Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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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.


A witness who was committed to Goldenbridge in the 1950s at the age of three and remained until her 16th birthday recalled receiving very little education during her time in Goldenbridge. From the age of nine, she was regularly called out of class in order to carry out domestic chores. After roll call, she said catechism class was held. Once this class was over, a nun would come in and call out seven or eight names. These children then left class to do chores. Whilst she stated that she was not called out every day, it occurred regularly enough to prevent her from obtaining a proper education.


Another complainant, who spent 12 years in Goldenbridge from the mid-1950s, recalled being slapped regularly and severely in the classroom by lay teachers. She said that Goldenbridge improved slightly in the 1960s, and a number of children were sent out to do secretarial courses towards the end of their time there.


A witness, who was sent to Goldenbridge in the mid-1950s at the age of eight, stated that she received a very poor standard of education. She was regularly called out of class to carry out household chores. Her performance was also affected by a constant sense of fear she felt in class, a fear which remains with her today. She did not sit her Primary Certificate.


Another witness, who was committed to Goldenbridge in the early 1960s when she was nine years of age, said she could not read or write when she arrived in Goldenbridge, nor could she read or write when she left. This fact, which disabled her all her life, left her with a strong sense of frustration. In later life, she took advantage of the education fund put in place by the Sisters of Mercy and received lessons from a professional tutor.


Whilst she arrived in Goldenbridge with absolutely no education, she did not receive any help or encouragement that might have given her the basics of reading and writing whilst she was there. She was regularly taken out of class to mind young children. She loved minding children and, had she had a choice of careers, she would have chosen to be a children’s nurse. However, her educational disadvantage ruled out such a career.

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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.