St. Joseph’s Holiday Home Rathdrum Co. Wicklow

Parnell statue, Rathdrum. Co. Wicklow.Here we are again, happy as can be

All good friends and jolly good company

Never mind the weather, never mind the rain

Now we’re all together, whoops she goes again

La Dee dah Dee dah, la Dee dah Dee Dee

*This is an interpretation of a song recalled from memory that was sung by children when they were en-route from Goldenbridge to Rathdrum Holiday Home. “Whoops she goes again” referred to the bumps the ‘Special’ bus made along the way, when it came upon upward and downward hills, which there were many, as it approached the outskirts of Co. Wicklow. There was always uproarious laughter from the children, and even from the nuns, whom it was rare to see with smiling, joyful faces.

As a child at Goldenbridge industrial “school” during the sixties summertime season, I absolutely adored heading off on the ‘Special’ bus to Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. Bernadette Fahy in her book “Freedom of Angels” referred to St. Joseph’s Holiday Home, that was for Goldenbridge children who had no families to take them out on summer holidays, as a haven. She felt that all the stress built up from being enclosed in Goldenbridge just lifted when she went there. Doubtless, she felt her sanity had been restored. The same was applicable with me. The immense freedom was also absolutely blissful to all the other exhausted children, who were cooped up for the rest of the year in a very cold, damp, outdated, not fit for purpose ex women’s prison refuge that was situated on the outskirts of Dublin city.

In Freedom of Angels a book about Goldenbridge, there is a chapter on page 100 (4th paragraph) about St. Joseph’s Holiday Home. Bernadette says:

In Rathdrum life was much easier. Our holidays there gave great respite from the relentless cruelty of Goldenbridge. Several factors may have contributed to this. The weather was consistently better. there was a lot more outdoor space and fewer children. On arrival the nuns and staff became much more relaxed and humane. We children responded well to these changes in the adults around us and there was far less pressure and stress on us because we were not being bullies and battered so much.

In the photo you can see Charles Stewart Parnell, a famous Irish historical figure from nearby Avondale. He stands proudly with folded arms on a plinth that is exactly on the spot where the old Georgian mansion house stood that once housed the sleeping quarters of the ‘good’ children. The ‘not so good’ children and the wet-the-beds, as they were callously colloquially called by the staff had to make do with the very damp and musty St. Ann’s and the corrugated rooftop cottage respectively that lay yonder from the large palatial house that had cobbled stones all around the grand front entrance.

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It was a beautiful old rambling two storied rectory house  with a large door, hall way and a parlour for the nuns. There were gigantic  shuttered windows everywhere. As you can see too from the photo, there was plenty of open space belonging to the home that children could frolic about freely.

I even remember enjoying going to mass in the oratory that dominated a large part of the left hand side of the ground floor of the palatial building. One could view to one’s heart’s content the abundance of old trees and greenery from the aforementioned windows. A bright red swanky carpet donned the entrance floor to the temporary makeshift altar in the centre, that only the serving priest was allowed to use. Children were never forced to attend mass in the tiny oratory. They went of their own volition, which was not something that occurred in Goldenbridge, where they were beaten if they had any qualms about going to the convent chapel, or they resorted to hiding in a cupboard full of old mattresses. What a difference it made to young people to be given a choice for once in their young lives.

I even remember with positivity the bright airy dining room adjoining the oratory. I can still see the royal blue rimmed tea-cups, saucers and plates. The food was even more palatable than Goldenbridge. I remember working one year in the annexed scullery / pantry attached to the dining room with a minor staff. I had ruined a brand new dress with purple stripes in it, after using bleach to wash away some stains in the large sink adjoining the secret eating area belonging to the nuns. I was forced by Ms. D., who was in charge of children’s clothing to wear the dress. It was such a humiliation. Sr. Fabian came to the rescue by telling me to get rid of the dress that I looked altogether ridiculous. The minor staff treated me nicely, as I was available to do any work that was required of me. It was far more interesting than having to work in the laundry room in St. Ann’s. I’d had enough of washing dirty laundry in Goldenbridge. Besides, I was in a good position to see everything that was going on from the main building. I was such a curious youngster.

