Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Punishment book


In a report by Dr Moira Maguire and Professor Seamus O Cinneide, entitled ‘Report for Newtownforbes Module’, submitted by the Sisters of Mercy in respect of Newtownforbes Industrial School, the authors refer to medical knowledge that was available in the 1930s. The two references12 used by the authors show that bed-wetting was recognised as a psychological problem as far back as the 1930s, with major causes being unhappiness and nervous strain. Treating the problem with harshness exacerbated it, according to the British texts: In these cases ... the only cure is the removal of the cause of unhappiness – that is, not by treating the physical symptoms but by treating the child psychologically. Success, not failure, should always be stressed.


The Irish article recognised the lack of child guidance practice in Ireland, but advised that children who wet the bed should be encouraged with rewards rather than punished.


In Goldenbridge, bed-wetting was viewed as a punishable offence. The method of punishment and the place of the punishments varied. One witness recalled the punishment that was inflicted on her by Sr Bianca for wetting the bed: When I wet the bed which was nearly every night, she would bring you into this room, it’s called the linen room, it was a high room and a narrow room. She just proceeded to put me on the floor on my stomach, she put her left knee on my back, this was the punishment I was getting by the way for wetting the bed, and a big girl, just a big girl ... again, to me she was about 15 or 16 ... she had to hold my legs down, pull down my pants and Mother Bianca pulled up my top and proceeded to smack me really hard for a while on the bum.


Sr Bianca used a stick, and the witness recalled she was punished in this manner two or three times a week. When she first arrived in Goldenbridge, in the early 1950s, that was the regime.


She said that, when Sr Alida took over the running of the School in the mid-1950s, bed-wetters were sent to the landing to await their punishment. The witness also pointed out that children who were bed-wetters were not allowed to have a drink after 4 o’clock in the afternoon.


Another witness who was resident in the 1950s recalled the punishment she was given for wetting the bed. She was lined up in St Patrick’s classroom, along with other bed-wetters, and slapped on the hand by Sr Alida. She also recalled her hair being pulled and her face being pushed into the wet sheets.


A complainant who persistently wet the bed recalled being beaten every morning. She also described the humiliation of sometimes having to parade her wet sheet in front of everyone: Then there were other times I remember there was a recreation hall and those of us who had wet the bed on some occasions we had to go into the front hall and stand there and people were coming in and out. On other occasions we had to go into the recreation hall, again with the wet sheets, and the other children were encouraged to walk around and jeer us. They would call us wet-the-beds.


One complainant said that, after Sr Alida became Manager: She took over and you were put on the landing when you wet the bed or when you did anything else bold but mainly for wetting the bed. I was all the time one of those people. She would leave you on the landing until she was ready to come up and smack you, and you could be there for a long time.


One witness, who was resident in the School in the 1960s and who regularly wet the bed until she was 14, stated that she was sent to the landing to await punishment and that she would be punished in the yard: I was afraid to go to the toilet and that’s why I wet the bed. I think when I look back I thought it was every night I was hit, I don’t know how many times a week I was hit but I was hit for bed-wetting ... if it was discovered after a certain time you got hit down in the yard that was off the rec, you got hit there. I was either on the landing or in the rec, as we called it.


She stated that the beds of children who wet the bed were checked during the night time by one of the older girls and, if the bed was wet, the child would be woken up and put standing on the landing.


Another witness remembered: I can remember praying every night that I wouldn’t wet the bed because I knew that the next morning I would be severely beaten, reprimanded and I remember feeling very cold and standing naked and just the shame, just the absolute shame of it.


A complainant who continued to suffer from nocturnal enuresis for some years after she left the School recalled being beaten by Sr Alida in the classroom. She was also beaten on the landing and she continued to be punished for bed-wetting until she left Goldenbridge at the age of 16.


A woman described how, in the 1960s, her younger siblings were hit by the lay staff for wetting the bed. As the eldest child, she could not bear to hear them being slapped, because she ‘felt every slap they got’. As a result, she took preventive measures: I found it very difficult because they were chastised in the mornings if they wet the beds. I couldn’t bear that so I ended up waking up during the night and crawling under the beds up to the top beds to take the dry sheets off the other kids and bring them down to ... take the wet sheets off and just throw the dry sheets beside my brothers.


This complainant was approximately 10 years old when she was resorting to such measures to defend her siblings from being punished. For a child of such tender years, it was a very stressful experience for her. She told the Committee, ‘I didn’t get much sleep in the early days in the good few years while they wet the bed. I never really slept that well’.


A male witness who was resident in Goldenbridge in the 1970s recalled being beaten on one occasion for wetting the bed. He had tried to conceal the wet sheets, but a nun came into the dormitory and discovered them and ‘she did kind of batter me’. This nun then threw him and the sheets into a bath. He conceded that this was not a regular event. The worst aspect of this incident was the humiliation and fear of wetting the bed: ‘just the whole humiliation of the whole lot’. Even to this day, he said he had a fear of wetting the bed: ‘I would still have that fear. I would wake up during the night just in case because sometimes you would feel like I was going to the toilet’.

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  12. Irish Journal of Medical Science 1939, and 1938 textbooks on the care of young children published in Britain.
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  22. General Inspection Reports 1953, 1954.
  23. General Inspection Reports 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963.
  24. General Inspection Reports 1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960.