrial *schools* in general).

On finishing the Angelus children then entered the dining-hall, under the watchful eye of senior staff on duty. Mother Catherine McAuley Foundress of The Sisters of Mercy looked down on them from an over-sized picture frame, which was positioned high on the wall in the centre of the large cold Dining Hall.

Children then accordingly recited more prayers as they stood at their prearranged tables after making yet again the sign of the cross.
Grace before Meals:
Bless us, O Lord,
And these Thy gifts,
Which of thy bounty we are about to receive
Through Christ our Lord.
St. Rock bless us and preserve us from all sickness.
The sign of the cross:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost Amen!
(Since Vatican 11 spirit has replaced ghost… sounds less spooky!)
In the midpoint of the dining hall stood one or two dictatorial stringent senior staff members with undoubtedly their arms in folded position. Namely, for example, Ms. D. and Ms. H. The younger sister of the latter worked everlastingly in the adjoining kitchen.
As an archetypal illustration of food on menu. Children had for starters: watery cabbage dishwater soup. Kitchen staff  and child workers had in advance in the centre of each six-seater table positioned large jugs of this watery diabolical substance. On downing soup, one or two children from each table had the cooperative accountability of going to the rather miniature hatch at the kitchen end of the dining-hall to gather on a tray, six miserly dinners.
Lumpy mashed potatoes (which unavoidably would have been made earlier on in the morning with the help of child labour in the big industrial boiler that also made the porridge) were customarily served up. The boiler/mixer never succeeded in mashing potatoes accurately. To envision it one would have to think of a gargantuan industrialised mixer. Earlier on in the morning, the staff would have requested children from diverse classes to help with the preparation of dinner/supper. For dinner, for example, children had onions in gravy along with the lumpy mashed potatoes. For dessert, they had corn-flour.
During the course of dinner, children lined up once again for cod-liver oil, which was consistently mixed with red sour tangy tasting substance, Ms. H gave it out religiously. She always told inmates to hold their noses during the process. Sometimes children got malt and molasses which tasted nice. (Just for subliminal reference. Ms. H never wore a smile, like the woman in the image. The spoonful of cod-liver oil was bashed against the teeth and made a rattling noise).
From a hygienic perspective it was forever noticed by inmates that Ms. H used (without washing) the same dessertspoon for every child. It did not matter one iota if a child was suffering with halitosis, gumboils or upper respiratory infections or other disorders of that ilk… down the hatch of each child went the spoonful of medicine!
They were not afforded by Ms. H’s the Mary Poppins
…[j]ust a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…
No, indeed, sugar was a lavishness, and a sheer scrumptiousness that only staff and convent sisters were in receipt. (The only sugar they ever got was the handfuls that they routinely robbed from St Ita’s staff dining room which was situated nearby kitchen. Ms. Higgins (with the glasses as she was referred to by all) always worked at the medicine-press (after dinner), which was parallel to the dining room entrance door?
She was a tall cold quantifiable quiet figure, who infrequently smiled, but she was not physically cruel. She was the older of the two sisters’. (Children mostly never dared approach the medicine-press, as they were for eternity too afraid).
(To this day, it’s still conjectured by some survivors of Goldenbridge as to what her medical recommendations were indeed. The survivors have serious uncertainties that they were zilch).
Children forever hated lining up for medicine in the dining hall. As whenever they were in full view of all, Ms. D took the admirable opportunity of ridiculing the children. She always seemed to have had a grievance with certain children for some unknown reason. They simply could never please her nemesis. They too were invariably the ones on the lower rung of the Goldenbridge ladder. She was a real stickler for catching children on the hop in the dining-hall and rearing up on them with personal verbal attacks. If out of utter embarrassment or nervousness children smirked after she made some ridiculous obtuse commentary she would immediately say,
take that smirk off your face (so and so, enter derogatory name)
as she referred to them by a derogatory nick-name. she must have had in a plagiaristic sense derived immense fulfilment in having a captive audience and in being in inclusive command. She would not be indecisive in sending children to the landing for the slightest fixation during these times in the line-up waiting for cod-liver oil. This woman was loathed by the children to an unusual extent – she knew this and always dug her heels in on those on the lower rung at any accessible prospect. She was as well legendary for belittling children whom she professed did not fit into her wavelength of philosophy. Ms. Devaney, who hailed from Granard Co Longford, was of a very uncanny and designing hard-hearted languid disposition. She plainly spent a life span in Goldenbridge doing gar nichts positive for defenseless children.

It was always the same palaver with some nasty staff pertaining to children who refused to eat their lumpy potatoes or lumpy dessert. They were force-fed or were requested by certain callous staff to sit in their particular seats until food was completely eaten off the plates. That could take hours if a child happened to be new or very stubborn. These times were very traumatic for younger children whose hair could be reefed out of them by malicious staff and whose faces could be viciously stuffed into the plastic dinner-plates. The nuns would have been up in the convent having their own dinner and would not have witnessed this diabolical barbaric behaviour.

Children were always ravenous even after dinner, which was the only main meal of the day. Oliver Twist would rather have felt very much at home in our midst!

