“The Children Act allowed destitute children to be sent to industrial schools, even if they hadn’t committed a crime.” Paddy Doyle.
This “destitution” lark was a ruse used by the judiciary and the religious in order to obtain convictions. I was, for example, in a feeder institution, known as The Regina Ceoli, Mother and Baby unit for over four and a half years. So how could I have been even considered “destitute” by the judiciary? “Destitution”, this terminology, was in my estimation “illegally used” on my committal order to Goldenbridge Industrial School – where I was incarcerated until I was sixteen years old. There was no limit on my stay in the “hostel”.
It is imperative for people to comprehend that “touting for business” explicitly from feeder institutions, such as the aforementioned hostel, went on big time. As well as, I might append, “baby farming” which is an additional gigantic undeclared subject. Like the Magdalen Laundries, it is an extraordinarily brittle subject. The Irish powers-that-be are fearful to shine the torch down that very indistinguishable shadowy road.
The religious colluded in this unauthentic committal lark in order to boost up their numbers in the mainstream industrial schools. They railed at the judiciary who were becoming unenthusiastic about sending children to the gulags. They insisted on wanting to know why their wishes were not being adhered to as they (the religious) were very bothered about the up-keep of their mammoth Victorian “private” buildings. As with all, they unquestionably won out! The Irish Church/State was and is synonymous with conjoined twins.
At first, girls only went into the industrial schools run by the Sisters of Mercy and others, but when numbers began to diminish, they asked for boys up to the age of ten. Consequently, survivors like Paddy Doyle landed up in one. On attainment of ten years the boys customarily thereafter graduated to the industrial/reformatory schools such as Artane, Daingean, and Letterfrack. These boys-only child labour camps were run by the Christian Brothers, Oblate Fathers and other orders of that ilk. A majority of older boys in these industrial schools were there for minor criminal activities, such as mitching (skiving) from school or stealing apples from orchards. A smaller number of older boys would have been there for more serious misdemeanours. These boys were naturally more streetwise. They had the wherewithal to be able to differentiate between the outside world and their newfound abodes. Boys who came from the female-religious-run institutions on the other hand did not have a clue about outside life and were thus treated abominably by the system, which could or would not tolerate their social inadequacies. They were classed as orphans, yet they too, like myself, would have been taken from their parent or parents, and would have been hauled before the courts and would have been considered to have been “destitute” and would have been sentenced until they were sixteen years old. Boys who were criminally committed would have received sentences ranging from as little as six months to roughly six years.
Mass and Breakfast time in Goldenbridge.
Throughout the winter months those who were not doing duties like getting small children up, cleaning dormitories, washing soiled sheets in cold water in the uniformly cold stone school laundry, lined up in the cloister, which was situated just outside the wicket gate, with no warm clothing other than our berets. We could not enter the chapel without the arrival first of the convent chaplain to the chapel. He generally arrived at 6:55am for 7 am mass. It was okay though, at this time, for the convent nuns to sit comfortably in their pews. The chapel was a private one and it would consequently have served the children who were usually freezing to have been able to have to go into it even – just for warmth’s sake. There was never any such luck. We were mere mediocre little people who must at all times be kept in place.
On the arrival of the chaplain, we made our way silently to the chapel. The priest said the mass in Latin. Again, those on the lowest rungs of the Goldenbridge ladder would not have been allowed by the nuns to serve mass. This was a very privileged task! Children couldn’t dare to turn their heads around in the chapel to look at the nuns behind. The all-black, bended, hooded figures sat some distance behind us in rows of pews. It was always a scary, eerie pursuit for the children when they did turn their curious heads as the nun’s heads were hidden, I always wondered why they were hiding – after all did these holy nuns not sacrifice their lives for God? It should have been an uplifting happy experience. They exactly reminded me of people who were waiting for death.
During the course of mass children fainted through sheer hunger, as no food would have entered the children’s’ bodies from 6 o’clock the preceding evening, and that would have been a inadequately two slices of smelly bread and marge and a cup of black sugarless cocoa. The children who passed out also had the misfortune of being reprimanded by the nuns in charge of the institution. The nuns consistently told the weakened children “You are a notice box – looking for attention, and what will the other nuns be thinking” how dare ye show us up in their presence.” Children who fainted were indeed also told to go to” the notorious Goldenbridge landing” by the nuns or staff to wait for a flogging from the head capo, Sister X. It was suffice it to say hard luck all round.
In the classroom
St Bridget’s classroom had massive windows, we sat two to a desk which were made of heavy oak, attached to curved wrought- iron legs. Each desk also had two inkwells with copper lids. The dark walls were adorned with pictures depicting the Joyful, Glorious, and Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Posters, also of mothers/fathers in domestic situations for teaching purposes bedecked the walls. Children were not allowed under any circumstances to write with the right hand it was classed as “the devils work”. I am naturally citeog, so one can imagine how difficult that was to use right hand.
