Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Ms Garvin spent 13 years working as a teacher in Goldenbridge. She stated that, when she arrived in the School, there was an extensive domestic training programme in place for the older girls. The household chores performed by these girls formed part of the household management element of this programme. Chores included cleaning, laundry, cookery and sewing.


Sr Gianna’s duties involved working in the workroom, mending and sorting clothes or working in the laundry on a Monday or Friday. She never saw children younger than 13 working in the laundry. She stated that the older girls were involved in keeping the School clean.


The evidence of the complainants was that they had a number of chores to perform daily, from a very young age, and that these were in addition to the many hours spent at bead making.


A complainant who was in Goldenbridge during the 1950s and early 1960s told of the chores she performed every day. She stated that, after roll call, a number of names were called out and these children were sent to do chores. This happened on a regular basis: All I can remember is washing floors, scrubbing floors, scrubbing dormitories, doing laundry, making rosary beads. It was constant, hardly any education at all. The only thing you were really there for was catechism lessons in the morning. Apart from that you were taken out of school as soon as you got to the age where you could scrub floors, do whatever you had to do.


She described the work in the dormitories, each of which had about 30 or 40 beds: We had to lift those, they were heavy metal beds. We used to lift them to one side of the room, and sweep, wash and scrub the rooms ... It would take quite a few hours, because they were big dormitories ... If it wasn’t done properly they would make you do the whole thing again ... there would be eight of us who used to do it together.


If the work was not completed satisfactorily, it would have to be redone, and she was sent to the landing to be punished by Sr Alida.


She also described working in the laundry as very heavy work. They had big boilers in which to boil sheets. She described the procedure of washing these sheets: you had wooden tongs, which you would pull them from the boiler, into another cooler, which would rinse the sheets, and then put them through wringers and then hang them out. We used to have big baskets with all the sheets into them.


The most difficult part of the laundry work was lifting and pulling the sheets from one boiler to another. She had to stand on steps to reach the boiler and was always nervous of falling in.


In addition to laundry and cleaning, she also recalled looking after babies. She recalled bathing them, putting them on potties and changing nappies. Although she described what, by any standards, was a heavy burden of chores, her main complaint was not so much about the chores she had to carry out but the manner in which they interfered with her education.


One witness described how, when she was nine, she had been required to scrub the cobble-stoned area in the bathroom as punishment for tearing her dress. She had to kneel down on the cobblestones to do this, which was painful. Although this was a chore that the children regularly carried out, she had to do it on her own by way of punishment.


She also stated that she was taken out of Sr Venetia’s class to work in the laundry on Mondays and Fridays. She described the large vat-like boilers with very hot water, and using a stick to pull sheets from the boilers and push them through wringers before they were laid out to dry. The main laundry was done in the large industrial laundry attached to the School, but there was a certain amount of washing by hand that had to be done on a daily basis arising out of bed-wetting.


One complainant who was in Goldenbridge during the 1960s said that she believed that the fact that her father was a regular visitor to the School saved her and her sister from the hardest physical work in the School. She lived in fear of something happening to her father, which would have left her at the mercy of the nuns: I remember thinking, if anything happens to you we are finished. We would be totally sucked in here because people that had nobody were the ones that did – and the ones with low intelligence, God help them, they were the ones that were given the hardest work. We had big hoovers in those days, big heavy hoovers, washing hallway floors, the corridors. I was terrified that this is what would become of us. We would end up like cleaners for the rest of our lives. It devastated me.


One complainant, who was committed to Goldenbridge for four years at the age of five in the early 1960s, stated that he had clear memories of working regularly in the laundry as an alternative to bead making in the afternoons. He recalled an incident, while working in the laundry, in which a boy younger than him caught his arm in a mangle. The complainant was afraid and he ran away. Sometime later, he saw the boy with his injured arm in plaster-of-paris.


This complainant stated that he first started working in the laundry approximately one year after he arrived, which would make him six years old.


A witness, who was in Goldenbridge during the 1960s, spoke in detail of the chores that were required of the children: I remember sweeping that dormitory, that sounds like nothing, but first you had to pull every bed into the centre of the room, right, lift the bed ... Then lift the bed and shove it back in. I could do it with one hand I became so adept at it and they were heavy.

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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.