The only dinner ever enjoyed in Goldenbridge was Sunday dinner. It consisted of a large spoonful of mince meat, potatoes and peas. Most children never got seconds or satisfactory amounts to eat, and were thus always famished. Ms. M. D’s special pets, colloquially known as la la’s were the only ones who got distinctive treatment, such as superfluous food. The kitchen staff too were very parsimonious with food. There was no trepidation ever of any children in Goldenbridge suffering with obesity. The only corpulent persons encountered in the institution were all the nuns and Ms. D who was waited on hand and foot by children in every capacity.
On Thursday’s children got hideous gooey stickle sago (rubber-balls). It was detested.
On Friday’s there was rice, which was most children’s favourite. Other desserts too on the seasonal menu were custard with apple, pink corn-flour and caramel.
On singular occasions such as feast days, the nuns treated children to ice-cream and canned fruit cocktail and peaches.  Note specifically the religious connotation surrounding good food! These special foodstuff were stored in plenty in the store-room, but only the staff got them every week. (Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that all food mentioned here is from the wrong side of the sixties when perpetually the whole domestic dynamics in Goldenbridge were improving.) Children then managed to escape the bread and dripping era. Gott Sei Dank. There are some Goldenbridge contemporaries before the time mentioned here, who remember unqualified outrageous malnourishment. Nevertheless, children were forever starved, fainting, and suffering with hunger pangs and belly rumblings.
Every morning in the chapel children fainted through weakness, because of the lack of food in their growing bodies. It was shameful. They were given out to by the nuns and told that they were seeking attention. The nuns were most mortified that they should faint in front of the rest of the convent nuns. there was no sympathy shown to them or any help given from any kind of nurse, as there were no professional nurses employed in the institution and the nuns were only trained in education or kitchen work, if they were interns.
The fainting children were left to the mercy of older children who had over the years somehow become experts at solving the problems, like getting the fainting children to bend their heads below their knees. The food they were in receipt of did not compute nor was it appropriate to in disparity to the quantity of hard manual labour that on a daily basis  they were subjected to in the institution. Excepting of course on special Feast Days.
For dinner inmates also had Irish stew and on exceedingly atypical occurrence’s, spare-ribs. Children saved the thin bones up their sleeves and chewed on them incessantly in the safety of the prison yard afterwards, to get at the delectable viscera and thereafter for days on end continually sucked on the bones. They also did the equivalent with the rare pigs trotter bones, they were more glossy, smoothed and round and were apetizingly very yummy They exactly reminded children of aniseed balls in appearance. Or at least it was conjured up in the minds of the child consumers that they were in any case.
After dinner inmates recited more prayers:-
We give Thee thanks
For all Thy benefits
O Almighty God
Who livest and reignest forever;
World without end. Amen.
May the divine assistance remain always with you and may the souls of the faithful departed
through the mercy of God rest in peace. AMEN.
All the dramatics for what Indeed as children were still starved rising from the tables..
Children used to sing a song to the tune of A Nation Once Again. It went
Starvation once again
Starvation once again no bread no butter
Starvation once again.
In addition, children skipped and jumped to the next little ditty. Kennedy’s had supplied bread to Goldenbridge. The company advertised extensively on Radio Eireann.
The tune used was very lyrical:
K for Kennedy E, for energy N, for nice and N, for nourishing E, for enjoyment and D, for delicious and Y’s mean you are satisfied.
Nope, children in Goldenbridge were most definitely not satisfied. Bread was the staple diet, inmates never got enough of it, despite it being mostly  wet, soggy and mouldy.
Washing Up Time:
After dinner times were very traumatic for children who happened to have the misfortune to scrub the large dining-hall. They had to pile the formica tables on top of each other and stack the chairs up in piles. They then filled our aluminium buckets with boiling sudsy water from the boilers that was used for making the potatoes/ porridge/ dessert. These boilers were used for absolutely everything including hot sudsy water to wash the dining hall, scullery and kitchen. They never had to wash St. Ita’s only the privileged few were given that high status task.
Children started scrubbing the dining-hall floor and scullery floor after Witna ultimately put parazone. extra strong bleach into our individual buckets. Dreadful arguments ensued if children did not scrub fast enough or were not up to the standards of Witna. She factually kicked the buckets of boiling bleached sudsy water all over the floors and made children restart until all were meticulously cleaned to her fulfilment.
Even one miniscule spot on the floor would send her over the top. It was laughable really as it was hard to see stains on the multi-speckled floor.
Children witnessed a staff member walloping children with a deck brush and pulling the hair out of their heads. For years, she got away with this caper. Children were petrified of this junior staff member. She was such a sadistic person, for someone of such low Goldenbridge status she set herself up to be a real Hitlerite last word figure. She was for years accountable to not a soul. Other staff members stood indolently by and endorsed her to carry on with her contemptible cruel behaviour. She was an unqualified perfectionist, as Bernadette Fahy intimated this in relation to that particular staff member.
Cleanliness was the next best thing to Godliness.
In order to survive in Goldenbridge children had to devise mechanisms such as crawling to those of whom they were afraid. The sheer terror that ‘W’ put into children on a daily basis was so objectionable. This selfsame sadistic character worshipped the ground the sisters walked. nuns in her eyes were iconoclastic figures. Children also had to wash the vast amount of huge windows and polish them with newspapers. It was an arduous chore. It was very dangerous when we found ourselves half hanging on the outside of windows trying to clean it.

