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: ‘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.

Goldenbridge and lack of nature and colour


I was mostly deprived of gardens, and of nature’s aesthetic beauty when I was a child at Goldenbridge Industrial “School”. I used to envy the nuns’ having a private garden that children locked up, could only see in the distance from the very tall institutional  dormitory windows.

There was a rockery near the Wicket (Wicked) gate leading to a small avenue where perennials blossomed, and I do recollect helping Sr. Fabian with the watering of them on several occasions as a teenager.


Helping the nuns would have been considered an honour for somebody such as myself who was on the lowest rung of the Goldenbridge ladder.

I never saw roses growing anywhere during my childhood incarceration at Goldenbridge. Children who did not have any relations to go to during summer months went to St. Joseph’s Holiday home, Rathdrum Co. Wicklow. They just adored the immense openness and freedom there. There were trees, greenery and cows grazing in the sloping hills that they tumbled and played in every day.

To this day, I adore Co. Wicklow. It is synonymous with nature and beauty and freedom; the things that children yearned, to preserve their sanity growing up in a child prison, that was once a refuge for women.

Photo taken by me on 25/7/13 Donnybrook, Dublin


Sr. Fabian was fond of flowers. She hailed from Co. Donegal farming stock, I believe. It would have been mentally stimulating and healthy for the stressed out children at Goldenbridge, if the convent nuns had allowed them access to their privileged private garden. Children never-endingly saw the nuns saying prayers and rosaries from the bleak institutional dormitory windows vantage point. It was not fair that the nuns were the only ones stretching their legs in a free large open space, whilst caged child inmates were making rosary beads in a confined closed off from the world child prison setting.

The nuns grew their own vegetables, and there was an orchard in the convent garden. They must have had hens, as they had two eggs every morning to eat whilst child inmates never saw an egg throughout their whole sentences.

There were two avenues facing the convent that had to each side very pretty paddock fields. I remember Neddy, the donkey grazing the grass in those fields. The two paddock fields had an abundance of fresh grass, and were very neatly laid out. It’s such a shame that the children hidden away at the back of the large complex were not allowed to play in the fields, instead, they were cooped up each day in St. Bridget’s classroom, that was made into a mini- makeshift rosary bead factory, or else, during break-times they were placed in a maze-like enclosed small prison yard within the institution.


The only time I remember having access to any part of grounds directly outside Goldenbridge Industrial “School” was during morning and evening times when child inmates had to go to the convent chapel for mass and benediction. Other times also were at annual weekend retreats when children, who had to basically fast over the course of those weekends were allowed (on almost empty stomachs) to walk the main and side avenues for the purpose of saying fifteen decades of the rosaries.


I honestly believe that children would have thrived much better had they seen the beauty of nature around them, instead of only hearing about the beauty of same from the perspective of religion, when they went each morning and evening to mass and devotions in the convent chapel to thank God for the wonderful blessings of nature.

Photo taken by me at the Dodder footbridge cottages, Donnybrook on 26/7/13 after a thunder and lightning storm.


The flowers of nature should have devoured the eyes of children during their incarceration period in Goldenbridge. Instead, they had to imagine what flowers were like when they sang hymns of the ilk:


Bring flowers of the rarest, bring blossoms the fairest,…

O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today!
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.

Bring flowers of the rarest
bring blossoms the fairest,
from garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
our full hearts are swelling,
our glad voices telling
the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!

Their lady they name thee,
Their mistress proclaim thee,
Ah, grant that thy children on earth be as true
as long as the bowers
are radiant with flowers,
as long as the azure shall keep its bright hue.

