In the late 1960s, the Department of Education discovered that, small babies, admitted to the institution, were being sent out to families in the countryside without the consent of the Department or County Council. They sought an explanation from the Resident Manager, who responded that this had arisen as a result of an outbreak of smallpox and the need to isolate the babies. She confirmed that she paid the families £2.00 per week and supplied them with necessities, including baby foods, drops, clothes, prams and cots. She stated that she believed that this course was in the best interests of the children but agreed that it would not happen again.
The Department of Education recommended suspension of the search for alternative premises. The decrease in numbers prompted the Department of Finance, in March 1938, to ask the Department of Education whether there was a real need for a special place of detention, to which the Department of Education replied that there was ‘no immediate urgency’ to look for alternative accommodation. In this letter of 19th March 1938 to the Department of Finance, the Department of Education made clear the Department’s position on having to run a remand centre: This institution has been the source of much bother to our Department which is all the more annoying when it is remembered that the provision of Places of Detention is the business of the Police Authorities and not a proper function of our Department. However, since we have accepted the responsibility, we can hardly rid ourselves of it now: we tried unsuccessfully to do so a few years ago and Summerhill is one of the many troublesome “babies” that we must continue to hold.
The number of nuns who worked in the Industrial School ranged from five, in 1935, to nine in the period from 1945 to 1955. The remaining nuns were involved in teaching in the primary and the secondary schools and working in the bakery, the public laundry and on the farm. Each nun who worked in the Industrial School had a designated role, such as looking after the babies, working in the kitchen and other duties. Only two Sisters worked full-time in the Industrial School from the mid-1940s to the 1960s, and they were responsible for the day-to-day care of the children. One of them was involved in the general running of the Industrial School, and the other was primarily concerned with the provision of clothing. These two nuns slept in the Industrial School itself.
Punishment could be administered by any member of staff and was not confined to the Resident Manager alone. Sr Casey said: Corporal punishment was a feature of the life in the Industrial School, and the primary school, I suppose, as well. Slapping with the cane or a stick was the usual way that this corporal punishment would have been administered. It was usually administered by the person who was in charge, more often than not on the spot. In the primary school, which I can just speak of for myself, it would have been in the presence of other people. If it was a serious offence it was the Resident Manager that punished. I do know from speaking with the Sister who minded the small babies that she said that she couldn’t slap, it was one of two other Sisters that could slap if a punishment was needed. But it is likely that most of the children that went through the school would have experienced corporal punishment at some stage.
The inspection reports for 1941 and 1942 are missing. The next available General Inspection report of Dr McCabe is that of 30th September 1943. On that occasion, she found that the School had ‘much improved since previous inspections’. Her only criticism was the fact that many of the children had no shoes and were going around barefoot. She found that 12 small babies ‘had no shoes at all’ and noted that they ‘looked forlorn and cold’. She was of the view, however, that the medical care and supervision of the children had improved. Following on from this visit, the Department of Education Chief Inspector wrote to the Resident Manager on 13th October 1943 regarding the lack of shoes for the younger children. He requested the Resident Manager to take ‘immediate steps to remedy this matter’ and pointed out in the letter that the practice of allowing children to go barefoot was condemned ‘on medical grounds as exposing the children to the danger of infection from cuts’.
The pupils were divided into three main groups: (a) profoundly deaf; (b) partially deaf; (c) deaf students with other disabilities. Until 1974 boarders were divided into groups of approximately 30 according to age. After 1974 the groups were reduced in size to 16 or less. Each group had a Sister in charge, a housemother and a sewing girl. The babies group had two sewing girls.
Another complainant, who was in Goldenbridge between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, said that one carer, who looked after the babies, stood out in her mind as being very kind to the children. She said that she was one of the inmates of the Institution who had been kept on and given a job there. Another former resident, who remained in the School to work as a carer, stood out in her memory: she described her as a product of the system. She often woke the children up in the morning, and she would sometimes lift a mattress and throw it onto the floor with the child on it. This complainant said that Ms Thornton14 was ‘a very very aggressive woman’.