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: 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

Ein Mann der sich Kolumbus nannt…

Ein Mann, der sich Kolumbus nannt,
widewidewitt, bum, bum,
war in der Schiffahrt wohl bekannt,
widewidewitt, bum, bum.
Es drückten ihn die Sorgen schwer,
er suchte neues Land im Meer.
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, juchheirassa,
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, bum, bum.

Als er den Morgenkaffee trank,
widewidewitt, bum, bum,
da rief er fröhlich: “Gott sei Dank!”*
Widewidewitt, bum, bum.
Denn schnell kam mit der ersten Tram
Der span’sche König bei ihm an.
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, juchheirassa,
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, bum, bum.
*oder: “da sprang er fröhlich von der Bank.”

“Kolumbus”, sprach er “lieber Mann,
widewidewitt, bum, bum,
du hast schon manche Tat getan!
Widewidewitt, bum, bum.
Eins fehlt noch unserer Gloria:
Entdecke mir Amerika!”
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, juchheirassa,
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, bum, bum.

Gesagt, getan, ein Mann, ein Wort,
widewidewitt, bum, bum,
am selben Tag fuhr er noch fort.
Widewidewitt, bum, bum.
Und eines Morgens schrie er: “Land!
Wie deucht mir alles so bekannt!”
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, juchheirassa,
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, bum, bum.

Das Volk an Land stand stumm und zag,
widewidewitt, bum, bum,
da sagt Kolumbus: “Guten Tag!
Widewidewitt, bum, bum.
Ist hier vielleicht Amerika?”
Da schrien alle Wilden: “Ja!”
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, juchheirassa,
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, bum, bum.

Die Wilden waren sehr erschreckt
widewidewitt, bum, bum,
und schrien all: “Wir sind entdeckt!”
Widewidewitt, bum, bum.
Der Häuptling rief ihm “Lieber Mann,
alsdann bist du Kolumbus dann!”
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, juchheirassa,
Gloria, Viktoria, widewidewitt, bum, bum.

Text: unbekannt, erstmals 1936 erschienen Melodie: um 1800 “Ich bin der Doktor Eisenbart”

I remember as a teenager whilst at St. Joseph’s holiday home in Rathdrum two German students coming to stay with us. It was the first time ever in our entire childhood that we had recalled young people within the confines of the institution taking a genuine interest in us, aside from some of the postulants who had taught us for a short period at Goldenbridge whilst embarking on exams to become fully fledged teachers. One of the students was very tall and thin and wore glasses, and had very bronze skin. The other wore long plaits. We learned that the former had hailed from ( Köln) Cologne. They engaged with us so much, and we simply could not get enough of their attention. I know for sure that they left a lasting impression on us. As I had asked other survivors in recent years if they had remembered them, and they had indeed. Their faces lit up when I mentioned them at the Aislinn Centre. They were also over the moon when I started singing (and playing guitar) word for word one of the songs they had taught us in German. It was our first introduction to the German language. I was able to tell them the meaning of the song, having spent time in Switzerland.

Goldenbridge: Confirmation day


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.


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.


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.


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.

Goldenbridge: ‘Rosary bead making’ Ryan Report 7.233 – 7.250

Rosary bead making

7.233 A particular feature of Goldenbridge was rosary bead making. Sometime in the mid-1940s, Sr Alida was approached by a businessman with the proposition that she might get the children to make rosary beads in return for payment. She saw this as a wonderful opportunity to acquire much-needed funds. In addition, she thought that it would keep the children occupied. So began an enterprise that was to continue until the 1960s.

7.234 After school, at about 3.30pm, the children had something to eat and then went to the beads class. The location was Ms Dempsey’s classroom. The children were required to make decades of the rosary by putting the beads on lengths of wire. After each bead was positioned, the wire had to be looped and cut using pliers, and each bead then had to be attached to the next bead until all 10 beads were completed.

7.235 The children each had a quota of 60 decades per day and 90 on a Saturday. This meant that, in the two hours of the weekday afternoon allocated for this work, 30 decades an hour had to be made by each child. Not surprisingly, few children reached their quota in the afternoon, and they had to return to the beads class in the evening and remain there until their 60 decades were completed.

7.236 There is some controversy over the age at which children began to make beads, but it appears that, after they made their First Holy Communion, that is around seven years of age, children were expected to do this work. There were younger children in the room, who helped by picking up beads or by stringing the beads to leave them ready for the older girls to make the decade.

7.237 Skill and dexterity were required. It would have taken some time to develop expertise. It was also painful, and witnesses described cuts and calluses on their hands as they tried to learn the work. A child starting would be slow at first, and might never acquire the necessary skill to be able to do it quickly.

7.238 Sometimes, an older girl would help out a younger who was having difficulty in reaching the quota. Similarly, friends might help each other. In this way, the great majority of the children between seven and 16 years were occupied every day from Monday to Friday. For a variety of reasons, some children would not have to do beads, but the vast majority of children between the ages mentioned had to attend for this work. On Saturdays, the quota was 90 decades, and there were, of course, other chores (called charges) to be completed.

