It was such a revelation learning about my documented pre-Goldenbridge past and its culmination leading to my incarceration into 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.
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.
Multitudinous Familial discoveries
I was just one of thousands of survivors of Reformatories and Industrial “Schools” who had made bleak institutional past discoveries. The information was requested by the commission to inquire into child abuse (CICA) investigative and private committees and the subsequent redress board (RIRB) from those appearing before them.
Stories that emerged from FOI records could have involved parental suicides; parents having had two or three more families in various countries. Stories of children who were reared together in the same institution, who had then amazingly discovered for the first time that they were sisters, despite having had the same surname. Notwithstanding, that this would have been unsurprising, given that when they grew up together they would not have known anything about themselves. Children in Goldenbridge on the whole were not aware of their surnames. They would have been known by their prison numbers mostly; so hence being none the wiser about their familial connection. The religious never told the children anything about their family history
There were stories that entailed having had siblings that survivors never knew existed, because they had either been adopted or had been reared by their fathers who may have been in separate relationships and living in England.
There were stories of parents who had struggled relentlessly with the Irish authorities to get their children out of institutions, but, were unsuccessful. Nevertheless, there is one very good example of a father who diligently fought the Irish system in a landmark case in order to secure the release of his daughter from an Industrial “School”. Doubtless, he won the high profile court case. His name was Desmond Doyle, there was a film made about his notorious struggle with the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. For more information about this…
Many survivors, such as myself, had learned that they had lived with their mothers for the first few years of their lives and/or had been initially reared by relatives prior to placement in out-of-home care. A number of survivors, who identified themselves as ‘orphans’, reported to the private arm of CICA that frequently their mothers had, for various reasons, been unable to support them. The majority of these survivors had known little or nothing about the circumstances of their admission to out-of-home care. This lack of information included not knowing where they had been born, who their mothers and their fathers were, whether they had siblings, why their parents were unable to care for them and who decided they would be admitted to the Industrial “School” system.
I read the Regina Ceoli mother and baby home records (pre-Goldenbridge era, where I had spent my babyhood) and was involved in a serious accident, and that too was excruciatingly unbearable to handle. I dreaded going back to the solicitor to have that part of my files rehashed over and over again. I just could not go there, and became worn out trying to psychologically shelve the new-found knowledge. Every time I had been called in to the sollcitors’ office it irked me considerably whenever the matter was mentioned, that I found it sometimes easier to ignore solicitor appointments. The Regina Ceoli part of my life was the most painful of all to get my head around. At least the Goldenbridge part was in the public domain and involved others, whereas in contrast the Regina Ceoli episode was only applicable to me. It was personal and scary and very isolating. I could understand why my mother could not talk to me about it.
There were also a lot of other applicable details in the reports such as hospital visitations, reports from visitation officers sent to host families where difficulties may have arisen, as was the case with me personally. There were medical and “school” reports, and even bogus inspection menus and Industrial “School” inspection reports contained in the records.
I came under the “Destitution” sub-category and was committed to Goldenbridge until the age of 16.
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.
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. 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, 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 – were all hauled off to court by the infamous “cruelty men” (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.
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 1929 and 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 kind of people involved in sending children to court, were oftentimes untrained, coming 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.
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 parent/s 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.
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 reformatories and industrial schools from the above settings were mostly the offspring of unmarried mothers, and were frequently referred to as ‘orphans.’ 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 institution.
In the following there are some examples of very brave vocal survivor voices, who briefly outline their initial institutional incarceration entrance tales.
I know Andrew Brennan for years. He writes prolifically about industrial “schools” on the Internet.
Of course the 3 children of the marriage were all incarcerated into various detention centres, but Bunty who was born in the Magdalen Asylum was not touched as our mother’s family prevented it and he continued to live with his Granny.
During my time in those places the only information I received from the nuns about my mother was that she was dead – basically that I was an orphan – and that my mother was evil, a tramp and no good to anyone. That she was a wicked woman who was burning in the fires of hell where she would remain for eternity – and at times the same nuns liked to point me out to the other children and label me as a spawn of the devil.
Yes that’s what Irish nuns used to tell children about their mothers.
Kathy Ferguson, who has been sending me information pertaining to industrial schools via e-mails over the years, says:
I was entrusted to the care of nuns by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) as a 3 year old, and charged and sentenced up to the age of sixteen. What crime had I been charged with? Illegitimacy?
I grew up with Bernadette Fahy. She became a counselling psychologist and author.
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.
