It should not hurt to be a child. But on the contrary it did hurt to be a child for generations upon generations of children who were illegally incarcerated into industrial *schools” in Ireland. The montage of images you see of children crying were the norm in Goldenbridge. The only difference between these children and those from GB is/was the latter inmates under no circumstance were allowed to have long hair. Hair was kept chopped. The nuns made it their personal business to see that the heads of children were kept free of long flowing locks. The pets, or rather, the la la’s were the only ones spared that ignominious act by the nuns, as they had their minders to look after them.
It should not hurt to be a child, not even a ‘traveller’ child, of whom there were many in Goldenbridge. Some ‘traveller’ siblings recalled to me about being torn away from their parents who came to visit them, as it was self evident to some staff that some of them would be contaminated if there was any physical contact between same. The ‘traveller’ inmates were also treated abominably from a psychological perspective. For example, two particular sisters who went to Goldenbridge as wee tots had been specifically singled out for diverse reasons. One for ‘petting’ and the privilege of going to the national/secondary outside school. Whilst the other one was treated as the lowest of the low and was constantly reminded of her lowly status by the staff. Mary was also given the most degrading jobs such as cleaning out the sewage shores with her bare hands and moreover too that her bare feet were covered in excrement. Mary was a child plumber. She was also called out each day of the internal *school* to do menial tasks in the kitchen and laundry. The two of them were on the other end of the institutional spectrum altogether throughout their whole childhood in the child prison camp. Chalk and cheese!
The other child inmates used to regularly taunt the la la sister whenever they saw her on the stairs and out of sight of her minder Ms. D. and make fun of the aeroplane ribbon in her hair. They would sneak up behind her and pull the ribbon off her nicely-combed long hair. Pets only were allowed to have pretty ribbons and clothes that were taken from other children who may have got them from their visitors. Children had to make do with hand-me downs. I know that hand-made clothes that were given me by the Boyne’s of Westland Row, were taken from me upon returning to Goldenbridge. I cried so much when I saw the la la girl wearing them. One particular dress was a sailor-suit. It was so pretty. It had a beige pleated skirt attached to a navy-blue sailor top. I had nothing else to identify with the outside world except the beautiful clothes that they made for me. The Boyne siblings were big into dressmaking. They were so talented that they even created their own wedding dresses for family and friends. So the staff member who petted the traveller child was cute enough to know that by the appearance of clothes.
The sisters were not allowed to bond with each other. In fact they were so discouraged from even liking each other. The minder would have been the biggest culprit in separating the siblings. She was a side-kick to every nun in charge that ever darkened Goldenbridge. She wielded great power. She did not like children in general befriending each other too much. If two small children held each others hands they were jeered. ‘Would ya look at the get-up of the two aul love-birds” she would cry out with a pointed index finger. Then told them to get away from each other immediately.
One traveller sister was treated like a special by one powerful staff member, while the other one was cast to the mercy of a another inmate who just might have shown her some sort of affection. It should not hurt to be a child, but it did hurt so much to be from the travelling community in Goldenbridge. Other inmates isolated and shunned the pet and because of this, she, too, suffered in a different way to her sister who was treated as scum of the earth. Period! It hurt so much to a be a traveller child in Goldenbridge. They would have had better lives living in the communities they came from originally, as traveller families are well known to be fiercely fond of their children. I consider what that staff member did was a form of cleansing one from their rightful heritage. That kind of behaviour repeated itself with countless other traveller children by the same staff member for 40 years and also by religious.
I had the above 1969 ‘gypsy boy’ painting by Bruno Amadio over my bedsit wall at Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan. I remember some locals telling me how depressing the painting appeared to their eyes. At the time I wouldn’t have ever dreamt in the whole wide earthly world of divulging to any person a single thing about my past. That was a well-kept secret. The painting on the wall spoke silent tearful volumes. It hurt to be a child and the gypsy boy mirrored back my own image as a child and that too of my travelling counterparts who were locked up for the most part of their childhood in an industrial *school* from hell. Incidentally, I never knew as a child or young adult what a traveller child was indeed. I knew nothing about the outside world – or, if I did, it would have been learned from time spent with the Boyne’s. GB inmates were all very institutionalised.
I’m glad that the two traveller survivors got to have their say at the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse. I spoke up for Mary, as indeed did many other survivors who could express themselves in written statements, which were very few and far between, as she was unable to write. I’m very sad though that Mary passed away a few years ago. She never recovered from her childhood in Goldenbridge. She was well liked by survivors because of her outward bubbly personality. She was seen as a rebellious character, who. even as a child, when all the dirt was thrown at her every day, she somehow managed to verbally express herself to the nuns and staff. That is something that very few internees ever dared to do directly, the rest acted out in more devious and cunning ways.
