Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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From the late 1950s, a few children were sent to the local secondary top, sometimes having already been transferred to the local national school. Bishop Dunne set up a fund for providing post primary education for the children of Goldenbridge. These children were afforded study time in the evening and allowed to forgo some of the usual domestic chores, including bead making.


One complainant stated that she attended secondary school because her father paid for her upkeep in Goldenbridge and requested that she do so. She said that only a few of the girls were given the opportunity of advancing their education: There was only a few of us that were allowed to go to secondary school. For example, the girl I mentioned earlier, she was very bright but a punishment for her was that she couldn’t go to secondary. It was very selective.


She confirmed that those attending external school did receive some remission of the amount of time they spent bead making.


Another witness started her education in the internal national school. Her father took an interest in her education and that of her sisters. It was at his insistence that they were transferred to the external national school and later to secondary school.


She stated that she was considerably behind the rest of the class once she left the internal national school. Added to her difficulties was the fact that she suffered from mild dyslexia. She recalled her father giving her a flashlight to enable her to learn spellings whilst in bed at night. She completed her Intermediate Certificate, but did not proceed to sit the Leaving Certificate examination.


A complainant who was in Goldenbridge in the 1960s recalled being taught by Ms Dempsey and Ms Kearney. She conceded that they were good teachers but thought that they were very cruel. She pitied the children who found their classes difficult because they were punished relentlessly. Ms Dempsey would beat children, pull them by the ear and place children in the dunces’ corner for hours as punishment.


This complainant did proceed to secondary school, and expressed her gratitude at having been given the opportunity. However, the manner in which the children were chosen was somewhat arbitrary. She recalled that, one day, Sr Venetia came into the classroom, wrote a sum on the blackboard, and told the children to put their hands up when they had completed it. The complainant was the first to complete the sum and, on that basis, she was selected with two others to go to secondary school. She said that this occurred after Christmas and, therefore, she had missed the first term: We went to the secondary school the next day. I hadn’t a breeze ... In no time I realised I knew nothing. I felt quite competent in the national school, in fairness I felt quite competent, but I hadn’t a breeze, not a breeze ... I tried to survive as best I could, I tried to do whatever I could. But unfortunately, as I felt at the time, it was completely in vain because I failed my Inter Cert. Destroyed me. I had worked so hard and it was all for nothing.


Sr Alida spoke about the difficulty in choosing children to send to the external secondary school to progress their education: When secondary education became available in the local school I promoted one child once, four in the next set and then – looking back on it now it was difficult because there are people complaining that they weren’t chosen. It was very hard to know who you could pick, who was most entitled to, who would benefit most from it, and you had to try and give the advantage where possible. I did that to the best of my ability and people benefited from it in the ways that others did not.


The Sisters of Mercy pointed out that secondary schooling was available to only a minority of Irish children until the late 1960s, and that limited education and limited career opportunities were the order of the day for the average Irish child. The Congregation asserted that complaints from some witnesses that they were not given opportunities to fulfil their full potential illustrated the dangers of viewing the past through modern lenses. The Sisters of Mercy claimed that what was considered adequate at the time may, with hindsight, appear to a particular complainant not only as insufficient but abusive.


The Sisters did not address whether they themselves could have made places available in their secondary schools for children who showed academic ability. This was not done prior to Bishop Dunne’s initiative, when children were largely prepared for a life of domestic service only. After 1968, when free education was introduced nationally, more children did get the chance to avail of second level education. Conclusions The standard of education in the internal primary school was not as high as in the external school. The use of excessive corporal punishment affected the ability of the children to learn. There is evidence that children between the ages of seven and 13 were taken out of school for domestic duties and some were taken out more frequently than others. There was a lack of educational opportunity in Goldenbridge. The Industrial School was intended to educate and train for future employment, but many of the children were only trained for domestic service. The Sisters of Mercy did not fraudulently assist children to pass their Primary Certificates. Efforts were made in the 1960s to send some girls on to secondary school or into secretarial colleges or nursing. These were the fortunate few, and it would appear that most left the School with no more than a Primary Certificate, and very many did not achieve this standard. Some children arrived in Goldenbridge having fallen behind in their education or having had no education. No real effort was made to address serious disadvantages for children when they arrived, and there was no encouragement given to them to progress.


Many complainants gave evidence of the onerous duties imposed on them in Goldenbridge, which they claimed were not appropriate to their age or their physical abilities. The use of domestic work as a form of punishment was also referred to by a number of complainants.


On the other hand, the former residents who gave evidence to the Investigation Committee of their positive experiences in Goldenbridge did not feel that the chores they were required to carry out impacted upon them negatively.


In their Opening Statement, the Sisters of Mercy described the daily routine: After breakfast every child old enough performed household chores suitable for their age for about half an hour before school, such as cleaning up the dining room, dusting corridors, helping with getting the babies or toddlers dressed and so on.


They said that, from 1.30 pm, children from the age of 13 attended industrial training classes. Different age groups were assigned to do different chores including cookery, needlework, laundry or housekeeping in rotation. A different routine prevailed at weekends. Saturday was laundry day, and many children helped the Sisters with sorting and folding laundry. More time was devoted to household chores on Saturday, and the School got a thorough cleaning.


In their written Submissions, the Sisters of Mercy accepted the following: the children carried out chores in the morning for about half an hour after their breakfast and before school; the children strung rosary beads from Monday to Friday for several hours after school between 3.30 and 6.00 pm and sometimes later into the evening, if there was pressure to complete a quota. They also worked at beads for several hours on Saturday; the children participated in a general clean up of the school on a Saturday, as well as helping with the laundry; the children participated in an industrial training programme from the age of thirteen. This programme took place in the afternoons after dinner.

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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.