Ms. L was legendary for using the corner of the ruler on the very young children’s knuckles and tip of the fingers. Ms L always for some strange reason, cried out: “I will draw blood. I will write your name in blood.” She was not though despite all the cruellest teacher.
Sister Fabian always called children by disparaging names; she had a list as long as her arm. Amadan; oinseach; gombeen; half-wit; crackawley; cracked; dope, clown, clot, crackpot; she predominantly said to me; “there is a ‘want’ in you Lougho” – meaning that I was not “the full shilling!” Nonetheless, at the time of declaration it went in one ear and out the other. I did not have the foggiest discernment as to its denigrating meaning.
We were mere nonentities who were never going to quantify to anything in this life. We were never, ever, going anywhere. The sisters could as a result unremittingly lay before us reminders of our lowly status. We were everlastingly receiving negative sound bytes.
Sister Fabian also systematically threatened children with”Moate” again, nobody had a notion what this word signified. “You ninny hammer, if you do not watch yourself, or pull yourself together you will find yourself up in Moate.” I now know that Mount Carmel, Moate, Mullingar, was an Industrial School run by the Sisters of Mercy. I heard from others that it was not as bad as Goldenbbridge.
Sister Fabian, being a Donegal country sister, loved flowers; in later years, there was a rockery outside the Wicket Gate, which lay along the side footpath leading up Goldenbridge Avenue. I remember helping with the spraying of the bi-annuals. The children in general considered it an honour when Sister Fabian specially selected them to do this interesting task. It was in colossal disparity to the more repugnant, loathsome, monstrous and detestable chores I (and other girls – on different occasions) had to do which was to sweep up residue of excrement from the never-ending overflowing, end of the yard shores. No wonder children ended up with scabs, warts, ringworm, serious forms of conjunctivitis, or as we called it – “shut eye”, and every other conceivable ailment.
Miss G, who taught “third” and “fourth” 8 to 10 yrs class was something else, she, like Sister X, put the fear of God in us. We were petrified of her; she too, moreover was also an un-trained “jam” teacher. I have never forgotten the merciless, callous ruthless acts of this teacher, for example, she compelled us to stand on top of the school seats or desks with our hands held high in the air for unwarranted extravagant amounts of time, and she would at the same time flay us on the legs with a long bamboo stick or long ruler. She also made us stand on one foot for some unknown reason. She also would boomerang the long “ruler” at children who, she professed, were not learning fast enough.
We learned parables, miracles, and the catechism off by heart. Children had to circle around her desk and thump each other whilst almost singing the above in unison. Little boys learning the Koran would not have been up to the likes of us. Again, we also rocked like mad in order to learn the whole lot off. She invariably unexpectedly crept up behind us and gave us thumps on our backs with her fist that jolted us or else she needled us with the bamboo stick, causing stinging pain. Monday mornings were the worst as she was enthused with fierce energy.
St Teresa’s classroom was nestled on its own in the back of Goldenbridge. It was a cold miserable large open spaced room, which also doubled up as a locker room after classes. Ms G, as it were, could do what she liked as there was no authority figure in near sight to hear her or our cries. Everyone in Goldenbridge dreaded this teacher.
The children who were privileged to go to “the outside” National School, said that they were initially asked to spell the word “ingredient” and do a simple arithmetic question which they got correct hence their getting selected from Ms. G’s class.
Children were also made to stand in the corner of St Teresa’s classroom with the name Amadan or Dunce pinned to their backs. I also explicitly remember at various times a wicker waste paper basket being put over the heads of the children while they stood in the corner of the classroom. Some children were always told to stand outside the classroom. Two children at any given time were also sent into a separate area and the brighter of them was obliged to thump religion into the slower one. They were bright enough then but not enough to secure them a position in the national School.
We were sporadically sent out of this class to do work in the scullery or outside yard,washing and cleaning vegetables which were placed in a big aluminium tub.
Ms G hailed from Kildare and commuted to Goldenbridge Industrial School each day. She was very prejudicial in that she repetitively uttered the following mantra, ‘dirty Dublin, dirty Dublin, dirty Dublin!’ I believe at one stage Ms. G lived on the premises in Goldenbridge, she was thick with Sr. Xaveria. We knew not what she was on about notwithstanding the fact that we were approximately near the heart of the city of Dublin. Gosh, in retrospect, we were implausibly institutionalised and in this fashion hideously green. Dublin could have been in Timbuktu as we were concerned!
Each year a priest came to examine us in cathechism – I recollect winning 2/6 but remember even more not being in receipt of same, it was typical. This also was very prevalent with the making of the rosaries, in that we too never got our proper yearly earnings of 2/6d – it was always deviously clawed back.