It was a time in my young life when I knew that it was good to be alive. I knew that I could happily survive without having a kind soul to turn to, as nature all around me became my very guardian. I got lost in the wondrousness of it all.

Children spent hours sitting in the grass making daisy chains, and were delighted to give them to student visitors who came to stay for holidays in Rathdrum.

I particularly remember rolling with extreme delight down the green hills surrounding the big house. I loved to see the curious, quizzical gazes on the faces of the heifers and cows in the adjoining field, as I landed abruptly in a dizzy flurried excitable ball at the fenced off gate, after using my toe-loed sandaled stocking-free feet to safely halt. I was an expert at tumbling over speedily, as I had got all the practice needed at Goldenbridge, when another girl and myself had forever placed pillows on the floor in the new Mount Carmel’  known as ‘Carmel’ (the same name as my mother) dormitory extension, and did acrobatic jumps from the floor on to the double bed. I had even once put my foot through the beauty-board at the back of the head-post, which became a secret hiding place for stored personal goods for the girl who owned the bed. Alas, the hole in the wall was discovered a long time afterwards, and it resulted in me being shifted to the Sacred Heart wet-the-bed dormitory by Sr. Fabian. It was too good to be true to have found myself in the ‘yellow’ dormitory of the new building that was specifically for the ‘good’ girls.

I also liked to scour the grass for tangy reddish /green sorrel sumptuous leaves. The animals also liked to chew them. Children called them ‘sour’ leaves, as they didn’t know the names of anything that had to do with nature, as they had received very minuscule education. Botany was unheard of, only privileged children who went to outside secondary school were privy to knowing stuff of nature. I had never known what an animal was, other than Neddy the donkey who had inhabited the paddock fields adjacent to Goldenbridge Convent, or the monkey that was brought to Goldenbridge enclosed prison yard to teach young children about the “nature” of things. I recall as a very young child out on licence with the Boyne host family of Boyne St. one of the daughter’s having been absolutely terrified of dogs and spiders and anything to do with non human nature. I seemed not to have been affected by this fear that she had of animals. Thankfully so.

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St. Ann’s

St. Ann’s was situated more nearer the main entrance to St. Joseph’s Holiday Home. It faced on to the back of St. Saviour’s Protestant church, seen in image. Children were very frightened of the Protestant church, as they were told it was haunted. The graves could be seen from the back windows of St. Ann’s, a two storied building. During the sixties it was forbidden by the church for Roman Catholics to enter a Protestant church, so it was ideal that there was fear surrounding the church. I think some children never heeded the warning and were curious about the church and crept into it, when nobody was around.  The ‘not so good’ children and a few minor staff would have occupied the top half of the building which acted as a mini dormitory.  The staff had ordinary iron beds, whilst children had to sleep in army camp beds that consisted of two thick bars that were criss-crossed and hessian material placed between them. The make-shift hessian mattresses tore very easily with the weight of older children, so it was just unfortunate that some ‘not so good’ children had to sleep in those torn uncomfortable  beds. One half of the downstairs  building housed the laundry room, whilst the other part housed a play area for when weather was bad. It was such a miserable damp area, at the best of times, and children hoped for sunny days, so as not to have to contend with the miserableness of St. Anne’s. Despite everything, it was heaven on earth for children to be able to play and romp about in the vast open spaces. So many Goldenbridge survivors who went to the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse had similar stories to mine to tell.

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The bottom part of the image shows a part of the main entrance to what was once St. Joseph’s Holiday Home. So you see that we were lorded over by the Protestants. How ironic that the church was called St. Saviour and the nun who who was in Goldenbridge was called Sister Xaveria.