7.239 Sr Alida conceded that it was difficult work:

… it wasn’t soft work to be working with the pliers, it was not like needle work, you had to use energy to bend the wire.

7.240 When Sr Alida first attempted to make a decade of beads that the representative from the bead making company had given her, she admitted it took her an entire Saturday to make one decade. She also conceded that she ‘had so much hardship making them’. But thereafter, she said, it was like knitting.

7.241 Different types of beads were used, and this made the task of stringing decades more difficult, depending on the type of bead. Horn beads and plastic beads posed no problem, but glass beads tended to break, and the mother of pearl beads were very difficult to string through.

7.242 Bead making was supervised by one of the care staff or, more likely, by one of the care assistants, and it was often Ms Thornton. A child who had the necessary skill could complete her quota by teatime but not much before that. Others found difficulty in completing their assigned task. The work was inspected by the person in charge and sent back to be redone if it was not found satisfactory for one reason or another. Some beads were easier to work with than others, even for people who were good at the work. If the quota was not reached, the child was in trouble. It might happen that, even after going back to beads work after tea and staying there until perhaps 9pm or 9.30pm (some witnesses said even later), the quota would still not be achieved. In those circumstances, the evidence was that the child would be punished by being beaten. If the work was found unsatisfactory, the result was punishment at the hands of the person in charge of the beads room.

7.243 It happened occasionally, when a dispatch was due to go to the factory, that some of the children had to stay as late as 10pm to complete an order and ensure that it met the required standard.

7.244 In the Opening Statement delivered by Sr Helena O’Donoghue, the bead making work was characterised as a pleasant activity to while away the time, which was enjoyed by the children and often done to music from the radio. A picture was painted of a busy workroom, where happy children chatted as they carried out this routine work. It is apparent that this description is based on information from Sr Alida.

7.245 This description of bead making by Sr Helena was inaccurate. The work was hard. The hours were long. While some girls were well capable of doing the work once they had got used to it, for many others it was difficult to master the dexterity required. There was pressure to achieve the quota and to keep to the required standard of work. The work could fail in a variety of ways, including obvious ones like not having the right number of beads in a decade. Less obvious and more difficult to avoid were errors such as having inconsistent-sized loops of wire joining the beads. The atmosphere was not the pleasant group activity imagined by Sr Helena and remembered by Sr Alida. The essential requirement was of quietly, if not silently, getting on with the work; the children did converse but mostly in whispers, and the radio was turned on only occasionally while this work was being done.

7.246 The fact that punishment hung over the activity, for failure to achieve either quality or quantity, inevitably affected the atmosphere. The work was relentless, with demanding quotas. This was hard work over long hours during six days a week, for children obliged to do the work with no reference to their capacity to manage it.

7.247 Sr Venetia in her interview with Mr Crowley confirmed that:

the bead making and that failure to obey rules were normally punishable by physical beatings.

7.248 The money made from bead making was considerable. Sr Alida gave evidence of being able to produce £1,000 to contribute to the sum of £3,000 in the 1950s for the purchase of the holiday house at Rathdrum. The best estimates as to the earnings are that an income of approximately £50 per week was achieved by this activity.

7.249 Management saw this work as a practical and useful occupation that kept the girls out of trouble during many hours of the week, when they would otherwise have needed amusement or diversion or other occupation. Instead, it conditioned them to drudgery, with the added threat of being beaten for failure.

7.250 The authorities lost all sense of importance about bead making. It became a relentless production line. Sr Alida’s enthusiasm became obsession. Occupation became drudgery. The pursuit of extra money by way of profit from the bead making became exploitation. All this was carried out under the threat of being beaten for failure.

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

Conclusions on physical abuse


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: ‘The Crowley Report’ Ryan Report: 7.211 – 7.231

The Crowley Report

7.211 Among the discovered documents was a report commissioned by the Sisters of Mercy in 1996 on the conditions of life in Goldenbridge. It was commissioned to prepare the Congregation for the television programme ‘Dear Daughter’ and its aftermath.

7.212 The ‘Dear Daughter’ programme was shown on RTE in February 1996, and it produced a massive response from the media and the public. Complaints were made to the Gardaí and an investigation followed, but there were no prosecutions. The Congregation was aware that the programme was being planned and that serious allegations would be made about how children had been treated in Goldenbridge. In advance of the screening of the programme, the Congregation decided to find out what it could about conditions in the Institution. One of the first things that it did was to commission a professional childcare expert to give an initial assessment of the allegations, and that inquiry gave rise to the first apology that the Sisters of Mercy issued in February 1996, following the screening of the programme.

7.213 The preliminary inquiry was undertaken by a senior social worker with the Western Health Board. His brief was to develop an assessment of the allegations being made regarding the care received by children in Goldenbridge in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr Crowley gathered information from the following sources:

  • Transcript of the Gay Byrne interview with Ms Christine Buckley in 1993.
  • A meeting with Mr Louis Lentin, the producer of the programme that was going to shown on RTE.
  • A meeting with a former resident of Goldenbridge.
  • Meeting with Sr Alida.
  • Meeting with Sr Venetia.

• Report and feedback from Sr Bettina17 on her interviews with former residents.