Christine Buckley told me that she was grateful to Ms G, as the teaching that she indisputably had in her class stood her in good stead. Bernadette Fahy, who was given a similar “outside” education became a Psychologist. Christine eventually went into mainstream outside school afterwards. She then became a midwife by profession, so she had a lot to be indebted in that respect. Ironically, both ended up doing fantastic work on behalf of victims/survivors of institutional abuse, and many are much indebted to them.
I would have endured any punishment from this teacher if it would have gotten me somewhere later on in life as she certainly knew how to teach.
Sr. Fabian’s Classroom – One afternoon
Valerie made a clatter as Sister Fabian tackled inhumanly with her “soiled” clothing in order to remove them. Valerie clasped forcefully on to them to save herself from this loathsome embarrassing act. All was in vain as poor Valerie was conquered by this malevolent piece of work. She succeeded in savagely stripping her of her soiled clothing – this sister of mercy – who always said to Valerie “you have evil eyes, you have the devil’s eyes.” It caused her to keep her head untiringly down, as she was so feeling shame at having even been born with all the systematic abuse that was consistently thrown at her. It was said, by Sister Fabian to Valerie, “it is nothing more than the devil that is coming out of you”.
This episode occurred in front of young girls in St Philomena’s classroom. Children were totally beside themselves frightened out of their wits and with ignominy and astonishment and did not know where to put their heads. Unexpectedly, like lightning, Valerie roared like a wild animal and with all her power went for the jugular, the “sacrosanct” holy “veil”. All hell was let loose. Sister Fabian then let go of Valerie as she tried to fix her veil into position. She then said to us “get on with your work”.
The raison d’être behind this whole monstrous performance was medical. Valerie had a severe hormonal problem whereby she haemorrhaged profusely. Her face was always as white as snow. She thus became delirious and hallucinated, and constantly talked about ‘moving’ statues before they ever came into vogue. Also because of the nature of her illness and no medical treatment/supervision, she was at a loss as to what to do. There was no considerate or kind adult in Goldenbridge to direct her in her need. Ironically, the washroom was right next door to St Philomena’s but it was out of bounds, so when she was having hygiene problems there was nowhere for her to go. As a corollary, foreseeable accidents occurred which resulted in overshadowing repugnant smells. It permeated all over, but what was she to do? Well enter Sister Fabian, she indisputably sorted it out. A lot of victims and survivors have never forgotten this sad sordid saga.
Sr. Fabian for all time held her nose at children and said “you dirty thing, get out of my sight.” She was a very intolerant sister and caused huge damage to children because of it. One afternoon in St. Philomena’s was no exception to the rule. Valerie died last year due to self neglect, but she lived long enough to tell the sad tale.
Valerie, who unendingly held her head down in shame, had Bambi-type beautiful brown eyes. She also made the most neatest of rosary beads, and we always complimented and sought out her assistance. I wrote in my best English a long witness statement to both the CIRCA and the RIRB on behalf of Valerie, who was not conversant. Bernadette Fahy also stood up for her.
Valerie’s mother who hails from the North of Ireland was only fourteen years old when she gave birth to her first boy child, and was sixteen years old when Valerie was born, there was also another girl some years later but she was lucky enough to be contentedly adopted. The boy went to another disreputable Industrial School – Artane. So he too was just a stranger to his sister.
The adopted sister some years ago suddenly arrived at Valerie’s abode. It caused great consternation as Valerie never knew of her existence. She took Valerie under her wing, but the wounds were way too deep for her to appreciate any kindness. Valerie could not grasp the logic as to why she was also not adopted, and it caused deep friction and resentment. This type of thinking is very common with those who were detained in Goldenbridge. The sadness of it is that one is not dealing with just normal sibling rivalry.
Valerie’s mother went on to have a second family and wanted nothing to do with any of her children who were born outside of that union. A cousin whom she had no contact with sadly died in the Northern Ireland Omagh Bombing of some years ago. Christine Buckley, Bernadette Fahy, and a host of us from Valerie’s era were all present at her funeral. She had insisted on being cremated. Everything about one’s bodily functions was cloak and dagger stuff. Prepubscent children were an enigma to sister Fabian.
Time, never erased my memories of Goldenbridge, I did not have the added distraction of the outside world to contend with.
I worked to rule, every day was the same, with the exception of summer time when other children and I, who had no family, went to a holiday home in Rathdrum Co Wicklow, which was, incidentally, paid for with monies accrued from the Rosary Beads “lark”. The only happy memories I have are connected to this exquisite environment, (not staff) which was the only positive thing in our lives. Not ever having human comforts we could at least enjoy the absolutely natural beauty of our surroundings. To this day I still love the Garden of Ireland. There is now a statue of Charles Stewart Parnell standing on the spot where once the old rambling Victorian house stood. We always thought that there should have been a plaque erected to all the Goldenbridge inmates as well.