It should not hurt to be a child, but it did in Goldenbridge, if an inmate had six or seven brothers or sisters, or even less to watch over and protect. It hurt the ‘protecter’ child so much as s/he invariably would have helplessly looked on in St. Patrick’s each morning where so-called erring children queued up to be flogged to bits by Sr. X. S/he would have felt every blow of the thick bark as it reined down on the sibling child’s hands by the frothy-mouthed cruel nun. The older protecter would have cried so much on behalf of his/her siblings, as the responsibility weighed heavily on his/her shoulders. Children who hadn’t got an iota of what a sibling was would oftentimes hang around these child protectors as they would have had some semblance of empathy in their veins, due to having to take on the caring-role – out of no choice of their own. Those with siblings were able to express concern for each other, which was not the same with children who had no siblings, or who presumed they had none. I was one of the latter and personally experienced clinging on to another child who appeared to have some emotional normality due to being forced to care for her brothers and sisters. This child was indicative to me of a normal child that I’d encountered in Boyne St. off Westland Row, Dublin, when I went went to stay with a kind of family until I was nine years old. (I never saw sight or sound of them thereafter. To me this was of the most painful episodes of my childhood. To be selected by a family one minute and taken out on special occasions, and thereafter to stay with them for almost a year. Then suddenly without further ado for an unknown reason to be plonked back into the institution. I felt just like a rag-doll who had been tossed up in the air and pulled apart by adults. I do not trust strange people to this day over that dreadful emotional experience. The template is still very much being replayed.) It should not have hurt to have been a child, but it did – because children in Goldenbridge were inconsequential. The protector child had lost her mother to cancer. She was lucky being the older one to have had loving warm memories of her mother, it carried her somewhat through adult life, whereas most of the younger ones were more messed up having had little adult nurturing.
It should not hurt to be a child but it did hurt thousands upon thousands of children on a gargantuan level when they first walked up Goldenbridge avenue and were signed in by the mother superior at the convent door – seen in centre-fold of picture. Little did they know at the time that their tiny lives would be destroyed from the moment they arrived at that fateful convent door to the day they left the child prison camp – seen to the left of picture – and for the rest of their lives. The haunting screams and convulsions of wee children as they were torn away from their loved ones is something that countless survivors still relive to this very day. I personally did not experience this particular traumatic separation at the convent, however, I do have memories of going into convulsions in Goldenbridge, as I was persistently dragged away from a very tall dark-haired young woman, whom I now gather must have been my mother. It should not have hurt to be a child in an institution that to all intents and purposes was considered a safe environment for children, but it did hurt because children were flogged and beaten to a pulp every single day of their lives by the religious who perpetually preached about love in the chapel seen to the right.
Ironically, the only inmates who were ever allowed to darken the convent door thereafter were the specially hand-picked ones who were deemed presentable by the religious at the industrial ‘school’ to do floor polishing on their hands and knees and other menial convent work. I was never on the middle rung of the Goldenbridge hierarchical ladder, so thus would not have been selected. It was classed as a real privilege to enter the convent. Those chosen inmates also had to polish on their knees the confessional boxes and the chapel benches and sacristy, etc. The very few inmates who were also allowed access to the convent were the attendees of outside school. They would not have been there in a work capacity, though, mostly, as it would not have looked good, I guess, with them attending the national and secondary school to be then seen to be inferiors by the religious and normal children from the Inchicore catchment area. The nuns had plans for those whom they educated, and being convent and industrial *school* skivvies definitely did not come into the equation. Skivvies in general was the reserve of those like myself who were on the lowest rung of the Goldenbridge ladder. That’s not saying that some of them might not have done convent skivvy work. I know that they had to do work in the industrial *school* like the rest of us, though not as much, but then they would have been hidden away. Besides, children from homes in the catchment area who attended the aforementioned school were warned never to have anything to do with industrial *school* children. I learned of this fact from some of those who went to the school. We remained a complete mystery to everyone. We were looked upon as orphans who were to be either pitied or set as an example to children by their frustrated parents, that if they ever erred or crossed the line in being bold they would end up in Goldenbridge. Goldenbridge was a hidden place where only bold child lived. It should not hurt to be a child but it did hurt children who were forced to keep their heads down whenever they had reason to be frog-marched down the convent avenue. We were warned not to look at other children from the outside world as we were not from the outside world.
