‘I entered Goldenbridge orphanage in my Communion outfit. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing there.’ At age seven, Bernadette Fahy was delivered with her three brothers to Goldenbridge Orphanage. She was to stay there until she was sixteen. Goldenbridge has come to represent some of the worst aspects of childrearing practices in Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s. Seen as the offspring of people who had strayed from social respectability and religious standards, these children were made to pay for the ‘sins’ of their parents. Bernadette tells of the pain, fear, hunger, hard labour and isolation experienced in the orphanage. Can a person recover from such a childhood? How does the spirit ever take flight — and gain the ‘freedom of angels’? This is Bernadette Fahy’s concern. Now trained and working as a counsellor, she has had to dig deeply into her past to understand the patterns laid down by her upbringing. She has had to rebuild her life, and now she helps others to do the same. This book is a story of triumph over the harshest of circumstances.
I knew Bernadette Fahy in Goldenbridge. I have one strong image of her in the Rec (wreck) hall, because she had a patch over her eye after getting treatment done at the eye and ear hospital. Bernadette was lucky to have been sent to the ‘outside’ secondary school. However, like Christine Buckley, she was never treated as a (la la) pet.
I’ve just competed nine chapters of Bernadette Fahy’s book about Goldenbridge. It brought me back to my childhood there. I am a few years older than Bernadette, and remember her as a child. It’s rather surreal reading about the characters in the institution, as Bernadette was not allowed to divulge their names, and I know exactly who she is referring to in the book. I concur with stuff she says about the cruel staff. For instances, she tells of one particular staff member who was abominably cruel to children. She would beat them on the backs with a deck-brush if they hadn’t cleaned the dining hall to her liking. She was so vicious, that eventually she was found out for her cruelty and was let go by the nuns. I know from someone who was in Goldenbridge that the same person went off to America, and went to work for a very high profile celebrity, and was very much admired for her kindness to the children. Indeed, as Bernadette says, the same staff member was known to be kind to some children, that she favoured, but if she took a dislike to a child all hell let loose.