7.214 Mr Crowley approached his task in two ways. Firstly, he sought to establish and clarify the broad nature and patterns of the allegations being made. Secondly, he examined the information and carried out interviews, with a view to forming an independent professional assessment of the general nature of the care provided in Goldenbridge in the context of the allegations.

7.215 He identified four areas of complaint which were interrelated. They were physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect of children’s basic needs. Mr Crowley compiled a summary of allegations that were made about the regime:

Physical Abuse

1. A constant pattern of physical abuse.

2. Severe beatings resulting in children being physically marked was the dominant form of discipline.

3. The beatings were carried out by a number of lay staff but most especially by Sr Alida. Beatings were so routine that they were witnessed by and colluded with by all members of staff.

4. Children were deprived of food.

5. Children were kept awake late into the evenings while awaiting physical punishments and were thus deprived of sleep.

6 . Children were deprived of heating and warmth.

7. Children were routinely involved in inappropriate physical tasks connected with maintaining the establishment.

8.  Some of the severe punishments were inflicted in circumstances in which there were sexual and humiliating elements including, for example, public and forceful removal of clothes before physical punishment.

9. Children were not clear as to why they were being beaten.

10. Children lived in constant fear of experiencing and witnessing physical abuse.

Emotional Abuse

11. Routine derogatory references to the children’s background and to their parent’s behaviour.

12. Verbal abuse which combined with other interactions had the effect of reinforcing negative self images and damaging self confidence and feelings of worth.

13. Denial of appropriate recreation.

14. Imposing onerous responsibilities on children who were too young to carry them out, such as taking responsibility for the care of other children.

15. Public humiliation of children suffering from bed-wetting and soiling and making them display wet and soiled sheets publicly to other children.

16. Children were constantly in fear.

17. Children’s emotional needs were neither understood nor responded to.

18. Favouritism.

19. Deprivation was made worse for children when they saw some others being treated as pets and getting better treatment.

Sexual Abuse

20. Children were exposed to sexually abusive experiences by befriending families and employers with whom they were placed.

21. No proper assessment or supervision or aftercare arrangements were made to prevent these abuses.

22. Some care practices reflected insensitivity to adolescent sexuality.

23. Two former residents alleged cases of specific sexual abuse, one by a male member of staff and one by two female members of staff.

Neglect of Children’s Basic Needs

24. The total organisation of the children’s daily routine was contrary to their developing needs.

25. There was a failure at all levels to understand or meet their needs.

26. The general climate and regime were excessively harsh and abusive even by the standards of the time.

27. Expectations about children, for example, in relation to the length of time they were expected to concentrate or to stay silent or to work were not normal.

28. Particular forms of punishment, such as being left alone for hours in the furnace room, were particularly frightening for children who had experienced traumatic separations.

29. Generally, there was an absence of consistent and positive adults to whom supportive attachment could develop.

7.216 He interviewed Sr Alida and Sr Venetia, and put these allegations to them and noted their responses. The statements made by these two nuns are of real importance in the Inquiry because they come from people who worked in Goldenbridge over a combined period from 1942 until 1972.

7.217 Mr Crowley formed the impression that Sr Alida was well prepared for the interview, and that she energetically attempted to direct the focus and pace of the discussion. Whilst she regularly stated that she could not remember events, this memory lapse was not consistent across the range of topics covered: it appeared to relate principally to material that was critical of her.

7.218  She presented as a ‘committed and energetic person, who appeared well defended psychologically’. Mr Crowley found her very controlling in her interaction, ‘but this may be related to her evident need to control her feelings’.

7.219 Mr Crowley reported as follows on his interview with Sr Alida:

Sr Alida described her initiation to Goldenbridge as being told not to talk or take the attitude of Sr Felisa,18 who had been working with the children in care and had been critical of the service.

Sr Alida recalls her early years in religious life as being dominated by fear. On reflection she cannot understand how she accepted so many demands and pressures without protest.

She was trained by Sr Bianca, whom she describes as a very large powerful woman with a harsh aggressive and unpredictable personality.

On reflection Sr Alida perceived the policies and practices of the 1950s and 1960s as being based on ignorance and failing to understand or care appropriately for the children.

The use of former residents as staff was influenced by limited finance and tended to be limited to those who could not survive in aftercare. These were probably the most unsuitable people to care for vulnerable children. Older residents also cared for younger children in a semi formal system. She described much of the care as being “gang care”.

Sr Alida identified Ms O’Shea19 as being one former resident who she understood was physically abusive.

Sr Alida, in effect, acknowledged that she continuously shouted and beat children “too much and too long” and used a stick routinely. She tended to go to bed very late and this led to children being kept on the landing.

Sr Alida acknowledges being confronted by a parent for threatening to place her daughter in the tumble dryer, she confirmed children’s involvement in activities such as grass cutting with their hands but minimised the impact on children.

Hunger and humiliation were acknowledged with regret, when discussed in general terms, however specific allegations tended to be met with long silences and eventual comments such as “It could have happened accidentally”.

Sr Alida did not in effect reject the substance of the allegations.

