The immense freedom

Marie-Thérèse has a haunting post about summer holidays in Rathdrum, County Wicklow, which was the one escape from the misery of Goldenbridge that most of the children had.

As a child at Goldenbridge industrial “school” during the sixties summertime season, I absolutely adored heading off on the ‘Special’ bus to Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. Bernadette Fahy in her book “Freedom of Angels” referred to St. Joseph’s Holiday Home, that was for Goldenbridge children who had no families to take them out on summer holidays, as a haven. She felt that all the stress built up from being enclosed in Goldenbridge just lifted when she went there. She felt her sanity had been restored. The same was applicable with me. The immense freedom was also absolutely blissful to all the other exhausted children, who were cooped up for the rest of the year in a very cold, damp, outdated, not fit for purpose ex women’s prison refuge that was situated on the outskirts of Dublin city.

Goldenbridge was a hellhole, and Rathdrum was an escape from the hellhole.

I even remember enjoying going to mass in the oratory that dominated a large part of the left hand side of the ground floor of the palatial building. One could view to one’s heart’s content the abundance of old trees and greenery from the aforementioned windows. A bright red swanky carpet donned the entrance floor to the temporary makeshift altar in the centre, that only the serving priest was allowed to use. Children were never forced to attend mass in the tiny oratory. They went of their own volition, which was not something that occurred in Goldenbridge, where they were beaten if they had any qualms about going to the convent chapel, or they resorted to hiding in a cupboard full of old mattresses. What a difference it made to young people to be given a choice for once in their young lives.

It breaks the heart.


  1. says

    The Fist and Only Christmas of my childhood

    I was probably eight years old and had being placed with a family in Blackrock, Co. Dublin for the holiday period. The family’s name was Windass and Mrs Windass was the mother of a new born baby, Christopher. Even now I think of how awesome a thing it was that they would open their home to me for Christmas when they had a little baby to look after. It couldn’t have been an easy thing – even though I was a very timid eight year old. I would stand to attention when anyone walked into a room, I’d even stand to attention when I was answering any question put to me. I would sit ramrod straight on the couch or chair.

    In fact it was their Aunt who showed me how an eight year old boy should be behaving at Christmas and at any other time. She showed me how to slide down banisters, how to hop from chair to table to couch, how to climb trees and walls, the fun a child can have with suds and soap in the bath. How to play Hide-and-seek. Also the civilised art of using a knife and fork and spoon. Even how to have fun while washing the dishes. How to iron a shirt.

    That magic Christmas, everything, that makes Christmas magic, happened. It snowed. I remember helping to clear the snow from the driveway using salt.

    Ghost stories were told in the evening around a blazing fire.

    Plum Pudding was served with Ice Cream – to me THAT is the most luxurious of all meals!

    Lemonade and Hot Chocolate was consumed.

    I got to visit families related to Mr and Mrs Windass. I met other children too and these children were adept and jumping and climbing and hide-and-seek. All these people I met showed a regard for me. The family I was with made me feel loved, comfortable, important. Even though they had a new born baby to look after they managed to make me feel I was the centre of attention. I feel I was part of everything they did that magic Christmas.

    I remember being “surprised” by an Irish Red Setter – I believe this was the first time I ever saw a dog – and I ran screaming. It loped after me in the street it’s ears and tail flopping all over the place. I was sobbing and shaking with fright and Mrs Windass calmed me down with cuddles and assurances. I wanted to stay in that embrace for ever. I remember reading the Mutt & Jeff cartoons in the Sunday Papers and Mr Windass rooting out old editions of the papers to get past cartoons and the way he messed my hair and smiled as I read out and laughed at those cartoons. I remember asking millions of questions about this and that AND receiving answers.

    All simple acts of kindness – but do people realise how much this affects a young child?



    Acts of Kindness.

    Shown towards a small curious child. Individual attention of a loving nature. And Santa managed to get in on the act too. Presents were exchanged. I remember being taken by their Aunt to Clerys in O’Connell Street to buy presents. She gave me money to buy presents for Mr and Mrs Windass. I remember buying a mirror and a necktie for them. But Santa was only one part of this Christmas – not by any means the major element.

