Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Emotional abuse


The Investigation Committee heard complaints regarding emotional abuse in the evidence from complainants. All of the complainants came to Goldenbridge in harrowing circumstances. Some had lost a parent, and the surviving parent was either not able to cope or was deemed by the State to be unsuitable. Others were abandoned. Some came from desperately poor families, and others were born out of wedlock to mothers who felt that society left them with no option but to place their child in care. Some of those committed were babies; others had spent a substantial part of their childhood with their families. Most of the children were heartbroken and terrified on entering Goldenbridge. They all shared a vulnerability that made them emotionally needy.


Complainants lived in an atmosphere of constant fear of arbitrary punishment for misdemeanours and of being humiliated. Despite always being surrounded by people, many expressed an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness. Many of the complainants stated that they are left with deep psychological scars as a result of their time in Goldenbridge.


Witnesses’ account of their experiences in Goldenbridge indicate a very high level of emotional abuse in that Institution.


One witness spoke of arriving at Goldenbridge as a six-year-old child in the late 1940s after her mother had died of TB. She described the experience as ’very very harrowing’: she said she was stripped of her clothes and that all her hair was cropped.


When asked whether she had understood at the time why her clothes were being taken from her, she replied: No. You weren’t told. You were just used and abused ... you were disposable ... They didn’t give a stuff about what you were, whether you were a child, whether you were breathing, whether you were living, what you were feeling. Nobody bothered about a child. You were just a disposable item. That’s the way it seemed to me. That’s the way I have carried all through my life. I don’t like what I have carried all through my life. It has left me vulnerable, raw and it has affected the whole of my life.


She said: I used to scurry around. I used to try to dodge and weave to get away from the beatings, the abuse. You didn’t. You were helpless. Wherever you were you were a helpless victim. You couldn’t get away from them. They used to clatter you, they used to batter you. The names you were called. The stuff you had to go through. The thing was you were always so alone. There was never anybody there for you. Nobody was there this is what I find so hard to tell you. You were lumped together and you were one of a many, many ...


When asked to describe what she was fearful of in Goldenbridge she said, ‘what they would do to you. You knew that you could never get away from their cruelty. You couldn’t escape and take yourself off’.


She said she used to lie in her bed at night and wished that she didn’t wake up in the morning. She said that she would sob her heart out crying for her mother.


Another complainant was eight years of age when she was put into Goldenbridge with her younger sister in the early 1950s. She said that her mother and father had separated and that her father had abandoned the family. She was living with her grandmother when, she believes, the NSPCC made an application to court to have both her and her younger sister committed to Goldenbridge. She said: We weren’t prepared in any way, we weren’t told – we thought it was an outing which was very rare anyway for us ... the next thing we knew my mother and my grandmother were leaving, they were leaving. We didn’t know what was going to happen to us. Of course we were screaming trying to get out through the door with them and the nun just pulled us back.


This complainant said that her grandmother used to come on Wednesday afternoons to visit her. Visiting day was Saturday, and her grandmother was not allowed into the School. She said that one of the nuns would come to her and say, ‘Go down to the gate, your grandmother is there’.


She said that she went to a remand home in England after she had left Goldenbridge and that the environment there was completely different. She said that the convent was run by a French Order, and their whole attitude towards the children was that they had some value. They were not sadistic in any way and, although the regime there was strict by today’s standard, you were punished for actually doing something wrong. She said that the children were also allowed to play, even though they had chores to do and laundry duties; nevertheless, there was no forced labour: ‘We actually liked the nuns there’.


When asked to elaborate on the contrast between the English home and Goldenbridge, this complainant said, ‘the stark contrast was that we were allowed to be children, we didn’t feel that we were despised’. She said that the living conditions and the food were better and that, although corporal punishment was used and administered with a cane, she could count on the fingers on one hand the times it happened to her.


One complainant was born to an unmarried mother and lived with her grandmother in Dublin. She said she recalls getting dressed up nicely one day and being brought to a big building from which she was put into a van or a car and taken away screaming to Goldenbridge. She said that her main contact when she went in to Goldenbridge was with her grandmother, who came up every second Sunday or every Sunday to visit her: ‘All I remember was crying, sometimes I was happy to see her and other times I wasn’t because it made me fret, want to go home. Why was I being left here?’.


Another complainant, who spent 15 years in Goldenbridge from the mid-1950s, said that she was very affected by being called ugly by the nuns and staff while she was there. She said that she used to keep her head down all the time because she believed that she was so ugly. She spoke of a lack of confidence and very low self-esteem that has dogged her all her life. It had caused problems in her relationships with people over the years. In particular, she said it had impacted on the way she looked after her own children. She treated them the way she had been treated. She has since apologised to her family. She said she now knew that you must always show children love, ‘Lift a child up, give the child love, reassure her that she is so pretty or that he is so pretty. It means so much in life, showing an individual love’.


This complainant was born to an unmarried mother and had little or no contact with her family throughout her life. She found it very difficult to cope with the outside world after leaving Goldenbridge and felt ill-equipped and ill-prepared.

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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.