7.220 Sr Venetia worked in Goldenbridge for many years and became Resident Manager in the 1960s.

7.221 Mr Crowley conducted a lengthy interview with Sr Venetia. She was in some physical pain and discomfort because of her medical condition during the course of the interview, but she had no obvious difficulties with memory. Mr Crowley observed that the allegations were weighing heavily on Sr Venetia and she presented as resigned to the process of being interviewed. It was evident to Mr Crowley that she wished to be honest and forthright, but this was complicated somewhat by ambivalence and conflicting loyalties. Mr Crowley was satisfied that she made every effort to be honest, but it was clear to him that she had some difficulty in discussing issues such as sexual abuse and, in general, she did not volunteer new information. He said ‘Sr Venetia communicated generally as being a somewhat fearful and isolated person.’

7.222 Mr. Crowley reported:

Sr Venetia described the care system and organisational structure as having been established by Sr Bianca who died…. She initially described Sr Bianca as a hard and rigid woman but over the course of the interview it emerged that she viewed Sr Bianca as a paranoid schizophrenic who she considered was grossly insulting to adults and children and who in effect established a reign of terror.

Sr Venetia communicated that subsequent managers maintained many of the features of the system as established, without substantial reflection but gradually modified and improved the care arrangements.

Sr Venetia confirmed that the general atmosphere was excessively and consistently cruel even relative to standards of the time. She confirmed that fear of and actual physical beatings and verbal abuse was a matter of routine and that the general account of children, for example, waiting on the landings was accurate. Wetting was defined as a crime and, therefore, punishable through humiliation and physical beatings. Sr Venetia confirmed the allegations in relation to the tumble dryer and drinking from the toilet cistern. She also confirmed the bead making and that failure to obey rules was normally punishable by physical beatings.

Sr Venetia made particular reference to one member of the lay staff, who was employed by Sr Bianca and subsequently fired. It was very evident that Sr Venetia was very afraid of this staff member and that the children were terrified of this person. Sr Venetia was quite fearful and reluctant in any discussion of sexual abuse.

Essentially Sr Venetia confirmed that the essential elements of the allegations were correct and it was clear that she was of the view that almost anything could have occurred in a very unsafe environment.

7.223 Mr Crowley was guarded in his report. He cautioned that the sample of former pupils from whom he had obtained information was not randomly drawn, and he said that it could be expected that other women might have different experiences in relation to Goldenbridge. He warned that caution would have to be exercised about any particular allegation that arose from early childhood experience, especially in regard to the identity of the perpetrator, and that there was a particular danger of confusion occurring between Sr Bianca and Sr Alida. He made clear that the allegations of the former residents had been listened to without challenge or cross-examination, and that his interviews with the Sisters were structured to maximise participation and effective communication, and that he consciously did not structure inquiries in a manner that might have been experienced as interrogatory or pressurising. He noted that Sr Alida initially requested, but subsequently cancelled, a second interview. He also advised that substantial information would continue to emerge as more former residents were interviewed. But, having set out all these cautions, Mr Crowley was satisfied that it was possible to establish a broad picture of the care practices in Goldenbridge during the period.

7.224 Mr Crowley ended his report with comments expressed as a ‘Conclusion’, followed by observations headed ‘General Commentary’:


Clear and consistent patterns can be identified in the allegations. The various accounts are consistent with each individual recalling personal experiences which reinforce the overall picture. The accounts are accompanied with appropriate feeling and a richness of detail. The accounts of subsequent life stories and relationship issues are consistent with the childhood experiences as described.

Those former residents who have been interviewed have been experienced as credible.

Some of the care practices may be understood by reference to the harsh historical context. Some actions experienced as abusive may not have had such intent, but were experienced as such due to insensitivity, ignorance and a failure to communicate. Other actions, such as forbidding liquids to bed wetters, may have had unintended consequences, such as children drinking from toilets at night.

However, the broad nature and pattern of the allegations, which have in effect been confirmed by the sisters with management responsibility, namely physical and emotional abuse, are clearly accurate descriptions of the experiences of children in Goldenbridge.

The care arrangements did not meet children’s basic needs. Children experienced physical and emotional abuse and were almost certainly exposed to sexual abuse.

A number of the particular incidents described were violent and sadistic. The entire regime was unsafe and was characterised by a pervasive controlling of children through fear.

General Commentary

The children cared for in Goldenbridge had, prior to their reception into care, experienced gross neglect, deprivation and multiple trauma. They were often rejected by their immediate and extended family and by the broader society. They were admitted in large numbers to a service which could not even begin to provide an appropriate level of care.

The physical environment was totally unstable and did not facilitate either supervision or privacy. The financial resources were grossly inadequate and determined the availability of personnel and material necessities.

The Care System and culture was created by a dominant and dysfunctional personality. The religious sisters who subsequently held management responsibility lived in a tightly controlled and authoritarian world. Questioning was defined as arrogance and led to blaming of the individual. The most extreme example of this was Sr Alida’s account of how her request to be released from teaching to concentrate on care was responded to by a decision to immediately transfer her to Co. Wicklow.

No distinction appears to have been made between being a ‘good’ religious and being a ‘good’ childcare worker. The characteristics that were valued appear to have been obedience and dedication.

No professional training was available to provide understanding or direction to service organisation or therapeutic interventions. Consequently the only available models were adopted with the corporal punishment in school becoming the beatings in the care centre and the daily routine and practices of religious life determining the day to day life of young children.

