Avenues to the Institutions: Part III – Testimony snippets

Avenues to the Institutions: Part III – Testimony snippets

Posted on July 23, 2013

To conclude Avenues to the Institutions trilogy, I would like to show some sample testimonies of very brave vocal survivors. The latter briefly outline the initial institutional incarceration entrances, or were told via the media.

Firstly, I would like to introduce Christine Buckley with whom I had spent my whole childhood at Goldenbridge. Christine is now a household name in Ireland. She – along with other survivors – for over a quarter of a century relentlessly sought to seek justice for survivors of Reformatories and Industrial ‘Schools.‘, who were treated very inhumanely in their respective institutions.

Christine Buckley’s birth was the result of an affair between a married Dublin woman and visiting Nigerian student. At the age of three weeks she was given up for fostering. Having been in a number of foster homes at the age of four Christine Buckley was sent to Goldenbridge, an Industrial ‘School’ run by the Sisters of Mercy.

I know Andrew Brennan for years. He writes prolifically on Industrial ‘Schools’ in the blogosphere.

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.

I accompanied Mary Smith to Co. Cork some years ago to seek her mother’s grave, and to visit her new-found brother who was in a mental hospital. Sadly, Christopher has since passed on. It was such a devastating experience. We had no luck in finding the grave. Nevertheless, I did find out later that Mary was successful in her endeavour to find the whereabouts of the grave.

Mary Smith’s eyes are brimming with tears as she talks of how she believes the Irish State “stole” her family’s lives. Mary, her brother Christy and her mother, Eileen, were all locked up in institutions. Unmarried Eileen gave birth to both her children in the Magdalene Laundry in Cork. Both babies were snatched from her arms the minute they were born and thrown into Industrial ‘Schools’. They never saw their mother again and Mary only discovered she had a brother when she was 27 years old. Eileen had been hidden away in a mental hospital where she died when she was thirty-two. Her son was also left in a mental institution where he still is today.

Kathy Ferguson, has been sending me information (for years) via e-mails pertaining to Reformatories Industrial “Schools” 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.

Paddy Doyle has been a very successful activist for survivors and people with disabilities. I know him from Twitter and through other survivor networks for a very long time.

Paddy Doyle’s mother died when he was four years old. Six weeks later he witnessed his father tragically hanging from a tree in his front garden in Yoletown in Co Wexford. With no one to look after him, Paddy and his sister were committed to institutional care.

There were also survivors detained in Reformatories and Industrial ‘Schools’ when they were much older than the six aforementioned survivors. A child, of say, 8 or 10 years of age would have been considered old by the standards of those inmates who went into institutions from infancy, toddlerhood and pre-Communion years. As in all likelihood, a lot of survivors when they were incarcerated between the ages of 8-10 would have had the benefit of knowing the meaning of parental love. Most of those older children would have been in a much stronger emotional and social position to differentiate between the outside world and the child prisons they found themselves incarcerated in by the court system.

Carmel McDonnell, co founder of Aislinn Centre, her sister Geraldine and another deceased sister were in Goldenbridge. Sadly two brothers were drowned whilst under the auspices of the Christian Brothers in a boys’ Industrial ‘School’.

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 who got Kathleen O’Malley and her siblings sent to Goldenbridge 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) 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 Wikipedia source:

Mary 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.

Gretta Curran Browne was born in Dublin city where she spent some of her childhood years in the notorious Goldenbridge orphanage.

But what she didn’t like as she went on the book publicity circuit was being questioned about her background – particularly her childhood in the notorious Goldenbridge orphanage made famous in Christine Buckley’s TV documentary. She had been so secretive about those days that up until then she hadn’t even told her children.

She believes that her experiences there had a long-lasting effect on her life. To this day, she still needs sleeping tablets to get through the night, and has attempted suicide nine times.

Without her husband and children, she says she would not be alive today.

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.