Sr. F. kicked me out of the main Georgian building where the ‘specials’ and ‘good’ girls slept. It was so grand there, even the beds were so large and snug. I had been in my element. It was to be short-lived. They had the best blankets, not torn ones seen in the other two dormitories which housed those on the lower rung of the Goldenbridge ladder. It was a status symbol to have been selected to sleep there. A minor member of staff was the culprit. She had wanted to get rid of me for her own personal warped reasons. She stole jelly from the mini-pantry and placed it in my bed. Sr. F. was informed of the misdeed, and as a consequence searched all the beds in the ‘posh’ dormitory. The stolen jelly was found in the centre of my French made bed. My good name was sullied, and I was cast out of the ‘posh’ dormitory and sent to sleep in the wet-the-bed cottage in a broken down iron camp bed with holes in the mattress. It’s rather ironic that that wasn’t the first time that Sr. F. put me out of a ‘good’ dormitory.

The Cottage

The wet-the-bed cottage was the worst place of all to sleep. It was  the smallest of the three houses. It overlooked an unkempt ditch. Children who were not favourable, or who had problems wetting their beds, or who were punished for misdemeanours would have slept in the cottage. It was simply miserable having to withstand sleeping there, as it stank to high heavens. Nevertheless, still normal in comparison to the Sacred Heart wet-the-bed dormitory in Goldenbridge.  Sarah, a person I know, whose mother has just moved from Rathdrum, took some photos of both St. Anne’s and the cottage. St Anne’s and the Cottage are presently in derelict condition. Nonetheless, it was still very therapeutic seeing concrete evidence of a time spent in them during my young life at Rathdrum.

Goldenbridge.

St. Vincent’s, Goldenbridge was knocked to the ground and a development of private housing went up in its place. This happened at the time of the outset of the controversy. It makes me wonder sometimes if it was a deliberate move to wipe out all memories of the child prison. I was disgusted that Inchicore Historical society had an awful lot to say about the Sisters of Mercy and their arrival at Goldenbridge, but there was just a bare mention of the Industrial “School”.

The nuns and staff were more relaxed in Rathdrum than ever they were in Goldenbridge. I often wonder had the difference in their nature anything to do with the openness of the holiday home. They would have been naturally under more scrutiny from the public. It had been noted by all accounts in the media at the height of the Goldenbridge controversy in the early nineties that when the head honcho from Goldenbridge had moved in the mid sixties to St. Kyran’s boys industrial “school”,  that lay at the other end of Rathdrum town – that she became a different person. Her dealings with children was noticeably much milder in comparison to the excessive cruel way she treated children in her care behind the enclosed prison- like walls of Goldenbridge.
I don’t have any good memories of my whole childhood in Goldenbridge, but I do have of plenty of them regarding Rathdrum. I may have never gelled with humans or vise versa, but I certainly did with nature, that was everywhere to be seen in the beautiful Garden of Ireland landscape. It stayed with me throughout my whole life. Whenever I thought of freedom and beauty it pertained to Rathdrum.
It stunned me in later adult years to discover that my mother and all belonging to her came from the next county to Wicklow. Wexford. It’s almost, as if the child in me had already subconsciously known my ancestral geographical roots. Oh, how I wish that I’d always been rooted in that kind of
landscape. It suited my psyche. I really believe that I was never a part of the Dublin I found myself.
Mass time:
599415_70b156c7Every sunday children from St. Joseph’s holiday home went to mass in the church of Saints’ Mary & Michael. It was at the other end of the town. I remember going up a lot of granite steps  that you see in the image here. The  exquisite panoramic scenery in the hinterland could be viewed from the church. We saw the boys from St. Kyrans industrial “school” in the church, as they stood out like a sore thumb, just as we did. However, the normality of being among ordinary people in society struck a chord with me, and brought me back to the days when I used to attend St. Andrew’s Church in Westland Row. I even had the honour of being a page girl at the wedding of Esther Boyne. A time I thoroughly enjoyed, despite not being wanted by the page boy, Robbie Irwin. He had a sister and  had wanted to walk up the aisle with her. Not me, a stranger, and an “orphan” to boot. He was rather a spoiled boy, and was used to getting his own way, and couldn’t understand why he had to be with me. I was just a nonentity as far as he was concerned.

I  did not belong to anybody, and was just somebody who happened to have stayed with his extended family. It’s rather ironic, as he went on to lose his own family at a very young age, and if the truth had been known at the time, I still had two parents alive that were unknown to me.