There were also survivors detained when they were much older than the three aforementioned above. A child, of say, 8 or 10 years old, would have been considered old by those who went into the institutions from babyhood or toddlerhood. Remember too that in those dark days girls and boys from poorer backgrounds in the outside world mostly went to work at 14 years old. Children had no choice but to grow up fast in that sense in olden days. Poverty stricken backgrounds saw to that happening. As a consequence a lot of survivors aged 8-10 would have had the benefit of knowing their mothers or/and fathers. However, they suffered in a divergent way because of knowing what it was like to have had a loving mother or father, and to have been instantaneously taken away from that stable loving environment. It wreaked so much emotional havoc. They also had some kind of worldview knowledge lodged in their brains that helped in deciphering the dissimilarity in their lives. They didn’t have the baggage of the affectionless non-parental institutionalised inmates. Those survivors who grew up in the system were in the main the weaker ones in every respect. The former could make comparisons with the way they were treated by the cruel system and that of a home loving life. It was survivors of this preeminence who were able to fight for justice in the finality. Not so much the longstanding institutionalised survivors.
Carmel McDonnell, co founder of Aislinn Centre and her sister Geraldine were in Goldenbridge. (Sadly two of their brothers were drowned whilst under the auspices of industrial schools.)
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.
It was the NSPCC that got Kathleen O’Malley and her siblings sent to Goldenbridgre and Moate industrial school. (The latter institution was used as a threat for ‘bold’ children at Goldenbridge. It turned out to be a far better institution than Goldenbridge by all accounts.) Kathleen: “I was Illegitimate, so they told me I was rotten to the core” Tormented by the Sisters of Mercy during her childhood in Ireland, Kathleen O’Malley has written a book about her ordeal to exorcise her demons. ‘Childhood Interrupted.’
In 1950, Kathleen O’Malley and her two sisters were legally abducted from their mother and placed in an industrial school ran by the Sisters of Mercy order of nuns, who also ran the notorious Magdalene Homes. The rape of eight-year-old Kathleen by a neighbour had triggered their removal – the Irish authorities ruling that her mother must have been negligent. They were only allowed a strictly supervised visit once a year, until they were permitted to leave the harsh and cruel regime of the institution at the age of sixteen.
Mary Norris was removed from her mother at the age of twelve. Her mother was having an affair, and Mary believes that those in authority thought she was a bad example. The children were taken to a judge and made wards of court. They were sent to different places run by different Roman Catholic institutions. Mary found herself at St Joseph’s industrial school in Killarney.
Michael O’Brien became famous overnight when he told the world via Q&A what had happened to him in Ferryhouse:
Michael O’Brien is a former councillor and mayor of Clonmel. He is also a survivor of abuse at Ferryhouse and came to national prominence through his campaigning on institutional abuse. Michael was one of 13 siblings. When he was eight years old, his mother died and he and his siblings were taken into care. He was detained in this industrial school for eight years where he was raped and beaten repeatedly. He was separated from his brother for 40 years.
Mannix Flynn is an activist and a Dublin City councillor
Gerard Mannix Flynn, sometimes written only as Mannix Flynn, is an Irish writer, playwright, actor and politician. He was born in Dublin in May 1957. He was sent to St Joseph’s Industrial School in Letterfrack aged eleven for eighteen months. He was subjected to sexual and physical abuse there. Later he spent time in the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, He also spent time in Marlborough House Detention Centre and St Patrick’s Institution, Mountjoy for committing arson.
Don Baker, singer:
Don Baker, sent to the Oblate Order’s notorious Daingean institution, remembered being served potatoes infested with maggots for his first meal there. He recalled, too, being spread naked on all fours across the bottom steps of a staircase, with a very hefty brother pinning his hands by standing on them, while another clergyman flogged him mercilessly. You might ponder the maggots and the flogging before turning to stories of girls being made to live for days with pigs; children beaten into simpleton states having been caught after a brief escape; children eating grass to quell hunger.
Read more: Unholy Trinity – by Eddie Holt
The stories go on ad infinitum. I recall in the Aislinn survivor centre comparing stories and listening to varying reasons of other Goldenbridge inmates, as to how they came to be there. Survivors knew very little, if anything at all, about each others personal background whilst growing up in Goldenbridge. So there were a lot of nonplussed looks on the faces, when they saw, for example, that they had to be incarcerated with the consent of parent/s or guardians. It had never dawned on most of them – that prior to receipt of records that they may have had lives pre Goldenbridge, as their past lives never ever came into the equation when growing up in Goldenbridge. I know for certain that it stunned me immensely to find out from my mother that I had a life beforehand in the Regina Ceoli mother and baby home for almost five years before entering Goldenbridge. I was glad to have been given that information by my mother in the 80s than to find out about it from my records in the late 90s.