The Investigation Committee heard complaints regarding emotional abuse in the evidence from complainants. All of the complainants came to Goldenbridge in harrowing circumstances. Some had lost a parent, and the surviving parent was either not able to cope or was deemed by the State to be unsuitable. Others were abandoned. Some came from desperately poor families, and others were born out of wedlock to mothers who felt that society left them with no option but to place their child in care. Some of those committed were babies; others had spent a substantial part of their childhood with their families. Most of the children were heartbroken and terrified on entering Goldenbridge. They all shared a vulnerability that made them emotionally needy.
Sr Alida was asked whether the children were shown love and affection. She stated that there was no doubt that the pre-school children were shown love and affection by her, by staff in charge of the nursery, and by an older girl who would be assigned to keep an eye on them. She argued that the children of school-going age were not showered with the same level of affection as would be the norm today: Looking back still I would have to say that I never had a feeling that I had a roomful of 150 sad and frightened children. I couldn’t say that from my heart. That doesn’t mean that there could be children very sad unknown to me. I didn’t know what was inside any child’s heart or in their head. We knew nothing at all about most of the families. Any research we did, it didn’t get us very far, their lives family wise was very bleak. I, at the time, wasn’t – didn’t take into consideration what state they were in. As teenagers or as babies. Babies you could compensate, the babies we loved and we hugged and we gave every kind of care to babies. They got the best. Any baby that came to our care, I can only say they got the best. When it came to children from 12 years upwards, I never knew what was inside their hearts or their minds.
The Sisters of Mercy have identified what they describe as four key areas in the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme. They say that these are mistruths that appeared in the programme and subsequently appeared in evidence by complainants who came into the Investigation Committee to speak about their experiences in Goldenbridge. The Sisters have said that the recurrence of a number of these key issues in the statements that were made to the Investigation Committee casts doubt on the validity of the memories of the women and men who testified. The Sisters of Mercy in their Submission identified four key allegations: Scraps – that children were starved and had to fight each other for scraps thrown out to them in the playground each day. Water – that children had to drink from the toilets because there was no drinking water available to them day or night. Numbers – that children were always referred to by number rather than by name. Potties – that babies were mistreated/tied to potties for long periods and frequently suffered from prolapsed rectums as a result.
One witness described the distribution of bread in the following terms: From my memory there was a window in the hall and somebody used to say – word would get around when you’d get scraps ‘cos you would get them maybe once a month. Somebody said “we are getting scraps today”. It could be from what the lay people had, the crusts could be left over and it would be all thrown into a steel bin, a stainless steel bowl. The window would open and – I am seeing it even as myself, I done it as a child, I done it as a teenager, and that window would open and the bowl of scraps would actually just be thrown out, out the window onto the yard and everybody would scream and charge. You would actually walk on the babies, I am sure I done it myself, it was done on me, and that just went on.
This specific allegation, that babies were strapped to potties for long periods of time and suffered a prolapsed rectum, first emerged in the Gay Byrne radio show in 1992. It was repeated on the ‘Dear Daughter’ programme. A number of complainants made this allegation in their statements of complaint to the Commission. However, in oral evidence it did not feature very largely as an allegation.
One witness described it in the following terms: They (babies) were placed on potties, yes. They were strapped down and there were marks on their little bums when they got up. There was one particular child whose back passage used to come down. He was a little boy by the name of ....
Another witness made reference to the strapping of babies to potties: We used to look after the babies there. There was maybe 50, 60 babies. You used to look after them, you used to have to bath them and change them. You used to stick them on the potties, strapped to potties for hours on end.
Other witnesses whose job was to mind the babies made no reference to the practice of strapping babies onto potties. One positive witness stated that the babies ‘were so well looked after’.