I glanced all around me in the church, a simple act that would have caused mayhem in the Goldenbridge Convent chapel where children were severely punished if they even attempted to look backwards at the nuns in the pews. Oh, how I soaked up the freedom of being in the outside world, even if it was to the extent of being escorted by lay staff.
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St. Joseph’s Holiday Home children had to sit in the middle of the left hand side entrance of the church. From this vantage point they could see all the country people coming and going, and their eyes were glued on them for ages. Children felt far safer than they did in Goldenbridge, as they did not have to withstand the disapproving looks on the faces of the nuns at Goldenbridge chapel. Goldenbridge children needed some form of normality in their lives, and mixing with the country people gave it to them in buckets. I don’t have any horrid memories associated with Rathdrum. So there is something to be thankful to the nun who bought the building with the proceeds of the rosary-bead making at Goldenbridge. It’s such a pity that my incarceration years were not filled with full time memories of the ilk of St. Joseph’s Holiday Home.
g-4-1This photo of children from Goldenbridge circa 1970 will definitely bring back huge memories to past inmates.
Children were excited out of their minds, as they mounted the “Special” bus outside the gates of Goldenbridge each year. The locals from nearby Keogh Sq. were often to be seen throwing stones in fun at the windows, as they cheered along the hyperactive children. Can you just imagine, the same children were never allowed to express themselves in glee, within the walls of the dour miserable institution. So, is it any wonder that they went berserk on the bus, all the way down to Rathdrum. There was a song that we used to sing which is very apt. It went along these lines:
Cheer up Goldenbridge – it’s known everywhere
We let down Rathdrum and left it lying there
We all called for Mercy and Mercy wasn’t there
So cheer up Goldenbridge  – it’s known everywhere
CICA Investigation:

It seems that the children from Goldenbridge spent three months of the summer out of the industrial school. Those with familes or relatives were fostered out. The rest spent the three months at the beach side holiday home in Rathdrum.

Have these families who fostered the children ever been interviewed and asked whether the children in their care ever complained about abuse at Goldenbridge?

Q. And accountants can look at that. In relation to Rathdrum, it has been suggested that it was firstly entirely purchased out of bead money, and secondly it was a bad deal because the children only got two weeks out of the institution. Firstly, Rathdrum was up in Co. Wicklow?

A. Rathdrum was in Co. Wicklow, yes.

THE CHAIRPERSON: And still is as far as I know, Mr. Gageby.

Q. MR. GAGEBY: And it was, I think, a rather derelict rectory?

A. It was, that’s correct.

Q. How long did the children get to spend there?

A. The children actually stayed three months there, in fact, Goldenbridge you could say transferred out of its position in Inchicore right out to Rathdrum for the summer months. The children who didn’t have families to go back to, they went for two weeks and then went to wherever their families were, it often wasn’t their own family, it might have been families  of friends or semi-foster families. But they transferred the whole operation, if you like, right out for three months.”

Commission to inquire into child abuse:

  1. 7.48  At some time in the early 1950s or even the late 1940s, Sr Alida was approached by a businessman who suggested that the Institution could become involved in making rosary beads. Thus, the bead-making industry in Goldenbridge was introduced into the daily routine of the pupils, and it continued until the mid-1960s.
  2. 7.49  In the early 1950s, Sr Bianca made the decision to acquire a holiday home for Goldenbridge in Rathdrum, County Wicklow. In 1954, a large house was bought for £3,000. According to Sr Alida, the money earned from the bead-making contributed £1,000 of this purchase price. According to the Opening Statement:… it enabled everyone to have a summer holiday away from the institution. All children would spend some time in the summer at the holiday house and those who could not go home for a holiday spent the entire summer holidays there.

264 CICA Investigation Committee Report Vol. II

1st photo – by 

* Earliest known recording of the song was by Gracie Fields. It was sung by soldiers in WWI.

*The song is called “Jolly Good Company” and was composed in 1931 by Raymond Wallace. It’s been recorded by many artists including Randolph Sutton, Ella Shields, Paul Whitman and Jack Hyton & his Orchestra with vocalist Pat O’Malley.

Jolly good company

Rathdrum holiday home

Goldenbridge and lack of nature