Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Ms Kearney, who worked as a lay teacher, confirmed that, after finishing her own schooling, she completed a course in domestic economy before commencing her first teaching position in the mid-1930s in Goldenbridge. She shared a classroom with a senior teacher, Ms Dempsey. Neither was formally qualified to teach at that time. Ms Kearney stated that she was very glad to get the job in Goldenbridge: I was always afraid of doing or saying anything wrong, that I would be sacked, that was my one fear.


Both teachers used a leather to discipline the children, although Ms Kearney discontinued its use once she discovered how painful it was by mistakenly hitting herself with it.


Ms Dempsey taught first and second class, and Ms Kearney taught third and fourth class. She was on duty until 10pm every other day, working in a supervisory capacity, once class was over. The older children helped with the care of the younger children.


In 1946, Ms Kearney applied for and was granted provisional recognition as a primary school teacher. This qualified her to teach only in an industrial school. She continued to teach in Goldenbridge until she left.


When asked if there were things that she would have spoken about if she didn’t have the fear of being sacked, she said: Sure ... well for one I would have loved to have seen the children with more space. I would have liked to have seen them with warmer clothes on them, because at the time that I went in there first they were very basic. More freedom. ... There were lots of children I would have loved to have hugged and cuddled. They were so lovely, but the bold girls would take it out on them, call them names, teacher’s pet, you know and shout at them and that.


Once she became a permanent teacher, Ms Kearney stated that she was no longer fearful of losing her job. At that stage, she no longer lived in the School and was unaware of day-to-day living conditions. She said that she, therefore, had no reason to complain.


Ms Kearney stated that she had been of a sunny disposition before starting in Goldenbridge, but that this changed as the years went by. Ms Kearney found her job more difficult after the arrival of Sr Bianca and Sr Alida. She noticed a deterioration in the attitude of the children, who became sullen and defiant. In her view, Goldenbridge was not a happy place, but she did the best she could in the circumstances.


A number of complainants spoke about their memory of the education that they received in Goldenbridge and the impact this had on their later life. The main issues which arose during the course of the complainants’ evidence were: The low standard of education. Excessive use of corporal punishment, which lead to an atmosphere of fear in the classroom, which in turn led to an inability to learn effectively. The arbitrary manner in which a few students were chosen to attend the external national school, which opened up the opportunity of progressing to secondary school. Children being taken out of school to perform domestic chores. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence as a result of the low standard of education and often leaving school without any qualifications.


Some of the complainants had quite positive memories of their school days in Goldenbridge, and believed that they did come away with a basic primary education for which they were grateful.


One complainant, who was in Goldenbridge in the early 1950s, made an interesting comparison between the education she received in Goldenbridge and that which she received at an English school, which she attended immediately after leaving Goldenbridge. She said that in Goldenbridge, although she loved learning, she had not learnt anything in the School. When she was removed by her father from the Institution, aged 11, and brought to England, she attended school and got on very well there, despite her abusive family circumstances. Her description of that period was as follows: It was like a blossoming period. When I went to the school in England I craved education. That was my way of trying to conquer what life had done to me. I went to this little school and when we used to be asked to read and write,reading, I used to think to myself “please don’t come to us” because I used to stammer and stutter and I had a thick accent apparently. I am there on this particular one day there was reading going on and I was stammering to myself, “please don’t ask me, please don’t ask me”, the teacher did ask me to read and I got up and the urine was running down my legs again, I always smelt of urine, I stunk of it. I was sitting there and I was waiting for the teacher to clatter me or batter me, but I never saw it. I was only there for a few weeks and I had come on in leaps and bounds ... When I went there I crammed – once I knew that I wasn’t going to get beaten, it was wonderful. Anything I could get to read, I loved it, it was a wonderful period of time ... I managed to scrape through that 11+ ... I have always loved reading and writing and spelling and that and general knowledge and all that. It was a wonderful period.


The Congregation argued that it was a tribute, to some extent, to the teaching she received in the Institution that she was able to pass the 11+ exam within nine months of leaving. The complainant disagreed, and credited her examination success entirely to the schooling she received in England. The contrast that she made between the atmosphere in the classroom in England and in Goldenbridge is significant. Almost all of the complainants who spoke of school in Goldenbridge spoke of a fear of corporal punishment.


Another complainant, who was committed to Goldenbridge at the age of seven in the early 1950s and remained there for nine years, recalled regular punishment by the teachers. She stated that she was constantly taken out of school to look after her sister, who was unwell, or to look after babies. As a result, she stated that she was not a good scholar. In the late 1950s, she sat the Primary Certificate and failed. She was registered to repeat the examination, but the record indicates that she was marked absent.


One complainant who attended Goldenbridge in the 1950s stated that she left Goldenbridge without being able to write at the age of 14. She recalled: In Sr Alida’s class I know I was very stupid. I didn’t seem to be able to learn. All I know is that I was getting smacked, for being stupid I was getting smacked ... She would put me down in the corner ... but then I was so happy to be in the corner, because when you are in the corner you don’t have to learn.


This complainant asserted that she learnt nothing in the classroom because she was in a constant state of fear of being punished, and she recalled regularly feeling nauseous. She described how she learned to tell the time from a toy watch belonging to one of the other children while she was cleaning the dormitories in the morning: I learned the clock under the bed, I learned a watch, how to tell the time. It was wonderful to learn the time because I was so stupid.


She did in fact sit her Primary Certificate while she was there, but she failed it.

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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.