Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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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.


Ringworm was more difficult to treat because there were abscesses on the children’s heads. Sr Alida said: They went to Steeven’s Hospital with those. In the hospital, first of all, they were drawing pus and the hair was stuck onto their heads, it was very nasty to describe. I think in Steevens’ Hospital they recommended cutting the hair and you had to take it off bit by bit to get the hair away ... Lotion was then applied to the scalp which killed the hairs and plaster was put on the head in strips, which was then pulled off and when they pulled off the plaster they pulled the roots of the hair out as well.


The General Inspection Reports made no reference to these conditions at all. The following year, Dr McCabe recorded that the School was ‘well kept’ and that most areas were ‘satisfactory’, but she criticised the condition of the children, saying they could be ‘cleaner and neater’.


The next inspection took place on 27th January 1944 and she commented that the premises were ‘very well kept, clean and tidy’ and most areas were found to be ‘satisfactory’, but she found that the ‘children looked far from being neat and tidy’. She said that their clothes were ‘tattered and untidy’ and their blankets were ‘thin and worn’. The cause of the thinness of the blankets, according to Sr Alida, arose from the process of disinfecting them during the scabies outbreak in 1942. Dr McCabe recommended replacing the blankets and supplying each child with a toothbrush and for the dentist to visit every quarter. She also sought greater supervision of the younger children. In her evidence, Sr Alida said that it took years to replace the blankets and eventually they got seconds from Foxford Manufacturers.


In June 1944, there was another outbreak of ringworm in the School. Sr Bianca informed the Department that several children had contracted ringworm, and she sought an increase in the maintenance allowance to cover the cost of treatment. Dr McCabe’s advice was sought by the Department in relation to the treatment for ringworm, and her response was that the School was expected to cover the cost of medical treatment for children from the grant received.


Dr McCabe carried out a General Inspection on 28th June 1944 and she found that the standard of cleanliness and supervision of the children had improved, but she was not completely satisfied with the conditions. All the children had not been supplied with toothbrushes, the dentist had not paid a quarterly visit, and the blankets had not been replaced. The Department made these observations known to the Resident Manager. In the Medical Inspection conducted during the same visit, Dr McCabe noted four children required treatment for ringworm.


Dr McCabe’s General Inspection Reports from 1948 until her retirement in 1963 were, without exception, very positive. Her reports during these years were not very detailed and were, in fact, quite repetitive in content. She frequently stated that the School was ‘well run’ and in some years remarked that it was ‘extremely well run’22 or ‘very well conducted’.23 She also commented in her reports that ‘many improvements had been made and continued to be made’ to the School.24 The exact nature of these improvements was not detailed in these reports. Throughout this time period, Dr McCabe singled out the Resident Manager for praise. In her General Inspection Report of January 1959 and 1960, she said ‘Sr Alida an excellent nun ... knows many things about running a good school’. Dr McCabe’s General Inspection Reports of 1963 referred to the fact that ‘Sr Venetia is now Res. Manager and is doing very well being a disciple of Sr Alida she is excellent’.


The Medical Reports during this period were glowing, with reference often made to the fact that small children and babies are particularly well cared for. But in her Medical Inspection Report of May 1955, Dr McCabe noted that 11 children were receiving treatment for scabies.


The General Inspection Reports after Dr McCabe’s retirement continued to be very favourable about the living conditions in the School. Dr Charles Lysaght, who carried out a General Inspection of the School on 21st March 1966, commented that it was ‘well run’: the premises were clean and in ‘good repair’ and the accommodation consisted mostly of modern buildings with ‘excellent dormitory accommodation’.


Sr Venetia came in for particular praise from Dr Lysaght when he referred to her as being ‘most competent and appears dedicated to the work’.


In the 1970s, Graham Granville took over as the Department’s General Inspector. His reports were also very favourable of the living conditions and the premises and accommodation. However, there were only three reports for the entire period of the 1970s, namely 1971, 1976 and 1978 because of staff shortages in the Department of Education.


Mr Granville was concerned about the lack of qualifications of the staff and the change in the type of child that was being admitted. A lot of the children were categorised as disturbed. Proposals for the group home system were advocated, and sanction was given, but these plans were not carried through until the 1980s.


The severity of the problem tackled by Sr Bianca and Sr Alida disclosed evidence of severe neglect. The work undertaken by these two nuns was heavy and relentless and brought about immediate improvements to the School. The absence of reference to these problems in the Departmental Medical Reports discloses a weakness of the inspections.


The children in Goldenbridge were educated in their own internal national school. There was another national school within the same grounds run by the Sisters of Mercy for the children of the locality. The Cussen Report recommended that, where possible, children should be educated in external national schools. It identified a drop in standards in literary education in internal national schools, and attributed this to the fact that the teachers employed were not well qualified. Cussen also recommended that salaries of teachers in internal national schools attached to industrial schools should be paid by the Department of Education, in the same way as in ordinary national schools.


A Department of Education inspection conducted in 1939, for the purposes of considering whether teachers’ salaries in the internal national school should be paid by the State, queried why the children in Goldenbridge did not attend the local national school. The reasons proffered by the Resident Manager was that the local schools were already overcrowded. She was also opposed to the children being transported to other schools, on the basis that she could not be held responsible for them once they left the Industrial School. The Department accepted this explanation and proceeded to certify the internal national school and to pay the teachers’ salaries from 1941.

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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.