Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Emotional abuse


This specific allegation, that babies were strapped to potties for long periods of time and suffered a prolapsed rectum, first emerged in the Gay Byrne radio show in 1992. It was repeated on the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme. A number of complainants made this allegation in their statements of complaint to the Commission. However, in oral evidence it did not feature very largely as an allegation.


One witness described it in the following terms: They (babies) were placed on potties, yes. They were strapped down and there were marks on their little bums when they got up. There was one particular child whose back passage used to come down. He was a little boy by the name of ....


This complainant further stated when questioned that she herself was aged around eight or nine years when she saw this little boy with what she believed to be a prolapsed rectum.


Another witness made reference to the strapping of babies to potties: We used to look after the babies there. There was maybe 50, 60 babies. You used to look after them, you used to have to bath them and change them. You used to stick them on the potties, strapped to potties for hours on end.


Other witnesses whose job was to mind the babies made no reference to the practice of strapping babies onto potties. One positive witness stated that the babies ‘were so well looked after’.


Several witnesses asserted that they only saw one instance of a prolapsed rectum. One witness described the shock of seeing a child with a prolapsed rectum: In the rec there was toilets down near the stage end and the babies used to be put– the little ones used to be put on the potties. I remember I was sitting more or less facing– there was benches all around the rec, I was facing these children on the potty. I remember one of them stood up and something was hanging down and it really frightened me. I didn’t understand. To this day it is still imprinted on me.


In her general written statement to the Commission, Sr Alida devoted a section to the care of babies in Goldenbridge. She stated: Babies were never left sitting on a potty a long time. There was one baby who suffered from a prolapsed rectum, however this girl had this problem on admission. There was no question of young children looking after our babies and no-one was ever taught to reinsert a baby’s rectum as some complainants describe.


Sr Alida said that children were placed on potties when they got up in the morning, after every meal and before they went to bed. She said they would be left for about 12 minutes on each occasion. This represents a total of six occasions per day that children would have been placed on potties, for a total period of 72 minutes at least. This would have been a considerable proportion of the day for toddlers or small children. Many witnesses have described a fairly rigid system regarding toilet training. With a large number of babies to toilet train and with the limited staff available, individual attention was not possible. After a certain age, children were not provided with nappies, and older residents would be required to sluice out soiled sheets and bedding as well as clean excrement off children who had soiled or wet in the night. That said, the general view was that Sr Alida was kind and loving towards the babies and, in her testimony to the Investigation Committee, she said: Babies you could compensate, the babies we loved and we hugged and we gave every kind of care to babies. They got the best. Any baby that came to our care, I can only say they got the best.


Sr Alida showed kindness to babies, but caring for large numbers of them with inadequate staff led to a regimented approach in which babies were left sitting on potties for long periods of time.


Each of these allegations highlighted by the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme had a basis in fact. While there were differences in perception as between the Congregation and the complainants, complainants who referred to these elements did not thereby become unreliable witnesses.



The General Inspection and Medical Reports of the Department of Education and Science give some indication of the general living conditions of the children. Sr Alida, who had worked in the School for over 20 years, also provided some information on this issue.


The first available documentary piece of information is an Inspection Report from the Department’s Medical Inspector, Dr Anna McCabe, in August 1939. She reported four cases of scabies. In a report the following year, she noted two instances of scabies.


In March 1941, Dr McCabe carried out a general inspection and found that the School was ‘well kept’ and satisfactory in all areas. There is no General Inspection Report for 1942.


When Sr Alida and Sr Bianca arrived in August 1942, they found the children in an appalling condition. The majority of the children were suffering from scabies and ringworm of the scalp. Sr Alida said: They had skin trouble which I never saw before, it was scabies. I’d say 75 percent of the children would have scabies at that time ... they had ringworm of the scalp a number of them ... it would be big abscesses in their hair, that the hair couldn’t be combed.


Sr Bianca set about dealing with the situation immediately. She closed the School for two weeks. During this two-week period, the children were bathed and their bodies were covered with an ointment for the treatment of scabies and they were sent to bed. Every three days, the procedure was repeated until the infection was gone. Their clothes were sent to the laundry, and Sr Bianca spent all of her time in the laundry disinfecting the clothes by steam boiling, with the help of those girls who were not infected. After three days, the ointment had soaked into the children’s bodies and killed the infection. Sr Bianca contacted Dublin Corporation, who organised for the children’s bedclothes to be removed and disinfected.

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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.