… ……………………………tumblr_ls7b7t62Fz1r10jj7……………………………. …

Photo taken by me in Donnybrook on 27/7/13,

Goldenbridge “La La’s” = Pets

Goldenbridge inmates. Circa 1950

Goldenbridge inmates. Circa 1950

Goldenbridge had its fair share of – colloquially known in the institution – la la’s = pets.  Indeed – they were the bane of the lives of child inmates. Survivors, in the main, who went before the commission to inquire into child abuse in 2009 in Dublin, were very vocal in their condemnation of favouritism that was shown to certain inmates throughout their whole childhood, as they’ve never recovered from the psychological effects it had on their own personal makeup throughout their adult lives. The following are some examples expressed to the CICA:


7.193 Witnesses complained that children were not all treated alike in Goldenbridge. They were protected to some extent if they had a relative who visited them regularly. Favouritism was a complaint made particularly by witnesses who were in Goldenbridge during the 1960s.

7.194 A complainant, who was aged nine in the early 1960s, described the difference in the way that children were treated. This witness and her siblings were placed in care on the death of their mother, and she noticed particularly how two members of another family were treated so differently that it came as a shock to her to realise they were sisters. Whereas one girl was favoured as a pet, the other was treated with extreme cruelty and was often seen waiting on the landing for punishment.

7.195 Another complainant, objecting to favouritism, remarked that the very fact that the nuns and lay staff were capable of forming attachments with certain children demonstrated that they knew how to treat children properly and show them love and affection:

It was wrong there was no need for it, why couldn’t they treat us all like pets, why not? That’s a choice they exercised.

7.196 A witness, who was five years old when he was committed to Goldenbridge, gave evidence. He was transferred to Artane when he was nine years old. He stated that, before he was committed to institutional care:

I was a happy, young little kid and I believe I was turned into a nervous wreck in these places.

7.197 He was emotionally upset by the death of his mother and was a regular bed-wetter. He was left-handed and was constantly beaten for it in class. This vulnerability made him an obvious target for bullies. He summed up his situation as follows:

I remember just constantly getting beaten. Even in the classroom being nervous, and left handed, you weren’t allowed to do things left handed, the devil was in you, you were told … From constant beatings I had a stutter and I had a turn in my eye as well, and I used to get an awful time off the rest of the kids.

7.198 The Sisters of Mercy in their Submission accepted that this complainant’s circumstances made him more vulnerable.



I know for certain that discrimination has left its mark on me. Whenever, I see people being singled out for favouritism, it instantaneously transports me all the way back to Goldenbridge where I witnessed it every single day.

Ironically, though, those who do favour people can do tremendous harm to the la la’s in the long run, as not only do they give the latter a false image of themselves, the la la’s can also become targets of those who are not deemed good enough. Setting up one against the other is what happens, as those who feel discriminated against, feel they have to knock the la la’s off their high perches.

Discrimination can stir up all sorts of negative emotions in onlookers. It happened in Goldenbridge, where la la’s were constantly ganged up on by other inmates, who pulled off their fancy aeroplane special ribbons; who stuck their tongues out, and gave them digs, as well as ostracising them from the group.

La la’s in Goldenbridge also had the propensity to exude an air of superiority and show off in front of those who petted them. They could never get enough attention paid to them by their admirers and went to the ends of the earth to try to please their petters. La la’s always spent a lot of time reporting children to the staff for the slightest infractions – imaginary or otherwise – and those reported were subsequently punished severely because of their actions.

I know of one particular la la who was very damaged by being a pet, that it affected her life after the institution. She became an alcoholic.

It was mostly those who already had support systems and family, who were earmarked for special treatment. Those with any forms of disability, or, who in any other way – were displeasing to the eye – as Mary McCarthy points out in ‘Memories of a Catholic Girlhood’:

Those who stayed longest, were a raw, red, homely Irishwoman with warts on her hands, the faithful Gertrude, whom I disliked because she was not pretty.

were totally ignored by the staff. They, like Gertrude with warts and all, were going nowhere, as who would want them, with their ugly faces to boot. Not aesthetically pleasing enough to be deemed Goldenbridge “La La’s” = Pets!

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H/t photo:

No Birthday acknowledgements in Industrial “Schools” / Reformatories


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

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

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

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

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

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