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Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Emotional abuse


The Sisters of Mercy have identified what they describe as four key areas in the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme. They say that these are mistruths that appeared in the programme and subsequently appeared in evidence by complainants who came into the Investigation Committee to speak about their experiences in Goldenbridge. The Sisters have said that the recurrence of a number of these key issues in the statements that were made to the Investigation Committee casts doubt on the validity of the memories of the women and men who testified. The Sisters of Mercy in their Submission identified four key allegations: Scraps – that children were starved and had to fight each other for scraps thrown out to them in the playground each day. Water – that children had to drink from the toilets because there was no drinking water available to them day or night. Numbers – that children were always referred to by number rather than by name. Potties – that babies were mistreated/tied to potties for long periods and frequently suffered from prolapsed rectums as a result.


The Sisters submitted that a number of complainants got these particular allegations wrong, and that they got them wrong in precisely the same way. They maintain that it is the ‘commonality of the memory errors that gives the clue to their importance’.


In ‘Dear Daughter’, there is a visual image of a colander of scraps being thrown out of a window into a yard and children fighting for the scraps. Eight of the complainants in their witness statements allege that scraps of food were thrown out of a window into the yard, and that the children would scramble and fight each other for these scraps. Eleven complainants made this allegation in oral evidence. They each, in various ways, referred to the poor quality of the food, the fact that they were hungry, and that bread was thrown out of a window at 3 o’clock each day, and the children all scrambled and pushed each other to grab a slice of bread.


The Sisters of Mercy have agreed with one description of this aspect of life in Goldenbridge. In her evidence to the Committee, a witness said that at 3.30 pm, the children would line up in an orderly queue, a window would be opened in the yard, and bread would be distributed from a colander. She said that, if there was any left after all the children had got a slice, it would be just thrown out into the yard: ... they gave you your bread, there was a tray or sometimes there was a big ... colander type of thing and the bread would be in there and they’d give it out to you ... you had to line up. If there was any left and if there was a load of us still there and I would probably be one of them, she would just sometimes throw it out and you would get it. But for your first slice of bread you lined up and you got it ... Instead of queuing up again and everybody would be pushing, she would just throw it and you would grab it.


She said the bread would first be handed out, and only at the end of this distribution were the scraps thrown into the yard: No, I can assure you, we lined up first and sometimes there was two people there, actually most of the time there was two people there and they would hand you your bread and you would go and then you would hang around.


A broadly similar account was also given by another former resident, who said that she could recall a lay worker handing out lumps of bread from a window overlooking the yard and the children queuing for the bread. She said that, after the big lumps of bread were handed out, ‘and then when it gets smaller, she just throws it out to whoever didn’t get any’.


This account is accepted by the Sisters of Mercy, but other witnesses who spoke about this distribution of bread gave a different version.


One witness recalled scrambling for scraps that were thrown out of a window in Goldenbridge. Another former resident said that she recalled being hungry all the time and that, during her earlier years in Goldenbridge in the early 1960s, she recalled scraps from the kitchen being thrown out of a window to the children who were playing in the yard: ‘I just remember the window being open in the yard and the scraps coming out and we all digging in to get a bit of bread and cake that was left over’.


One witness described the distribution of bread in the following terms: From my memory there was a window in the hall and somebody used to say – word would get around when you’d get scraps ‘cos you would get them maybe once a month. Somebody said “we are getting scraps today”. It could be from what the lay people had, the crusts could be left over and it would be all thrown into a steel bin, a stainless steel bowl. The window would open and – I am seeing it even as myself, I done it as a child, I done it as a teenager, and that window would open and the bowl of scraps would actually just be thrown out, out the window onto the yard and everybody would scream and charge. You would actually walk on the babies, I am sure I done it myself, it was done on me, and that just went on.


Another witness said: But there was a practice of when the teachers had their meals that there would be leftovers and those leftovers would be brought to the yard window and just scattered out the window and we would dive on them. If you managed to get something your day was made.


Another witness, when asked whether it was possible that the scraps were thrown only at the end of the distribution of bread, stated: Definitely not ... otherwise I wouldn’t feel so horrified and shamed to have to tell you this. First of all, who was going to create this order of this orderly row of children that were hungry to stand in line to wait for bread, who was supervising this? That didn’t happen. It was a free for all and the strong ones and the ones that were a bit heavy were the ones that were first to the front of the queue. Obviously the weaklings, I wasn’t that weak, but I wasn’t very forceful either, they wouldn’t fare so well. What was thrown you would just have to clamber for it. People would walk on it with their sandals and you would pick it up and eat it.


A slightly different version of this story was given by another witness, who said: The window opened up and whether it be one of the teachers or the helpers they had this huge big – I have it here, they had this huge big sieve and you would have all the different crumbs and all sorts, you might even get a piece of cake in it. They would open up the window and this would be flung out, you would know it was coming. You would stand waiting on it and there would be a dive for the thing, all these little crumbs. If you got a bit of cake, you – you would even beat up the one that had a bigger piece than you, a slice of bread instead of a bit bread. They would just fling it out the window ...


The Sisters of Mercy assert that this allegation is a serious distortion of ‘the practice of bringing out a tray of bread and margarine (or jam) to the children in the yard after school’.


Scraps were thrown out of a receptacle into the yard, and children scrambled for them. Whatever the circumstances, this should not have happened and was demeaning for the children.


It was alleged that the children in Goldenbridge did not have access to water during the day, and had to resort to drinking water from either the toilet bowl or the cistern.

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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.