Avenues to the Institutions

It was such a revelation learning about my documented pre-Goldenbridge past and its culmination leading to a custodial sentence in that reprehensible Dickensian institution on the periphery of the heart of Dublin – that indeed, was to become synonymous with generational, systemic, grim brutishness towards defenceless children in Ireland and globally in 1996.

When I was finally re-united with my mother in Birmingham as an adult, I repeatedly asked her how I came to be in Goldenbridge in the first place. She always became very uncomfortable at me probing her on my past, and nervously shuffled her shoulders and replied that I had been sent there to be educated. Education was a misnomer, especially when the ethos of the Sisters of Mercy was to educate the unfortunate penniless classes. She would then quickly shift the conversation to something else, as it always upset her so much when I asked questions of this delicate nature. Alas, I never knew during her life-time that I’d been given a custodial sentence via the Dublin District Court.

My mother was such an enigma. There was an awful lot that could have been revealed, but instead went unspoken. I never really knew her in that sense, as I had respected her undemonstrative, timid and silent nature most of the time. Then again, I was such an emotional guileless wreck that she could never confide in me, as I know that oftentimes she implied that she had wanted to open up, but rather knew that she couldn’t go there because of me being so extraordinarily psychologically cluttered up. For example, one day she exclaimed: ‘There is something I would like to tell you, however, I can’t bring myself to do so, for fear of you emotionally erupting like a volcano at Mount Etna.” Talk about subtly shifting the blame? She had a slight propensity for mirroring her own guilt, in my approximation. I was thus bereft of any knowledge of the Goldenbridge incarceration variety and the like. Notwithstanding much more that left the hairs standing in upright position on relatives’ heads. She also never divulged anything to them about her past. We were two of a kind in that sphere. It was such a shame that I was so recklessly giddy and irrational and incapable of dissecting and discerning concerning matters, that could have paved the way for smoothing the knowledge that was to later confound me when I learned about it the hard way upon receipt of records. I dread to think how she would have reacted, were she still alive at the time when the Goldenbridge child institutional abuse debacle came to the fore in 1992. She died in 1990.

Goldenbridge Industrial ‘School’ first came to prominence when it became a subject matter on television and radio programmes and in the media in the very early nineties. Ex-inmates featured in a number of publications and some were to the forefront in the campaign for redress. The programme, ‘Dear Daughter’ was a dramatised documentary that featured the institution. Goldenbridge was also referred to in the ‘States of Fear.’ television programme. The final series provoked a huge public reaction and was followed by the Taoiseach’s apology. Measures were announced that included the establishment of the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse. In 1997 survivors of Reformatories and Industrial ‘Schools’ were able to access their records. Thus they were able to learn for the very first time about the individual avenue that led to their institutional incarceration.

The information was obtained from the Department of Education personal records, under The Freedom of Information Act 1997, and the Sisters of Mercy archival office. From these records respectively I learned that I had been committed to Goldenbridge in the mid-fifties via a Committal Order signed by one Justice McCarthy. See: Paddy Doyle’s Order of Detention. I was not yet half a decade old, and I too have one held at a solicitors’ office.

Many routes

There were five ways in which a young person could be sent to a certified school by the District Court. 1) ‘Needy or destitute’, this could have also entailed various other sub-categories. 2) Committing a criminal offence. 3) Non-attendance at school. The two other ways were not via the court system, but rather, by way of the local authority; or committal on a voluntary basis.

Professor David Gwynn Morgan in Section 2 ‘Needy’ children Part I: The Legislative Frame work also says:

For the entire period under consideration, the governing law was section 58(1) of the Children Act 1908 (as amended by the Children Acts 1929and 1941), by which a child could be committed to an industrial school if he:

(a)is found begging or receiving alms…;

(b)is found not having any home, or visible means of subsistence, or is [found] having no parent or guardian, or a parent or guardian who does not exercise proper guardianship; or

(c)is found destitute, not being an orphan and having both parents or his surviving parent, or in the case of an illegitimate child, his mother, undergoing penal servitude or imprisonment; or

(d)is under the care of a parent or guardian who, by reason of reputed criminal or drunken habits, is unfit to have the care of the child; or

(e)is the daughter…of a father who has been convicted of an offence of [sexually abusing his daughters]; or

(f)frequents the company of any reputed thief or of any common or reputed prostitute(other than the child’s mother); or

(g)is lodging or residing in a house used for prostitution…

By section 58(4) of the 1908 Act:

Where the parent … of a child proves to a [District Court] that he is unable to control the child, and that he desires the child to be sent to an industrial school … the court, if satisfied on inquiry that it is expedient so to deal with the child, and that the parent understands the results which will follow, may order him to be sent to a certified industrial school.

There was inevitably a good deal of overlap: poverty begat parental neglect and the reverse inevitable too.