    Sure there were Christmases in the Institutions – these involved going to Masses, smelling incense burning, saying rosaries, practicising ceremonies with little statuettes and constantly praying. And on Christmas day we would each be given a toy to play with for a few minutes – between prayers of course. All of us were made to stand in a corridor and then one by one we were taken into a room with box shelves on the wall. We were told to pick a toy from one of these and then we were allowed to play with it for a few minutes. I remember vividly getting a Dinky red London Bus one Christmas to play with – Magic ! –

    Another Christmas I was given a book with pictures – one picture stood out, it was a huge American automobile with a ton of chrome. So I had a little experience of Chrismas, and to me it involved praying, religious ceremonies and once a red bus or a book to play with.

    And in these Institutions it is said that individual attention of a loving nature was impossible because there were too many children and too few members of the religous orders – yet this didn’t stop individual attention of a violent nature by these same religous orders. Beatings and abuses were a constant in those places – either group punishments or individual acts of cruelty. And when these orders give their excuses AND their denials it brings the rage welling up in me. All the acts of cruelty committed against children in those places – do these orders realise how much they affected the children?

    Acts of Cruelty.

    Shown towards small children.

    Individual attention of a violent nature. And one of these orders had their chance, in front of judges, to have their say against me. To deny my truth. And they remained silent – sitting throughout behind their legal people.

    Cocooned from the truth.

    – – – It seems I am breaking the law with my little Christmas story – a few days in the life of a child from the Institutions – I could risk a hefty fine and imprisonment for what I’ve written. But NOT writing about this one Magic Christmas would betray Mr & Mrs Windass, it would deny their kindness and love to me. I was not allowed by this religious order to have any further contact with these loving people so I have never being able to tell them how much of the Magic of that Christmas has stayed with me. How much that ONE Christmas has remained with me to pass on to mY children and MY grandchildren.

  2. says

    If a corporation or any of those holy orders benefited from slavery it should have to pay the piper and by that i mean the victims of Goldenbridge Magdalene laundries.

  3. says

    Andrew, you were the luckiest devil ever to have been sent out to such an interesting family for Christmas. The ‘pets’ in Goldenbridge would have been sent out to similar family types in the elite part of Dublin. Am not alluding to anything in your case here.

    I can so well relate to you standing to attention, and not knowing how to act properly. It was similar with me, even when I was sixteen years old I did not understand what it was like to dine with adults, and became very fidgety and awkward and utterly embarrassed all the time. I always wore my hair over my eyes so that nobody would look at me. The head was always bent down low.

    Mrs Windass was indeed some woman to have personally related to you. I never emotionally related to any of the host family who took me out on holidays – until such time that I was found wandering alone in O’Connell St. at nine years old, and was briskly sent back to Goldenbridge in a black Maria, never to have had a visitor throughout the rest of my incarceration period in that hellhole institution. The Boyne’s lived in a four-roomed tenement flat off Westland Row. Heavy coats acted as bed blankets. I slept with three others in a poster bed. The street light kept the room nice and bright, and I was as free as a bird. I was never afraid of the family. I felt safe, despite the fact that they never bonded with me emotionally.

    What a nice aunt that was to have shown you the wonders of every day things that ordinary children got up to, and probably just took for granted each day. Could you just imagine Mrs Windass standing over you, whilst you stood in the laundry washing the excrement off sheets in cold water that belonged to a dormitory of children, which was the case of those who were supposed to act in loco-parentis in Goldenbridge. The differentiation knew no bounds. You were very fortunate to have have had those good memories. I feel fortunate too to have had good memories of my childhood in Rathdrum, despite not having any tender caring people to care for me. The beautiful thing called nature wrapped me in her mantle and I felt warmth and curious about life.

  4. says

    It was the constant misery of those places – the constant cold, the constant hunger, the constant prayers, the constant labour, the constant loneliness, the constant violence that destroyed so many childhoods. Unrelenting for most of us.

    I was so lucky – and I’m one of those who suffered brutal, vicious violence from the nuns like having my hands seriously burned by one and having one of my knees shattered by a Hurley-wielding nun! And all the other obscenities that only nuns can dish out!

    YES I can say I was lucky in having those other memories still with me – of the Windass family one Christmas; and another family in Wexford who gave me a Summer Holiday of a Lifetime. I traced the relatives of the Wexford family recently to thank them – and they remembered me just as I had never forgotten them or that Summer. Summer should be about Sea and Sand and Ice-Cream and Chips and Salt Water lapping at your feet and Sandcastles and Lazy Days lying on the beach and they provided all that to me that one Brilliant Summer.