Peter Tyrrell

Peter told Owen Sheehy-Skeffington about the abuse perpetrated in Letterfrack Industrial ‘School’. The latter subsequently wrote a book about Letterfrack that was published posthumously. Peter Tyrrell committed suicide in London by setting fire to himself.

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.

The stories go on ad infinitum. I recall on innumerable occasions in the past in the Aislinn survivor centre comparing various stories as to the raison d’être behind their incarceration to
Goldenbridge. 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 parents or guardians. It had never dawned on most of them prior to receipt of records that they may have had lives pre Goldenbridge, as their past lives never ever came into the equation whilst growing up in Goldenbridge.

I know for certain that it stunned me immensely to find out from my mother that I had, had a life beforehand in the Regina Coeli 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, rather than to have found out about it from my records in the late 90s.

It overwhelmed survivors when they made their first steps into the outside world. They had to contend with so much that their institutional minds just could not comprehend the world around them. Everything was new and frightening and unfathomable. For instance, when people asked personal familial questions that those coming from normal backgrounds would be expected to take for granted, they were invariably left bamboozled, and concocted stuff to suit the climate of the time. They had no wherewithal at all.

I spent more than a quarter of a century not knowing who I was, and never talked about the past, unless people directly asked me questions. I then filled questioners with make-belief stories, to my chagrin that also included employers who were in the throes of offering me lucratively secure job positions. I had a different story to tell for every mood, and the mood of the persons of whom I was telling the yarns. Survivors even changed their names whenever they took vagaries. 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 mostly they were used to being called by numbers in the institutions. So Orders of Detention to be certified into Industrial ‘Schools’ gave them all the information they wanted to know about themselves. They could come out of their make-belief hideouts at long last.

Indeed, there were many survivors not as fortunate enough as myself to find out their maternal / paternal biological roots. I singlehandedly discovered my own roots.

The architecture of containment in Reformatories and Industrial ‘Schools’ has left life-long damaging effects on inmates and their extended families. It will be felt for generations yet to come.

There are momentarily vast amount of survivors who do not have any inkling of who their mothers and fathers. Consequently their own immediate families are at a sad loss to know their roots. There were some survivors who did find out who they were, and became very angry that they wanted to have absolutely nothing to do with the parents, or anyone else connected to them, whom they felt had abandoned and left them to rot in Reformatories and Industrial ‘Schools’.

There were also parents and siblings who closed their doors on survivors when they arrived to say hello to them. I know of one particular bi-racial survivor who had arrived at the doorstep of an aunt, and the latter simply turned her away without giving any information about her mother. By all accounts, the aunt had been ashamed upon hearing for the first time that her sister had been in a relationship with a man from Kenya. The aunt simply did not want to know her at all. She was ashamed of her. I bled for the survivor when she regaled to me her plight, as she really should not have had her grief compounded in that cold and uncaring prejudiced fashion. It was so hard on her going up to the doorstep, and not knowing what to expect, then to have her worst fears realised. I know that the selfsame survivor years later discovered siblings with the help of Origins, an organisation run under the auspices of Barnardos to help survivors of Industrial ‘Schools’ to find their roots. The survivor was pleased to tell me that there was a family reunion. The siblings were far more accepting, so it lifted me no end to hear the good news.

So many survivors have stories to tell of landing up unannounced at doorsteps, and the subsequent fallout that left many survivors and families at breaking point. When I was in my late twenties, I personally arrived unannounced at a door, albeit, it was that of the host family of Boyne St. Nr. Westland Row, Dublin who took me out as a young child from Goldenbridge. It was such a traumatic experience. I was an emotional wreck in the aftermath. Not to be recommended without professional help. It was also the reverse with newfound siblings who also appeared on stunned survivors’ doorsteps. 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’, (IrishScoileanna 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. 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, and who, instead, were 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.

Industrial ‘Schools’ were the product of a religious but unspiritual society.

The avenue to the institutions was paved with indelible pain and hurt.


▪     Report Details Abuses in Irish Reformatories – NYTimes.com



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