Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Punishment book


This complainant recalled being punished on a regular basis by Sr Venetia. She said that Sr Venetia would beat children for wetting the bed, and she also recalled being beaten by her on the legs during Irish Dancing classes, for not raising her legs high enough: Sr Venetia had a way that you had to stand a distance from her. She never got close to you. She stood so far and you stood and your hands at all times had to be out straight ... If you bent your elbows she would come close to you then and she would just whack those elbows. In the end, you just held your arms out. Sometimes you would just think to yourself “when is she going to stop?” She had this way of looking at you, I don’t know. She seemed to get redder and redder as somebody who was hitting you, whereas she was quite a pale person any other time. She seemed to get into this frenzied type look. She was a very cruel woman.


Another resident from the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s, recalled a high level of physical abuse in Goldenbridge. On a regular basis, she was slapped with a cane, even as a very small child. She later said: Physical abuse was part and parcel of everyday life in Goldenbridge. Sr Venetia would have many, many times abused me physically and verbally. It didn’t have to be for anything specific. It could be your laces weren’t tied or it could be your hair was untidy. It could be that she didn’t like the look of you that particular day.


A complainant who was in Goldenbridge for 10 years from the mid-1960s stated that her initial memories of Goldenbridge were of hitting, taunting and name-calling, and that she was constantly in front of Sr Venetia, who slapped her with a hand brush for minor misdemeanours. She recalled being beaten on one occasion because she had a button missing from her nightdress. This complainant asserted that Sr Venetia called her names, either that she was dirty or that she was ‘man mad’.


On one occasion, this complainant, who was only seven years of age at the time, suffered from diarrhoea during the night. She had an accident on her way to the bathroom, and the next morning, when questioned, she denied being responsible. Nevertheless, she was sent to Sr Venetia and was identified as the culprit. Sr Venetia slapped her with the hand brush, and she was slapped by everybody who had any dealings with the situation at all, including the lay workers on the dormitory.


One witness from the 1950s and 1960s said that occasionally you would get a smack across the face from Sr Venetia when she checked the rosary beads in the evening, but on the whole she did not have any complaint about Sr Venetia. She later said: She never actually hurt me. I am here for myself. She never actually hurt me ... she would slap but she wasn’t cruel. What I mean by a slap, I never saw her giving anybody a hiding.


She contrasted Sr Venetia to some of the lay workers who were there, whom she described as very cruel.


This complainant, as with so many other complainants, was able to make the distinction between the corporal punishment administered by Sr Venetia and that administered by the lay care workers and by Sr Alida. Sr Venetia was not perceived as being unfair, cruel or brutal. She was singled out as having taken action when complaints by the girls were made to her about the treatment meted out to one of the younger children by the lay workers.


Another unusual complaint was that children were put into the large, industrial-sized tumble dryers. Complainants named lay staff, other children and, in one instance, Sr Alida as being responsible. The dryer was not turned on when the children were put into it, but they found it a very frightening experience.


One complainant recalled being put into the tumble dryer by some of the older girls: There was a dryer on the right-hand side, quite a rounded looking thing, not like what you would see a dryer today and it was quite a lot off the floor. One of them picked me up and put me in there and they shut the door. I can see one of their faces now looking in that.


In the Crowley Report, Sr Venetia confirmed the allegations in respect of the tumble dryer. Sr Alida acknowledged to Mr Crowley about being confronted by a parent for threatening to place her daughter in the tumble dryer. In evidence, she said that a person had come to her to tell her that her child was afraid of the tumble dryer and advised her about it.


The Investigation Committee heard a number of allegations against lay workers who were employed in the Institution. There were three different categories of lay worker in Goldenbridge.


There were four teachers in the internal primary school, two of whom were nuns, together with two lay teachers.


The second category of lay worker was the staff who looked after kitchens and dormitories and who were, to a very large extent, the people at the centre of childcare in Goldenbridge. These lay workers were responsible for the day-to-day running of the Institution, but were of course subject to the authority of the Resident Manager and her Assistant Sister at the time. Their task was mainly to assist with the supervision of the children before and after school hours. They worked in shifts, two on and two off. The lay staff were not trained in any aspects of childcare.


In the third category were former pupils who were retained as helpers, at the expiry of their detention orders at the age of 16. Sr Alida stated that there were only three former pupils towards the end of her tenure in Goldenbridge who were retained as helpers, although this number was greater in the earlier years. She said: There were two or three girls who had no motivation to leave, had difficulty of their own; one was severely handicapped mentally and incapable of making her own way in the world, the other had a very serious speech defect and I cannot put down exactly, obesity I suppose I would say for the third, which we tried to get treated and it didn’t change. They would be the only three past pupils that were working in the school that I can remember in my time.


Sr Alida’s description of the former pupils who were retained to look after the other children and work in the Industrial School would suggest they were entirely unsuitable to work with children.

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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.