  5. says

    Exactly. The doom and gloom of Goldenbridge, and nuns clad from head to toe and bowed down in the convent chapel worshipping their beloved invisible ‘polyandrous’ groom reminds me of something out of an eerie gothic novel where the protagonist has the wife hidden away from the world because of some dark family secret. The nuns spent so much of their time dressed in black and hunched up in pews, or sprawled on the ground, praying to their invisible lover. What a waste! They made sure children did not disturb their miserable way of life. The same women who were so brainwashed weren’t even allowed to go to the sick beds and funerals of their own parents. I knew one English nun, in the same order as Karen Armstrong, who became very ill, and subsequently went on to have a nervous breakdown, because she was deprived of going to the funeral of her parents. That was such a cruel thing to do to a nun who had devoted her life to teaching.

    I think the pent up emotions of the nuns were released by beating the daylights out of their charges. The unnatural way of living had to express itself in some warped way. They were going against nature. Something had to erupt. Worshipping a bleeding, near naked bloodied from head to toe man on a massive cross that was centred on a wall overlooking the altar every single day of their lives must have had some psychological effect on them. Praying to a bleeding Sacred Heart statue that lay at one side of the altar. Dwelling on the serpent of the devil that was wrapped around the virginal feet of the man-made Virgin Mary statue that adorned the other side of the altar, and being reminded of the temptations that the devil could place before their feet if they weren’t in keeping with their godly profession, and the pact they made with god to remain as pure as the virgin statue. Besides, religious history shows us that cruelty has been endemic within Roman Catholicism. The nuns were only doing god’s work by beating the devil out of children who were the products of ‘fallen’ women.

    Children had to fill water bottles belonging to staff and nuns. Yet, the Department of Education paid capitation grants for children to be cared for by them. Children should have been paid for looking after them. There was one particular staff member who had her own personal child maid. The child not only had to make the bed of the staff member every morning, but also had to sweep her room, and wash it out every weekend. The child even had to comb the hair of the staff. The same child also had to attend to the needs of her la-la, who would have also slept in the same room. Children were treated like doormats.

    Andrew, I’m so sorry to hear that you suffered such vicious cruelty in your institution at the hands of the brides of Christ. They certainly did damage to so many children’s lives with their barbaric cruelty. They were answerable to nobody. They just did what they liked to children of our ilk, as we were mere nonentities whom nobody cared about in the world, so why should they have to have mercy for the dregs of society.

    The seaside trips and holidays that survivors were given by kind people stand out so large in their adult memories. As the good times experienced were few and far between. You have described your good times so beautifully in your comments.

    That was nice to retrace the Wexford family who were kind to you as a child, and that your memories of those times were acknowledged. So many survivors have felt such a cathartic experience meeting up with people who were kind to them as children.

    I would have liked if members of the Boyne family had gone out of their way to acknowledge me, alas that was never to be. Mind you, a member of the family who is a redemptorist priest in Scotland did visit me when in Ireland some years ago. I missed him.

  6. says

    Thank you so much for continuing to share the abuses that have gone on behind closed doors and in institutional settings. By continuing to share your stories, you not only validate those that went through this with you, but those that are victims of current abuse, both on institutional and individual or family levels. Sharing your stories is so important to expose what has happened, to hold others accountable, and to remind others that one can survive and gain the power back from those that have caused harm. It is therapeutic on so many levels and I can’t thank you enough for being brave enough to share…speaking up is key always for yourself and the many others who have yet to find the power to use their own voices!

  7. says

    Thank you so much, Dr. Ken, I was beginning to despair that not many people cared about survivors of industrial “schools” and their stories of horrendous abuse of every description that occurred in the institutions in the past. Survivors, despite suffering from every conceivable disorder found in the psychiatric manual have fought tooth and nail for over twenty-five years, even risking their health, getting death threats, being scorned, ridiculed, and told they were lunatics, looking for attention, you name it, the list goes on.

    I am very touched by Madhav’s, Donie’s, Andrew’s, OBs and Dr. Ken’s comment. You have all restored my trust in humanity. Thanks very much.

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