Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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Sr Alida was succeeded by Sr Simona11 for a short period, after which, in mid-1963, the management of Goldenbridge was taken over by Sr Venetia. Sr Venetia was responsible for many of the positive changes that occurred in the School throughout the 1970s. She was the person who steered through the change from institutional care to the group home arrangements that were introduced in the 1980s, and she ultimately oversaw the closure of Goldenbridge.


The Department of Education reports revealed that the numbers of children detained in industrial schools increased until 1930, after which there began a steady decline. This decline was not experienced in Goldenbridge: in contrast, the numbers there continued to increase and, in 1962, the Resident Manager reported to the Department of Education that the School housed 193 pupils. According to Department of Education reports, there were 46 children in the Institution on its closure in 1983.


In 1938, the accommodation and certified limits stood at 130 children. In February 1938, the Resident Manager applied to increase the accommodation limit to 150. An increase to 140 children was granted by the Department of Education on foot of this application.


A further increase in the accommodation limit was granted in 1941, which brought the figure up to 150 children, but the certification limit remained the same at 130.


On 7th May 1943, the Resident Manager wrote to the Department, seeking an increase in the accommodation limit from 150 to 160 children, which was acceded to. However, on 22nd July 1943, Dr Anna McCabe wrote to the Department Inspector, following a visit to the School, expressing her disapproval of this increase. She stated that the School was ‘absolutely crammed to capacity’ and that the infirmary had been converted into a dormitory without any alternative put in place. Accordingly, on 14th August the Department wrote to the Resident Manager and stated that the accommodation limit would revert to 150 children. The certified limit was changed to 140 on 1st April 1943.


Another application was made on 19th October 1951 to the Department, by Sr Bianca, to increase the accommodation limit from 150 to 160 children. In support of this application, she stated that various improvements and additions had been made to the premises, including the acquisition of another house. The Department requested Dr McCabe to inspect the School with a view to making a recommendation in this regard. She carried out an inspection and recommended that, in view of the improvements made, an increase in the accommodation limit to 160 children could be sanctioned. The application was formally acceded to and took effect from 9th November 1951.


In December 1954, the Resident Manager applied for and obtained certification for the admission of 15 infant boys. This was done at the request of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr McQuaid, in order to provide relief to mothers who needed hospital care and who required care for their children on a temporary basis. According to the Resident Manager, it would allow siblings to be kept together. The Department accordingly increased the accommodation limit to 165 children.


On 17th May 1962, the Resident Manager made another application to the Department for an increase in the accommodation limit, to 200 children. In support of her application, she stated that a new 220ft wing had been built, with a capacity to sleep up to 60 children. She accepted that the accommodation limit of 165 had been exceeded in the past year or more, and that they had at that time 193 children. The Department carried out an inspection of the premises and agreed to an increase in the accommodation limit to 185 children on 27th April 1963.


Sr Alida and a lay teacher depicted Goldenbridge as a grim institution in the 1940s, when children were seriously neglected and when inadequate staffing deprived them of proper care. 150 children were left in the care of two unqualified teachers and an ill, elderly Sister. The person with statutory responsibility, the Resident Manager, took no active part in running the Institution. Defects in the management of the School were not observed by official inspectors.


The allegations of abuse in Goldenbridge first entered the public domain with the broadcast by RTE Radio 1 of an interview with an ex-resident, Ms Christine Buckley, on the Gay Byrne morning radio show. This was broadcast on 8th November 1992.


It was the quest for her parents, and in particular for her father, which she undertook in her 30s, that brought Christine Buckley to the Gay Byrne show, but during the interview she was asked about her experience of growing up in Goldenbridge in Dublin. She described abuses that she and others suffered while resident there. Immediately, phone calls came in to RTE from women and men who had had similar experiences and who wished to extend their good wishes and sympathy to her. Meetings were set up with ex-residents, and the story was picked up by most of the national media.


Stories about institutional abuse, and in particular about Goldenbridge Industrial School, continued to appear sporadically in newspapers for the following couple of years, but it was not until 1996, when the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme was broadcast, that Goldenbridge was once again the subject of intense media coverage and speculation.


Shortly after the airing of ‘Dear Daughter’, Sr Alida was interviewed on the current affairs programme, Prime Time. In the course of that interview, she admitted that she had been harsh at times, but denied that children were abused in the horrific way described in many of the headlines. According to Sr Helena O’Donoghue, ‘This denial would appear to have been almost completely ignored in the public domain and it would appear that judgment had been given’.


Shortly before the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme was broadcast on RTE, the Sisters of Mercy commissioned a professional childcare expert to write a report to assess the allegations which were being made by former residents in Goldenbridge. The Crowley Report offered little comfort to the Sisters who had commissioned it.


Mr Crowley interviewed both Sr Alida and Sr Venetia. In his report he stated: Sr. Venetia confirmed that the general atmosphere was excessively and consistently cruel even relative to standards of the time. She confirmed that fear of and actual physical beatings and verbal abuse was a matter of routine and that the general account of children, for example, waiting on the landings was accurate. Wetting was defined as a crime and, therefore, punishable through humiliation and physical beatings. Sr. Venetia confirmed the allegations in relation to the tumble dryer and drinking from the toilet cistern. She also confirmed the bead making and that failure to obey rules were normally punishable by physical beatings.

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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.