It overwhelmed survivors when they first went into the outside world when people asked them personal family questions that those who had a normal upbringing would take for granted. I spent over a quarter of a century not knowing who I was, and I never talked about the past, unless people asked me questions, and I filled them up with make-belief stories. I had a different story for a different mood, and the person of whom I was telling the yarn. Survivors even changed their names whenever they took a vagary. They were answerable to nobody, as they didn’t even know where the names they went by came to be belonging to them in the first place, as they were so used to being called by numbers only in the institutions. So Orders of Detention to be certified into industrial schools gave them all the information they wanted to know about themselves.
There were so many survivors not fortunate enough as myself to find out their maternal/paternal biological roots. I singlehandedly discovered my own roots. The detainment in reformatories and industrial schools has left life-long damaging effects on inmates and their extended families. It will be felt for generations still yet to come.
There are so many survivors who do not have any inkling of who their mothers and fathers and their own immediate families are at a loss to know their roots. There were some survivors who did find out who they were, and became so angry that they wanted to have nothing to do with the parents whom they felt had abandoned and left them to rot in reformatories and industrial schools – or anyone else connected to them for that matter.
There were also parents and siblings who closed the doors on them when they arrived to say hello. I know of one particular bi-racial survivor who arrived at the doorstep of an aunt, and the latter simply turned her away, without giving her any information about her mother. The aunt was so ashamed apparently to know that her sister had been in a relationship with a man from another country, the survivor was able to tell her his nationality. She did not want to know at all.
So many survivors have stories of landing up unannounced at doorsteps, and the fallout left many survivors and families at breaking point. I arrived unannounced at a door, but it was that of the host family in Boyne St. off, Westland Row, Dublin, who took me out, and it was a very traumatic situation. It was also visa versa with new-found siblings who also appeared on doorsteps and stunned survivors. There is an example given of Valerie in Goldenbridge. See: Sr. Fabian and one afternoon in the classroom [para. 7].
The adopted sister some years ago suddenly arrived at Valerie’s abode. It caused great consternation, as Valerie never knew of her existence. She took Valerie under her wing, but the wounds were way too deep for her to appreciate any kindness. Valerie could not grasp the logic as to why she was also not adopted, and it caused deep friction and resentment. This type of thinking is very common with those who were detained in Goldenbridge. The sadness of it is that one is not dealing with just normal sibling rivalry.
The Industrial Schools, (Irish: Scoileanna Saothair) established in Ireland under the Industrial Schools Act of 1868 to care for “neglected, orphaned and abandoned children” failed the children wretchedly. So too did the reformatories.
To almost conclude with Part II of avenue to the institutions I leave you with the premature words of Richard Robert Cherry, a future Chief Justice of Ireland, speaking in 1911 was of the opinion that:
It is impossible to exaggerate the good effect (of)…. this twin system of Reformatory and Industrial Schools. The latter have been particularly successful in Ireland; and the combination of voluntary effort and private management, with State regulation and partial support—a rather dangerous experiment—has been completely justified by the result.
Nonetheless – In light of the findings in the Ryan report almost one hundred years later, his assessment of the ‘experiment’ was apparently premature.
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established in 2000 with functions including the investigation of abuse of children in institutions in the State. It was dependent on people giving evidence of which they did in large numbers. The conclusion of the report, issued in May, 2009, was that over a period going back at least to the 1940s, many children in Industrial Schools in the Republic, had been subjected to systematic and sustained physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It also found that the perpetrators of, this violence; had been protected by their religious superiors, primarily out of self-interest, in order to maintain the reputations of the institutions concerned.
I would like to leave Mannix Flynn with the last few words in the closing of part two – of a trilogy – on the ‘avenue to the institutions’ – as he sums up succinctly everything I would wish to say about the architecture of containment of thousands upon thousands of children in Irish reformatories and industrial schools in Ireland. Children, who should have been cherished by the nation, were instead marched off to child prisons, thus scarring them permanently because their character formation was tampered with at an important growth point in their young lives.
ROMANTIC IRELAND is truly dead and gone,” Mannix Flynn said with justifiable anger. In his review of Bruce Arnold’s new book, The Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children (The Irish Times, May 30th), Flynn added: “Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany will now have the company of the Irish Church State, a brutal regime that perpetrated acts of unimaginable horror on its most vulnerable children . . . It will take generations to heal and understand this trauma. The Irish people will suffer for a long time to come.
The avenue to the institutions was paved with indelible pain and hurt.