I should add that the national and secondary school was situated in Goldenbridge grounds, and really only a stone’s throw from the industrial *school*, however, as far as the child-inmates were concerned, it could have been a thousand miles away. You see, they were kept so far apart and ignorant of the outside world. The religious management made sure that it be kept that way and not even the nuns at the convent were allowed to mix with the vile inspoken products of the fallen underclasses that inhabited the institution. The stigma attached to us was something else.
It hurt to be a child in Goldenbridge, as children were made to line up for 7:00AM mass in the cloister (see rare image of cloister which lay to the left of convent. It was later demolished) on dark, freezing, wintery mornings without appropriate clothing, such as coats. They probably would have been deprived of hats too only that they were compulsory to wear in church. They had to wait there patiently in silence for the local priest from St. Michael’s parish in Inchicore to arrive at the chapel. See: right of image. The same harsh treatment was not afforded the nuns in the convent who were comfortably perched in their pews at the centre-back aisle of private part of the chapel.
The children would have had no breakfast, as it was a sin to eat for hours before receiving holy communion.
I was thinking just as I was writing about the box of hats on the floor of the porch-hall entrance of the industrial school. We never owned anything, not even the berets we wore to the chapel every single day. The nuns were very meticulous about our hair and at every hands turn, cropped it short.
Every single morning after breakfast children lined up in the wash-room to have their hair fine-combed with a steel-comb which was dipped in pink paraffin oil. The hair was scraped off them by some nasty, uncaring, clinical staff. There would be blood on their scalps in the aftermath. It seems contradictory to me that if they were so fussy about clean heads why were children given random hats to wear to chapel? It doesn’t add up hygienic-wise. But then the whole cruel system that hurt habitually children never added up at all. It should not have hurt to b a child in Goldenbridge, but it did dreadfully every single day.
It hurt to see children faint in the chapel every morning without fail. They fell down like flies. They would not have had food in their stomachs from 6:00PM the night before. Children who wet their beds were not allowed to drink after 6:00PM. Not even water, which children scooped from the toilet cisterns and bowls. as there was no access to water. They then would have had two thin slices of bread and black cocoa only, which was expected to sustain them, despite all the hard work they had to do in the interim. I remember seeing Chrissie West-Buckley as white as a sheet. I also saw children being helped out of the chapel by bigger girls while the religious looked on callously. The latter could not be interrupted under no circumstances from worshipping the Lord. He took precedence over children who had fainted. Those who had the audacity to faint, were, well, looking for attention in the eyes of the nuns. How dare they show up the nuns who worked in the industrial *school*. They were called notice-boxes and would even be punished by the nuns. It hurt to be a child when they were expected to spend inordinate amounts of time praying in the chapel on empty stomachs.
I recall thinking as a child that the reason children fainted was because they put blotting paper with ink down their shoes. I really don’t know from whence that ludicrous idea stemmed. I was convinced Chrissie West had done that to make her dark skin go pale. How stupid of me! I learned to while a way the time in the chapel by making various shapes with very cheap pale blue plastic corded Virgin-Mary rosary beads. No fancy rosary-beads were ever given to us. We had to make do with the type the legion of Mary hand out when trying to bring in lost souls to the flock.
It hurt to be a child in Goldenbridge in the rec (wreck) hall. See: rare photo of four windows behind narrow tree-lined side avenue that led up to the industrial school – as their lives were invariably put at serious risk each mid-morning at 11:00AM break-time, when the nuns were up in the convent. There was one particular minor staff member left in charge of the children who was mostly responsible for the abominable child abuse that occurred in the rec (wreck).
They had to sit on hard wooden thin benches that lined the whole rec (wreck) with their fingers on their lips for the duration of the break-time. If some children decided to be giddy or obstinate it was common for children to be used as an example of what would happen to them if they dared not to toe the line. They were dragged from their benches by the head of the hair and viciously kicked about by the cruel minor staff member. The other staff who did not beat the children just watched on silently with folded arms as the children were being tortured by the very inhumane person. She was not satisfied with just kicking them while they were on the floor, but she had to drag the clothes off their frail little bodies. They would scream the recreation hall down but there was nobody to give a damn as the nuns were in the convent sipping tea and cake. Children sitting on the benches just froze and went into panic-mode. They would swing their legs, or they would start crying. The next thing they would be boxed in the ears for crying. A lot of children claim to have had ear damage as a result of the daily beatings in the rec (wreck) hall.