Religious sisters and lay staff operated under constant pressure and clearly worked hard at an impossible task.

The unsafe world of Goldenbridge developed a very particular culture which could not meet the needs of children. Very powerless people had enormous and immediate power over troubled and troublesome children. The abuse of the power and powerlessness was almost inevitable.

Almost any kind of abusive incidents could have occurred.

7.225 Mr Crowley’s views and conclusions are not part of the investigation process undertaken by the Committee. The apology issued by the Sisters of Mercy following the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme was issued because Mr Crowley had advised in the way that he did. His report and his conclusions are, therefore, a part of the background to the investigation and to the positions taken by the Sisters of Mercy at different stages. However, the statements made by Sr Venetia and Sr Alida to Mr Crowley are different from the rest of the report because they have direct relevance to the investigation. They are records of the recollections and responses of persons who participated in the running of the Institution over a period of 30 years, and one of whom is now deceased.

7.226 Mr Crowley completed his report in February 1996 and he stated that it was evident that a comprehensive inquiry by a multi-disciplinary team would be necessary which would be dependent on cooperation from both former residents and staff. The Sisters of Mercy explain in their Opening Statement that such an inquiry was impossible, as at that stage legal proceedings had been instituted by a number of former residents.

7.227 The Congregation have asked the Investigation Committee to note the limitations of the Crowley report, which they identify as being four-fold:

(1)The report was based on interviews with a small number of complainants; with Srs Alida and Venetia; and with Louis Lentin (producer of ‘Dear Daughter’).

(2)There was little, if any, questioning of the complainants on the details of complaints.

(3)There are no notes, transcripts or tapes of the interviews and there is therefore some difficulty in assessing precisely what was said. ‘For example, Sr Alida explained to the Committee that she had always had problems with the account in the report of what she had said’ (emphasis added). [This is factually incorrect. Sr Alida did not allege that she was misquoted by Mr Crowley but did make a comment about the report as a whole:

I have to say that……from the very beginning I was quite unhappy with Mr Crowley’s report.]

Sr Venetia never had an opportunity to give evidence to the Investigation Committee either in general or specifically in relation to the Crowley Report.

(4)The information-gathering exercise was conducted very quickly and the conclusions were intended to be preliminary in nature. The exercise was intended to be a first step in a process, rather than a final conclusion.

7.228 The Sisters of Mercy note that the issues which were the subject matter of the Crowley Report are precisely those which fall within the Commission’s remit and given the substantial bank of both oral and documentary material which the Investigation Committee has at its disposal they submit that it would be inappropriate for the Investigation Committee to place excessive reliance on the earlier preliminary report.

7.229 Sr Alida has never challenged the accuracy of the statements attributed to her in the report. Had she done so, it would have been necessary for him to give evidence to the Committee. However, because the accuracy of Mr Crowley’s recording of statements was not an issue, such evidence did not become necessary.

7.230 The nature and circumstances of the Crowley report must be taken into account. The description of Sr Bianca given by both Sr Venetia and Sr Alida is consistent with accounts given by former residents and with the atmosphere described as pervading the institution during her time as resident manager. The comments quoted by Mr Crowley are also relevant to subsequent conditions about which the sisters spoke to him and tend to corroborate much of the oral testimony.

7.231 Mr Crowley placed much of the blame for the conditions that pertained in Goldenbridge on ignorance, insensitivity and a failure to communicate. In this regard, it is interesting to look at the lecture entitled ‘Institutional Management’ which was delivered by Sr Bianca in February 1953. This lecture indicates awareness of the special requirements of institutionalised children. The preparation for this lecture was done in consultation with Dr Anna McCabe, who in her Visitation Report of 1953 referred to regular meetings with Sr Bianca to discuss this lecture.

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.

Day outings to Brittas Bay sea-side

Map Of Co. WicklowGoldenbridge children with no families to take them out on summer holidays, who subsequently went to St. Joseph’s Holiday Home, Rathdrum, went on regular day outings to Brittas Bay sea-side.

I mostly enjoyed those times spent there in the sixties.

Brittas Bay is one of the finest beaches on the East Coast. It has a 5km stretch of beautiful white sand dunes and clean beaches. This beach has won a European Union (EU) Blue Flag – the international emblem for the highest quality beach areas in Europe – for five consecutive years. With no headlands to interfere with the peaceful rhythm, it is ideal for bathing, sailing and walking. Brittas has a 2mile/3.2km stretch of powdery sand and sand dune system which is a designated area of significant interest. The dunes are home to many interesting wildlife species and plants, including a number of rare species.


Even though it was mostly hard work for older children, who, through no choice of their own, were forced to take on enormous responsibilities for 50 and more smaller children, they still found some time to enjoy themselves in the wide open spaces of their panoramic surroundings.

However, children invariably got sand-laced jam sandwiches to eat. The thin white sliced bread was indigestible. I abhor white sliced-processed bread to this day. I’ve also got an aversion to eating outdoors, and I think it stems from the times when I had to eat inedible food outdoors during summer months at Goldenbridge, Rathdrum and Brittas Bay. It also has huge psychological connotations with respect of being thrown scraps of bread and the like, by staff  in the enclosed prison yard at Goldenbridge. Hunger and uncomfortableness concerning eating outdoors are subconsciously embedded in me from those days.

