Rathdrum holiday home

In her book, “Freedom of Angels” Bernadette Fahy talks about the freedom she felt when she went on Summer holidays to Rathdrum. She reckoned that her tired young mind was restored to equilibrium after all the weariness of life at Goldenbridge industrial “school”.

I don’t presently have the book to hand. However, I do recall Bernadette telling about the times the children went on walks with with Sr. Fabian. She doesn’t mention the name of the nun. Nonetheless, I do know it was her, as I too went on those walks along the boreens to collect blackberries on the ditches. They were always plentiful. It was the only time in my life as a child that I ever recall going on walks of any kind with the nuns. It never happened in Goldenbridge from any of my recollections, despite it being said at the commission to inquire into child institutional abuse that children did go on walks. Children carried cans with them, and were as contented as the flowers in Spring, as they trotted along and collected oodles of berries whilst simultaneously savaging them down in handfuls. They were far more luscious than the tangy sorrel (sour) leaves that were habitually chewed on by children which grew in abundance in the grassy fields at St. Joseph’s. Sr. Fabian wore a long apron and decorative sleeve protecters, and was very normal in her nature towards us.

Bernadette talked about the rockery. I remember it well. It faced the stone wall near the main entrance. It could be seen in full view from the mansion house. Bernadette also stated that she was not too fond of being asked to help out with work at the rockery. I don’t ever recall being asked to help out at that gardening job. I expect it was because of being allocated to scullery duties. Although, I did help Sister F out at the rockery situated nearby the back of the Villa leading to the side avenue at Goldenbridge. Children still had to work in Rathdrum, and sometimes pretty hard at times, but they were not as pressured or beaten like they were in Goldenbridge. I had actually derived great joy in hosing down the perennials at Goldenbridge The country girl that I originally was by nature of my ancestors must have showed itself in the contentedness I exuded when working with flowers. To this day, I still adore flowers. It was far better than having to work in the godforsaken stinking laundry, or having to get down on my knees to scrub the skirting boards and remove thick black stains from the long corridors. I used to be convinced that Sr. F’s granny shoes were responsible for the black pencil marks on the long corridors.

Photo by Joyce Tunstead.

The whole area was part of the holiday home. The building nearest the right was St. Ann’s.

I was talking to a survivor some years ago about Rathdrum. We regaled about the leafy steepy hill that had a stone wall boundary, some old outhouses and a haggard that was to the right of the big mansion house. The survivor had very vivid memories of helping to carry the septic tank, known as Smelly Ellie, down the bottom of the hill to be emptied. It was indeed a very unpleasant task, but somebody had to do it, and the strongest of the girls were selected for the menial task. The alleyway was always dark and mysterious because of so many overgrown trees, which resulted in a carpeted alley covered with leaves. Children delighted in swinging out of the long branches and exploring the hill. It was rat infested, but that was to be expected, as it was not in use for nine months of the year. There was something very hauntingly mythical about the steep hill, it was not as gloomy as I’m making it sound, as there was something magical about all the nooks and crannies and secret glades. If ever I had believed in magic and wonder, it would have been during my time spent in the open green spaces in Rathdrum.

I remember a swimming pool at the far end of St. Joseph’s holiday home. I don’t think it was always in use. Children went to Brittas Bay quite a lot. So there was not really much need of it. There was one particular minor staff member who pushed me into the pool, as a certain nun was approaching. She did it on purpose to attract attention to herself. The nun got very angry, and went as red as a beetroot, as she lashed out at the staff member for doing such a cruel thing. I should add that the member of staff who behaved in that ghastly manner was also the same nasty culprit who had put the ‘stolen’ jelly into my French-made bed, that subsequently got me into serious trouble, and saw me being shifted out of the ‘posh’ dormitory of the main house into the wet-the-bed bleak cottage. The staff member, who was supposed to care for children, actually grew up in the system, and definitely needed just as much minding as the children placed in her care, in my approximation. I now truly understand that a lot of the minor staff that were in charge of children were simply not properly fit or trained for the job. It was so wrong when one thinks about it, that they were not fit for the outside world because of behavioural problems, yet they were deemed okay to take responsibility of very vulnerable children. The system of child-rearing in industrial “schools” in the past was utterly warped and not child centred at all. Anyway, the child caring methods, or rather lack of them was indeed thrashed out at the commission to inquire in child institutional abuse to the somewhat satisfaction of survivors of Goldenbridge.

Rathdrum, Co Wicklow

Painting: Bottom of the town. St. Joseph’s Holiday home was situated at the top of the narrow hill to the right.

I had a visitor one day. I got the shock of my life, as I never had a visitor since I was nine years old. Besides, I knew nobody in the Rathdrum vicinity. An elderly woman all dressed in black had come to visit me. I was very puzzled as to her identity.

Children were experts at playing ‘Chinese stones’. Even more complex moves than seen in  video. Five polished looking stones needed for the game were easily gathered from main cobbled stoned entrance of Georgian rectory house.


St. Joseph’s Holiday Home Rathdrum Co. Wicklow


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