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Christine Buckley, Michael O'Brien, Tom Sweeney, Joe Jordan and Children

Light After Darkness - Sunday Tribune, 23 May 2010

On 11 May 1999, the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern apologised on behalf of the state and its citizens to victims of institutional abuse for 'our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue'.

Eleven years on, four children of survivors of abuse at Ireland's industrial schools recount the effect the cruelty and neglect suffered by their parents has had on their lives. By Claire Ryan. Photographs by Mark Condren

Christine Buckley and son
Conor and Christine Buckley: 'When my mam visited Goldenbridge she was shaking like a leaf'

'Knowing what mam suffered has definitely made us closer. The moment I walk in the door my mam still runs up and hugs me' Conor Buckley (29)

His mother Christine Buckley grew up in Goldenbridge Orphanage and was the subject of the 1996 documentary 'Dear Daughter'. She now runs The Aislinn Centre, which supports survivors of abuse

'I've a vivid memory from when I was a kid of being in my bedroom and seeing a big scar running down my mother's leg. I was probably about five or six at the time and I remember asking why her leg was like that. She was pretty open about it and said that boiling water had been poured over it but she didn't go into any detail in terms of why or how it happened.

My mam lived in Goldenbridge Orphanage from the time she was a few months old up until she was around 18. Her mam met my grandad, a Nigerian medical student in Dublin and became pregnant. After giving birth to my mam in England, she came back to Ireland and placed her in Goldenbridge.

I was 15 when Dear Daughter aired in 1996. My sister, brother and myself were featured in the closing scenes so we were very aware of it and knew it could be something big. My mam didn't want me to watch it on the night of the first broadcast because I had a big important sports game the next day and it would have been too upsetting. I remember seeing her photo in the papers the next day at school but nobody around me made too much of a fuss, which was good. I eventually watched it a few weeks later and I was upset but in actual fact I found it a lot more upsetting when I was older and watched it again. Maybe reality had kicked in a little more. I think if I watched it again now I'd find it even more upsetting and I'd probably be even angrier than before.

After the documentary was broadcast, we had to get a second phone in the house because there were so many calls and journalists were camped outside the house 24/7 but mam really took it all in her stride.

I've never been to Goldenbridge. I know when mam visited there she was shaking like a leaf because of the bad memories it brings back to her. I don't think I'd ever want to see the place because of what happened to her there.

I'm actually quite religious in my own way and I haven't lost my faith. I know there are a lot of very good priests and nuns out there and my mam always stressed the fact that there were nuns who were very good to her as well in Goldenbridge and my own experience with religious orders at my schools was very positive.

Knowing what mam suffered has definitely made us closer as a family. For someone who never had parents herself she has somehow still managed to be an incredibly loving parent and a great role model. The moment I walk in the door at home my mam still runs up and hugs me, which is the way it's been since I was a child. I suppose in many ways she's a mother not just to me, my brother and my sister but to everybody at the Aislinn Centre as well." ?


'It was very upsetting to hear his anger and pain come out so powerfully but I'm glad that it did because it touched so many people' Catriona O'Connor (43)

Michael O'Brien and Daughter
Catriona O'Connor and Michael O'Brien: 'I only found out 10 years ago about the sexual abuse my father suffered'

Her father Michael O' Brien, a former Fianna Fáil mayor of Clonmel, was sent to St Joseph's Industrial School, Ferryhouse, Clonmel, in the 1940s. His story came to public prominence following his emotional outburst on 'Questions & Answers' in May 2009

'I only found out 10 years ago about the sexual abuse my father suffered when I saw his photo in the paper beside a story that said something along the lines of 'Former Mayor of Clonmel Abused in an Industrial School'. None of us had any idea. We were gobsmacked. We knew that his mother had died when he was eight and that my father and seven of his siblings were taken from the family home and put into care but he'd completely protected us from knowing about the sexual abuse.

I rang him straight away after seeing the article and he apologised that he hadn't had a chance to tell us before the story hit the paper. I've two brothers and one sister and my father spoke to each of us individually because we're all very different and would have dealt with it in our own way. We each asked him what we felt we needed to know, or what we felt we could deal with at the time and he told us.

He'd buried all this pain under his thick skin for years until he finally let it out and told everyone the truth of what he'd suffered. I don't think he could have carried on for the rest of his life not telling us the extent of what went on at Ferryhouse but there was a time when you couldn't speak out against people in the church, so he didn't. They were treated like gods.

I think everything really came to a head when he was on Questions & Answers last year. I knew he was going to be in the audience and was there to ask a question but I wasn't prepared for what happened when he confronted minister Noel Dempsey and the government on the issue of institutional abuse. It was very upsetting to hear his anger and pain come out so powerfully but I'm glad that it did because it touched so many people. After Questions & Answers, the amount of emails, phone calls, letters and cards he received was unbelievable.

He's always been an amazing father. He was tough with us growing up but very fair and very supportive. We never wanted for anything. He could have turned out bitter and defeated by what he suffered and he could taken his own pain out on his family but he never did.