The people involved in sending children to court were oftentimes untrained, and came from the voluntary sector of society. There was no liaison between all the different sources, and that led to a very chaotic system…for instance., health authorities hardly ever exercised their right of audience before the court. These included: the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), Gardaí, school attendance officers, and also Vincent de Paul Society members, parish priests; or children’s officers from the local health authority, possibly with guidance from Department of Health Inspectors.

1) ‘Destitution’ or ‘Needy’

I came under the ‘Destitution’ sub-category and was committed to Goldenbridge until the age of 16.

It was also very painfully perplexing discovering that my mother had been present at the court hearing, and had given consent to my incarceration. I have indistinct reminiscences of being perched up on the court rails, and of wearing a black and white check plaid coat with matching black velvet collar, sleeves and pockets, that was later perched on high in the coat room, adjacent to the Rec [wreck] hall at Goldenbridge – never to be seen again.

It must be noted that up to Re Doyle, Large numbers of those committed came under the destitution coupled with parental consent ground. In a Seanad debate the Minister for Education, T. Derrig* made it apparent that he, at any rate, saw this consent requirement as an important point of principle and resisted an opposition amendment, which would have infringed it.

On behalf of studies on Reformatories and Industrial ‘Schools’ requested by the commission to inquire into child abuse, Professor David Gwynn Morgan in Section 2 ‘Needy’ children. Part I: The Legislative Frame work says:

Subsequent legislation expanded the 1908 Act in two main respects. First, sub-paragraph (c) (‘is found destitute’) was in fact rather narrow in that it required the child’s parents to be in prison. The Children Act 1929 (later re-enacted in the Children Act 1941, s 10(1)(d)) in effect widened this category by providing that a child could be committed, provided that two further conditions were both satisfied: first the child ‘is found destitute and is not an orphan and his parents are or his surviving parent or, in the case of an illegitimate child, his mother is unable to support him’. And secondly, if ‘both parents consent or the court is satisfied that a parent’s consent may be dispensed with owing to mental incapacity or desertion.

2) Offenders: Reformatory or Industrial ‘School’?

Children who had been connected to offences were the second largest category. St Conleth’s Reformatory School in Daingean Co OffalySt Joseph’s Industrial School, Artane are two perfect examples of a Reformatory and Industrial ‘School’ for boys.

The three categories below deal with the cases according to age.

 (1) A child under the age of 12 could not be sent to a Reformatory School, only to an Industrial School, and indeed the records show few children below the age of 12 being committed for offences, even to an Industrial School.

(2) A child of 12 or 13 (or after 1941, 14) could be sent to an Industrial School provided that the child was a first offender, there were ‘special circumstances’ as to why the child should not be sent to a Reformatory, and the child would not ‘exercise an evil influence over the other children’. In fact despite these conditions, children under 15 years were usually sent to Industrial Schools.

(3) It was not open to the court, under the Act, to send the offender aged (after 1941) 15 or above to an Industrial School. Thus if a custodial sanction were to be selected, for offenders between the age of 15-17, the only option (apart from very serious crimes) was a Reformatory (1908 Act, s 57(1), as amended by 1941 Act).

Thus the Reformatory School was reserved for the tougher type of boy, who became eligible for committal between the ages of 12 and 17 (or 16, before the Children Act 1941, s 9). After the 1941 Act took effect, the legal period of detention was between two and four years. Before 1941, the equivalent was three to five years. However, the period of actual detention was usually no more than one or two years, provided that the offender’s behaviour and home circumstances were satisfactory. By contrast, children committed to IndustrialSchool were invariably sent until they were 16.

3) Non-attendance at school

Kennedy Report para 11.4 sagely observed, ‘Truancy is often the earliest sign of family break-down,’

A child of a parent who was in a relationship with a man, who was not the father, was hauled off to court by the infamous ‘cruelty man’ (euphemism for (NSPCC). In addition, naturally, the court and the agencies bringing children before it tended to prefer the non-school attendance category to the offences category, in order to avoid stigmatising the child.

4) Local Authorities

There were overlaps in these cases. Meaning that children could at first be sent by the local authorities and other sources, and then subsequently, at an older age be given a sentence via the court system until they reached the age of 16.

Witnesses who gave evidence to the private arm of the commission to inquire into child abuse [CICA] stated that they were admitted both directly from their parents’ home to Reformatory and Industrial ‘Schools’, and also from various other residential settings, including the following:

▪    Mother and Baby Homes. These were often either the place of birth or first residence for non-marital children. A number of witnesses reported that they remained in these homes with their mothers, for up to 3 years.

▪    County Homes. These were also both places of birth and first residences. Some witnesses reported being with their mothers in county homes until they were up to five years old.

▪    Foster Care. Provided for infants and young children in some circumstances prior to placement in an Industrial School. Before 1983 such arrangements were also known as ‘boarding out’ or ‘at nurse’.

▪    Children’s Homes. These facilities admitted infants and young children. A number of witnesses reported being placed in Children’s Homes until they were transferred to an Industrial Schools.

