As a child growing up, I remember vividly at certain times when I was staying with the host family – the Boyne’s of Boyne St., some neighbours wiping away tears from their eyes when they knelt down to say hello to me. I never understood this tearful behaviour, let alone their saying… “ah, look at the poor orphan, isn’t she gorgeous”. I knew somehow that I was very different, because, otherwise neighbours would not have looked at me in the way they did. However, unlike Evelyn Doyle, author of Evelyn who appears to have had a concept of her young life in relation to who she was, I was the total opposite and utterly bamboozled. I knew nothing about my life. I didn’t even know what it was like to have a life. I constantly looked in a mirror at all the other children in Boyne St., and associated them with having lives with other people who had lived in the houses with them, but, I could not ever relate to the Boyne’s in that way. There was no single adult in my life when I was with the Boyne’s. I never connected to any of them, I just saw them from afar, as mostly kind people, who were confused as to the role they should be playing. I should add here, that they were generous to a tee and were never ever mean to me, but there was no one to play the role of a mother / father figure. There was one male in the family called John, who went on to the priesthood and later left. I don’t ever remember him connecting to me at all. He just stared at me, as if to say, you are in my way. So between the neighbours pitying me because I was an orphan on one hand and on the other being with a family with no one person to look after me, I remained perplexed.
I remember a freckled boy called Robbie Irwin who came with his sister with red hair called Sandra and their mother Annie, to visit the Boyne’s, as the matriarchal figure was her mother. Annie was such a kind person. However, the same could not be said for the little boy with the freckled face, and his sister to a lesser degree. They were not interested in making friends with me. I felt as though I was looked down upon by them. They lived in what was considered a posh part of Dublin at the time – Santry. They spoke with a different accent. Their behaviour quite reminded me of the pets in Goldenbridge.
I was page-girl at Esther’s (sister to Annie) wedding at St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. I remember Robbie being page-boy and acting out badly in not wanting to walk down the aisle with me. He was so spoiled. He wanted only to be with his sister. I guess the stigma of being an orphan played out somewhat positively when I got the sympathy from the neighbours, but negatively when it came to situations like those with Robbie. An aside. The stations of the cross are very similar to those that adorned the long narrow corridor at Goldenbridge. Image: H/t Le Monde1
Robbie lost his mother when he was very young. It was very sad. I heard about it from his Aunt Esther, who went to live in Glasgow after she married an Irish-Glaswegian. Her husband, Gerry was one of the most kindest and gentlest persons I’ve ever encountered in my life. So too was Alfie, the husband of another sister called Irene. Alfie/Irene went on to adopt a huge amount of children. It was they who panicked tremendously when I arrived at the door in Boyne St. as a young woman and wanted to look for the grave of my mother. It was within half an hour that Alfie was able to confirm the homeplace of my natural mother. I used to wonder how Alfie learned so quickly about me. However, when I think about it, he must have had some connections with social services, as he had adopted a whole rake of children and would more than likely be privy to information given his inside connections. Alfie, sadly passed away. He was very kind to me as a child. I thought him so handsome and not unlike Elvis. I remembering him asking me if I’d wanted some red lemonade when I was at his house. I looked askance and said, ‘red lemonade, what is that? Is that something like IRN Brew? He laughed out loud and said “you were crazy about that stuff when you were a child when you were with the Boyne’s. I’d been living in England for far too long and had forgotten all things Irish. Yes, when I look back, I can see the flowery painted glass filled up to the brim with fizzy, sizzling drink. Such an alien thing to the Goldenbridge mind, where we were half-starved of food.
The irony of it all was that children in Goldenbridge were called orphans and it turned out that we were far from orphans in real life. In fact, the head-honcho of Goldenbridge and young people such as Robbie were the real orphans and not us at all. As he said himself to Ryan Tubridy on his radio show on the 9th January 2008: “Can you imagine what it’s like to lose both your parents while you’re still a child? To take on the role of carer or breadwinner while in your teens?”. I know that John Boyne who came out of the Oblate Fathers was a tower of strength to him during those years. There was also a younger sister than Sandra who would have been very young at the time. I believe his mother was the most gentlest of all the Boyne’s.