Appendix: Some Testimony from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Public Hearing, Dublin, 15 May 2006. Evidence of Sister Helena O’Donoghue
Q: …I am more concerned with the statements of Sr. Fabian, as it were, against interest both on her part and the interest of the Sisters of Mercy, that the general atmosphere was excessively and consistently cruel, even relative to the standards at the time?
A. Well, we have acknowledged that we believe that industrial school life and system was not an appropriate system for children who had come into care through various difficulties. We do recognise that it would have augmented the regime itself being so stylised in many ways, would have augmented their pain, but we do not accept that it was excessively harsh.
Q:…but in his report he records her confirming that: “Fear of and actual beatings and verbal abuse was a matter of routine. And that the general account of children, for example, waiting on landings was accurate…Wetting was defined as a crime and, therefore, punishable through humiliation and physical beatings. Sr. Fabian confirmed the allegations in relation to the tumble drier and drinking from the toilet cistern. She also confirmed the bead making and that failure to obey rules was normally punished by physical beatings”.
A: We cannot be absolute about it, but I think it was a feature of Goldenbridge that when a number of children came to 16, and were for one reason or another, people, children, young women who might have been at risk or unable to manage outside of the school, and there was no further funding for them, a way of, if you like, meeting their need in particular was to become helpers, as they were called. It was not, I suppose, looked at in the way that we might look at it today, which was, well, were they appropriate for the care of children? They were young people who had actually lived through their years in the institution to that point and were familiar, obviously, to everybody there.
Q. Yes. I think you have fairly acknowledged in your written statement of evidence that poor educational achievement and inability to find employment, other than domestic service, was a consequence for many children; cleaning and scrubbing and household work elsewhere. These staff then retained were clearly not up to that standard of being let out into the world and were put in the care of children?
A. That is the reality and we regret that that was an aspect, that there wasn’t an awareness or a sensitivity to at the time.
Q. Have you any reason to think that they received any training at all other than their experience of having gone through Goldenbridge themselves?
A. I would be confident in saying there was no training. There was no training for the adults or the teachers who were employed at that time in childcare.
Q. Is there any evidence of which you are aware, that they were made familiar with any rules relating to discipline and punishment?
A. I couldn’t make any comment on that at this distance back.
A: Why were children in Goldenbridge not allowed out to attend the local national school? Why did there have to be one secured up in Goldenbridge?
A. I am not in a position to answer that.
Q: One of the things that the Commission will have to consider is obviously the nature of the education facilities and the teaching staff, but also its interrelationship with the work regime in Goldenbridge. There seems to have been a considerable lack of opportunity for a number of children, perhaps unquantifiable, who were pulled out of classrooms to do work, when perhaps they should have been staying in the classroom to become educated, and being required to do the laundry two days a week and prepare vegetables and minding of babies, cleaning of windows, tilling the land, tending the vegetable garden. All taken away from their schooling for this work…I have referred already to the passage in your statement of evidence about the lack of opportunity that the education provided for getting employment, other than sort of domestic work as scrubbers and cleaners, many of them feel they were educated to be. Would you be concerned, and have you heard complaints over your years of contact with the survivors, about a high level of functional illiteracy on the part of those who are said to have been educated by the Sisters of Mercy? One of the other complaints made about the relationship between study and work is that there was little time allowed for any sort of study or reading in the evenings. In your own statement, you say: “A few pupils persevered and sat the Leaving Certificate. Such students did not do much of the domestic chores carried out by the other children, but instead had extended study time”. Do I understand from that, that it was only the few who were chosen would get out of the work and therefore have the extended study time?
A: I understand from the Sisters who were there at the time, that that was the practice. That those who went out to the secondary school did not have to take the same share in the chores as those who were inside.
Q. Okay. So the heavier burden then would fall on others, who were then deprived of their study time, to allow some of the few to be released?
A. I would have to say about Goldenbridge it is acknowledged that homework at primary school level did not feature really in the after school time of the children. Now I am not in a position to say why was that.
Q. Can I suggest to you it was because they were required to do other work?
A. In actual fact they weren’t doing other work at that time. They had a half an hour after school for play in the yard. They then went to the bead making, perhaps that is what you are referring to, but it wasn’t the ordinary chores of managing the house.
Q. Just touching on that point. Do you accept on behalf of the Sisters of Mercy that the burden of work placed on the children there was excessive?
A. No, we don’t accept that. We would recognise that children had chores to do, and the children who were doing the industrial school training, particularly in the afternoon, there would have been 70 to 80 children in that group at any one time. So the sharing out of the tasks would have eased the amount of work to be done.
01 February 2007
Marie-Therese O’Loughlin can be reached at email@example.com