Survivors who were admitted to Industrial ‘Schools’ from the above mother and baby home settings such as the Regina Coeli Hostel and Bessborough House, Co Cork and St. Patrick’s Home, Navan Road – Adoption Rights Alliance were mostly the offspring of unmarried mothers. Christine Buckley and myself were in Regina Coeli mother and baby home, as were countless other children in Goldenbridge. Christine Buckley, was the daughter of a Nigerian medical student and a married Dublin woman. She was abandoned at three weeks old and grew up in Goldenbridge Industrial ‘School’. She too like me would have been classed as an orphan in Goldenbridge. The term ‘orphan’ was used by survivors in relation to their own circumstances and in reference to survivors who had no contact with any family outside the institutions.

5 ‘Voluntary’ populous

Children also went into Industrial ‘Schools’ voluntarily because their mothers were temporarily incapacitated by various illnesses, or may have had complicated pregnancies and the like. They already may have had very large families, and husbands may have been left with no other alternative but to go to work to feed their motley crew. For the period 1949-50 to 1968-69, the average ‘voluntary’ population figure was 101, or 2.2 percent, of the entire schools’ population.

O’Cinneide and Maguire write about this admittedly small group when they did interviews with some of the Sisters into the conditions under which some children were taken into care.

Many of the Sisters of Mercy recalled parents simply appearing on the school’s doorstep asking that their children be taken in, and in other cases children were simply abandoned on the convent steps. One of the more poignant recollections was that of Sr Anne Tubridy, who worked in the Cappoquin Industrial ‘School’. She recalled one incident in which a father brought his children to the school asked the Sisters to take the children in, which they did. The man then went home and killed his wife and himself. Sr. Goretti, who worked in the Industrial ‘School’ in Newtownforbes, remembered two girls who were brought to the school by their father after their mother died drowned in the bog.

Paddy Doyle, author of The God-Squad and his sister were sent to Industrial ‘Schools’ after their ‘father’ was found hanging in a barn.

A child from an unstable home, or an unmarried mother; a child considered unruly, and not receiving adequate supervision at home; or a child, who was considered at risk.


It also turned out that some of the parents whose children were there on a voluntary basis might have reneged on payments. The same occurred with those detained by the courts, who, were under court orders to contribute towards their children’s payment.

I know this was a big issue in Goldenbridge where some children were denigrated and made to suffer humiliation because of their parents’ inability to pay up. There was one particular family whose mother had died of cancer, and the father had to look after not only the three children in Goldenbridge, but also a few more older boys who would have been detained in Artane. The eldest girl suffered tremendous stress in Goldenbridge, as the father would invariably offload on to her when he came to visit. Sometimes children would be threatened with not seeing their respective parents due to nonpayment.

However, when the parents defaulted on court-ordered payments, the local authorities had the authority to prosecute them. There is no evidence that religious orders had the same access to court proceedings to force defaulting parents to pay. Their only option, when the parents of voluntarily placed children failed to make scheduled payments, was to take the children to court and have them formally committed to the school. This seems to have been a rarity.

Another survivor had this to say vis-à-vis non-payment: “I managed to ‘acquire’ the correspondence between the nuns and Gardai in several counties on my father’s parental monies.” He added: “I was eventually ‘licenced out’ to work off his debt (between 1967 up to 1970) Debt was £62 10 shillings and sixpence!”

Unlike very many survivors with two parents, my mother never had to pay a single penny for my Goldenbridge upkeep, as heretofore she had been a TB patient, and according to my committal form she was in receipt of a disability pension. So obviously she would have been deemed incapable of supporting me at the time, and thereby ineligible for payment. Poverty-stricken parents it appears had a dubious way of getting their offspring into industrial schools with the help of social workers. For example, the child was given a penny outside the court and was then committed for ‘receiving alms’ (under s 58(1)(a) of the Children Act 1908). Thus the 1929 Act theoretically had the effect of removing the stigma that a child, whose only crime was poverty, had to be found guilty of an offence, before he could be sent to a “school”. It did this by allowing the committal of a child for destitution. This provision of the 1929 Act was struck down in 1956, in Re Doyle.

*In 1946 Gerard Fogarty from Glin Industrial ‘School‘ was flogged naked with a cat o’ nine tails and immersed in salt water for trying to escape to his mother. There was a call for a public inquiry into all Industrial ‘Schools’ However, at the time it was rejected by the Minister of Education, Thomas Derrig, who said: “it would serve no useful purpose”.


▪    Evelyn Doyle: Evelyn | Marie-Thérèse O’Loughlin 

▪    Evelyn – in her own words

▪    Do industrial school children have criminal records

▪    The God Squad | A History of Neglect

▪    Michael R. Molino – Surviving the “House of a Hundred

Windows Reformatory and industrial schools system report 1970  – The Story



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