Children also got very raw red painful indentation marks on their thighs from wearing very tight elasticated stretch swimming togs all day. Not to mention red burnt scaling skin on most of the children’s bodies. They were doused with calamine lotion when they went back to St. Joseph’s and St. Kyran’s respectively. The young boys from the latter institution would have been with the girls. Nonetheless, the worst case scenario to witness was the tearful children who had massive water blisters all over their bodies from having been in the sun for the whole day. It was unbearable having to see them suffer so much. It was at times like these that wee children between the ages of four and six really should have been in the tender loving care of their parents, and not with other motherless and fatherless older children, who also needed kind figureheads to care for them.

The nuns always took themselves off to a private part of the beach to swim. Two boys from another industrial “school” drowned when they went on to Donegal on a seaside outing.  They were in the care of the Christian Brothers.  By all accounts, there was no big deal about their deaths in the aftermath in the media. Their three sisters were in Goldenbridge. The sisters were treated abominably by staff when they cried about the loss of their brothers. Children were nonentities.  They were given two bulls-eyes and told to shut up basically. It’s amazing that children at Brittas Bay never had any accidents of that sort, as very small children were not too far away from the waters edge.


Children never saw nuns’ naked flesh at any time throughout their whole childhood. So it was utterly mysterious contemplating the fact that the black robed – from head to toe – nuns had quietly disappeared off to a quiet spot and donned bathing togs and hats. There was almost something sensual about that happening. There was a boy from St. Kyran’s, who later went to Artane Industrial “School” at ten years old. He could not distinguish between the genders of the  nuns and the Christian brothers. They appeared all the same to him, as both genders were attired in long black robes down to their ankles. He also had sisters at Goldenbridge and would have encountered them at the beach. Children who never saw nuns in any state of undress also never saw nuns consume food. Well, I only ever mistakenly ever saw a nun eat food when she had afternoon tea in a quite tiny pantry. I had opened the door in error and got the shock of my life as I saw the nun munching away at a nice piece of cake. I apologised profusely, whilst speedily shut the door. Some children sneaked into that tiny area to rob bulls eyes  that were in the shiny silver cans on the top shelves. That’s another story.

Children were always curious about the nuns’ heads. There were whispers every now and again, as to whether they were shaven, just like some children were in Goldenbridge. Nevertheless, all was revealed one day to a classroom of girls in St. Philomena’s , Goldenbridge, when one of the latter pulled the veil off a nun, as the girl tried to defend herself when the nun tried to strip her off her soiled clothing. The nun got more than she bargained for, and there was a sense of relief at the outpouring of longstanding pent up emotions in the girl, who had severe menstruations, and really should have been under the care of doctors, instead of being ridiculed and mortified by the nun.


I have good memories of Brittas Bay, and it really makes a change for me to write about something that was mostly gratifying during my childhood, as all I’ve ever written about are Goldenbridge experiences filled with doom and gloom.

In the early nineties I took a vagary and brought a group of survivors in my spanking new Ford Focus car to the spot depicted in the photo. We had a whale of a time en-route from Dublin’s Aislinn Centre, which was our pick-up point. We opened all the car windows and sang so loudly as we merrily meandered the winding N11 Wexford roads throughout the Garden of Ireland. We were breathless, as we had to take in gulps of strong wind air, but we didn’t mind, as we were in intoxicated on the atmosphere of such freedom. When we arrived in Brittas Bay we headed for the Sand Dunes and eventually the beach.


We decided to get rid of all our demons by screaming at the tip tops of our voices and casting off all our tension to the sea. There weren’t any people about, so we were as free as the birds overhead to yell and to make primal unpalatable noises and not have to worry about being criticised by anyone for being atypical in our behaviour. We let the roaring animal within us take over.  We let the cries of our past institutional pent up lives come before us and decided dignity time was over for a while. We let all our hair hang loose. We splashed in the sea and jumped up and down like joyous children. It was something else.


The scene reminded me of the time when all the women in Dancing at Lugnasa – by Brian Friel decided to dance and there was a form of madness in the the way that it overtook their psyches. All the pent up emotions of being stifled because they were women living in a rural Irish community dominated by religious teaching just got to them and they went berserk. Well, it was the same with us survivors of industrial “schools” on the beach at Brittas Bay. All were cleansed by the outpouring of pain that was embedded in the gut of our beings. I was glad that there was another survivor of Goldenbridge who could relate to the happy time spent at Brittas Bay. There was also a younger woman, Barbara Naughton with us. She was not a survivor of an industrial “school”, but instead a survivor of incest. She could identify with our pain, as she too had similar symptoms. Whenever I met those survivors afterwards the first thing they always talked about was the day I took them off to Brittas Bay. Sadly one of the survivors has died since with cancer. Her name was Emma Sharma-Hayes. Barbara went on to write two books about her childhood experiences, and even learned to drive herself. Another survivor who was bi-racial discovered that she had Irish siblings that she never knew existed, thanks to Origins a family tracing service for survivors of industrial “schools” that comes under the umbrella of Barnardo’s.