Director/Voluntary Capacity at The Aislinn Education & Support Centre. I am a Director/Co-Founder of The Aislinn Education& Support Centre. I work along side my colleague Christine Buckley on a voluntary basis to help fellow survivors. This centre was set up following the former Taoiseach’s apology May 1999 on behalf of the State for the awful atrocities perpetrated on the most vulnerable.
By ANITA GUIDERA
Wednesday May 26 1999
AN emotional radio plea has helped a woman piece together the circumstances around a tragedy in which her two young brothers lost their lives 33 years ago. Harry McDonnell (13), his brother Robert (12) and Sean O’Donoghue (13) drowned on the evening they arrived in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, on holiday with a group of 45 boys from St. Xavier’s Orphanage in Dublin. Carmel McDonnell Byrne says she and her sisters at the Goldenbridge Orphanage were never given the full information about their deaths nor were they allowed to grieve. She appeared on Highland Radio in Co Donegal this week to appeal for more information.“I was 11 at the time it happened and I was in Goldenbridge with my two sisters and two brothers. We were never allowed to grieve,” she said. “My sister and I were given two bulls-eye sweets and told to go away and say our prayers.”Later when Carmel would think of her dead brothers and start to cry, she claimed she was beaten by staff and told to “cut out the nonsense”.
The eight McDonnell children, of Drimnagh, were taken into the orphanages after their mother abandoned them on July 9, 1965, exactly a year before her brothers drowned.
To this day, Carmel does not know whether the boys were supervised or why a group of 10 were allowed go swimming at 7pm on the evening they arrived while the priest in charge remained in the friary to allocate beds.
“There are so many unanswered questions and until recently, there has been nowhere to turn to get the information. It is something that has affected my whole family since,” she said.
But her tearful radio appeal for information on Highland Radio on Monday was answered yesterday by retired Garda Sergeant Aidan Murray, of Ballyshannon, who helped in the search for the missing boys.
“Everyone for miles around pitched in to help in the search for the bodies and it had an enormous impact on the gardai and the local people,” he said.
“I was on my own when I took Robert’s body to the hospital after it was found days later. It was one of the toughest duties I ever performed.”
Carmel now says that with the knowledge that her brothers were treated with respect and dignity at the time of their deaths, the healing process can begin for all her family.
“It is so reassuring to know how that local community cared about them in their tragic deaths,” she said.
I was told about the terrible tragedy from Carmel.
She arrived at Goldenbridge with her sisters when she was ten years of age. So she would have have a concept of what it was like to be loved and cared for and could analyse the difference in the cold dark uncaring atmosphere she was thrown into., whereas those of us who never knew what a caring figure was like were mostly like bowlby’s affectionless thieves.