Explore the Ryan Report

Chapter 7 — Goldenbridge

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When Sr Bianca left Goldenbridge in June 1954, Sr Laurella10 took over as Resident Manager, although Sr Alida, who arrived in Goldenbridge on the same day as Sr Bianca, was the effective Manager of the Industrial School from 1954 until she left in 1963.


The first former resident who gave evidence had been in Goldenbridge from 1949, and the Committee has relied on oral testimony to establish conditions after that time. Very little documentary evidence is in existence for conditions in the 1930s and 1940s.


The Department of Education Medical Inspector, Dr Anna McCabe, inspected the premises and from time to time made suggestions regarding the care of the children. Her first two inspections were significant, because they coincided with the appalling conditions described by Sr Alida. The first was in 1939 and the second was in 1941. Nothing in these reports would indicate the level of neglect encountered by Sr Alida.


At some time in the early 1950s or even the late 1940s, Sr Alida was approached by a businessman who suggested that the Institution could become involved in making rosary beads. Thus, the bead-making industry in Goldenbridge was introduced into the daily routine of the pupils, and it continued until the mid-1960s.


In the early 1950s, Sr Bianca made the decision to acquire a holiday home for Goldenbridge in Rathdrum, County Wicklow. In 1954, a large house was bought for £3,000. According to Sr Alida, the money earned from the bead-making contributed £1,000 of this purchase price. According to the Opening Statement: ... it enabled everyone to have a summer holiday away from the institution. All children would spend some time in the summer at the holiday house and those who could not go home for a holiday spent the entire summer holidays there. Although some former residents did not enjoy going to Rathdrum during the holidays, for most of them it represented a welcome respite from school and, in particular, from bead-making.


Ms Kearney, a teacher in the Institution, gave evidence that, prior to the purchase of the house in Rathdrum, children went on holidays to other Sisters of Mercy homes that were in the countryside or beside the sea. To spend £3,000 on a house that was only used for a few weeks every year, at a time when food and clothing and basic educational equipment were lacking, does not appear to be the most appropriate allocation of scarce resources.


In 1954, when Sr Alida took over the management of the Industrial School, Sr Venetia joined her as a full-time assistant. She was a qualified primary teacher. Ms Dempsey and Ms Kearney were still the two lay teachers in Goldenbridge at that time, and there was also a small number of other lay staff employed by the Institution. In addition to the lay staff and the two Sisters, the running of Goldenbridge was also entrusted to the care of what were known as ‘care workers’. These care workers were girls who had grown up in Goldenbridge and were unable to get work outside the Institution.


The template for the day-to-day running of the Institution had been established by Sr Bianca. Sr Alida said that she continued the methods and systems introduced by Sr Bianca although she did, as might be expected, make some improvements along the way.


Sr Alida left Goldenbridge in 1963. She told the Inquiry about the circumstances of her departure. She had asked her Superior in Carysfort if she could be relieved from teaching duties, so as to be able to devote herself entirely to the administrative and caring side of her work. The response from Carysfort was to remove her entirely from Goldenbridge. Sr Alida was clearly unhappy at the manner of her removal, and she was in no doubt that it was because she had complained of overwork to her Superiors.


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.

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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.