He never turned to drink or put what he had suffered upon us. My mother is a fantastic woman as well and I admire them both for giving us a normal home life against the odds. I see my father every day. We're very close. He dotes on his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Sometimes I look at him and think it's incredible what he's been through in his life. He's very strong and he'll stay strong until he gets closure – no matter how long it takes. He'll fight on until the day he dies. He just wants acceptance of the damage that has been done.

I feel a lot of anger about what he went through. It affects us all to this day. We still cry about it. This is something we never asked for. It should never have happened to my father or anyone. I don't go to Mass. I can't bring myself to go. Maybe my faith in the church will come back but at the moment it's too raw.


'When I heard about my father being taken to a small room in the basement at Letterfrack, I cried. It broke my heart. I kept sobbing' Mark Sweeney (38)

Tom Sweeney and Son
Mark and Tom Sweeney: 'He wasn't an affectionate dad. He didn't know how to be because he was never shown

His father Tom Sweeney was sent to industrial schools, in Artane and Letterfrack, in the 1950s and 1960s

'We kind of always knew my father had had a hard life because he used to talk about the Christian Brothers a lot but we never knew he was molested until he went on hunger strike outside the Dáil in 2004.

He was in Artane first and then they took him to Letterfrack. They said it was for truancy but his mam had a letter from his teacher saying he was good at school. The Christian Brothers used to make him run around the yard and dig potatoes until five in the morning. The travellers got an even worse doing. If they wet the bed they were made run around with the sheets tied around their heads, until the bed linen dried.

My father has a bad temper and was very hard on all six of us. He wasn't an affectionate dad. He didn't know how to be because he was never shown any affection. That really impacted on us. My brother turned to heroin and is in Portlaoise prison at the moment. I did a lot a lot of hash and pills but copped on in time and got into fitness. I boxed until I was 28.

I must have been around 10 when detectives from Salthill in Galway came to our house in the 1980s. My father was one of the first to be interviewed about Letterfrack. We were told us to get out of the room so we knew something serious was going on.

I only found out he was on hunger strike when my mother rang me and asked me to go down and support him. She only meant me to stand beside him but I decided to join him on the hunger strike. I did 21 days with him and he did 22.

It wasn't down to money. He just wanted to speak about what had happened to him and not be penalised for it. He also wanted an apology from the Christian Brothers, which he never got.

Being on the strike was tough. My hands bled with the cold. It rained for 10 days solid. After the seventeenth day, my father told me to start making his funeral arrangements but he held on. It was only during the negotiations in Leinster House that I found out properly about the sexual abuse. None of us had known about it.

When I heard about my father being taken to a small room in the basement at Letterfrack, I cried. It broke my heart. I kept sobbing afterwards but I never told my sisters or brothers the details of what I heard.

I've got a daughter of 11. Her mother and myself aren't together but I see her nearly every day. She's my little princess. I tell her how much I love her all the time because my father wasn't able to say that to us.

I love my dad but it's difficult because he's still so tortured."


'Dad has suffered from bouts of depression all his life and still drinks to forget and to sleep but mainly just to get through the day' June Jordan (41)

Joe Jordan and Daughter
June Jordan with her father Joe: 'Families like ours have borne the brunt of what our parents suffered'

Her father Joe Jordan was sent to St Joseph's industrial school, Tralee, Co Kerry in the 1950s

'I'm the eldest in our family and always spent a lot of time in my dad's company. When I was around seven or eight he told me about being sent to St Joseph's in Tralee – an industrial school run by the Christian brothers. He said he was sent there because he was an orphan. I thought it was so sad for him and for us that he didn't have any family and didn't know where he came from.

My father wasn't sexually abused but he suffered plenty of physical and emotional abuse that has scarred him deeply. Some of the stories he used to tell us about his time at St Joseph's were very traumatic. He frequently spoke about a little chap that was in the school called Joe Pike, who was a great Irish dancer. I remember dad would frequently get upset at the memory of Joe being badly beaten and afterwards lying dead on the ground.

My dad has always been a drinker, so we didn't have much growing up and we did go without. He has suffered from bouts of depression all of his life and still drinks to forget and to sleep but mainly just to get through the day, which has damaged us as a family but I suppose it has helped him cope. I remember when I was very young he would come home from the pub drunk and I'd be up waiting for him with my mam. He'd start talking about the mother he never knew and get very upset. Being the eldest, I knew the most about dad's story and it made me the strongest member of my family. I became very protective of them. My mother was very caught up with my father, with his drinking and his problems, so I took on a lot to help my siblings. I became old before my time.

Dad didn't know how to deal with us because he had no one to teach him how to parent but he's a gentle person and we knew he loved us, even if he couldn't always show it.

When dad was 50, we found out through Barnardos that he had a sister. It turned out his mam had died in 1968, which was the year he got married. That was devastating for him but meeting his sister, who lives in Gloucester, about 15 years ago was a dream come true. My aunt had been sent to a school in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, and my dad was fostered out a few times before being sent to St Joseph's until he was 16. They were never given any details about each other's existence and were allowed to think that they were entirely alone in the world.

Dad has found help through the Alliance Committee but he still wants recognition from the authorities of what want went on. They created a damaged generation and the knock-on effect is that families like ours have borne the brunt of what our parents suffered. It doesn't stop with them. My father is a very good person and I love him to bits but because of what he's been through it's like I'm parenting him at times."