Email Us My Blog

Christine Buckley

Christine Buckley

Louis Lentin's documentary "Dear Daughter" which was broadcast by RTE in February 1996 tells the story of Christine Buckley and her experiences in Goldenbridge residential school from 1950 to 1964. Her allegations against the Sisters of Mercy who ran the school, and in particular Sister Xavieria set off a wave of atrocity stories in the media - up to and including allegations that the nuns had caused the death of an infant who had been left in their care.

The allegations contained in "Dear Daughter" itself were shocking enough. In the words of Irish Times journalist Eddie Holt (writing on 24 February 1996) "Christine Buckley was once beaten so badly by the unidentified Sister Sadist of the Shining Stick that she had to get about 100 stitches in her leg. On another occasion, perhaps too tired from walking up a flight of stairs, Stick just poured a kettle of boiling water over 10 year old Christine's right thigh".

The Report of the Ryan Commission published in May 2009 contains no reference to these allegations by Christine Buckley. However UK cultural historian Richard Webster deals with them in his essay "States of Fear, The Redress Board and Ireland's Folly" which is itself an extract from his book "The Secret of Bryn Estyn":

In 1996 the producer and director, Louis Lentin, made a television documentary about abuse in children’s homes which was shown by RTE, the main public service broadcasting station in Ireland. It focused on the brutal regime which was said to have been operating during the 1950s at St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, one of a network children’s homes or detention centres which were funded by the state and run by the Catholic Church. The documentary featured allegations made against Sister Xavieria, one of the nuns belonging to the Sisters of Mercy order which ran the home.

The woman ‘survivor’ at the centre of the film claimed that, on one occasion, she had been caned by Sister Xavieria so severely that the entire side of her leg was split open from her hip to her knee. She says she was treated in the casualty department of the local hospital and believes that she received 80 to 120 stitches. No medical evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this bizarre claim. The surgeon who ran the casualty department at the hospital in question has given evidence which renders it highly unlikely that such an incident ever took place. Apart from anything else, the surgeon points out that caning would not have caused a wound of this kind, which would have required surgical treatment under a general anaesthetic and not stitches in a casualty department.

Yet although the evidence suggests that the woman’s memory was a delusion, her testimony was widely believed at the time. In the wake of the broadcast, atrocity stories about Goldenbridge and other industrial schools began to proliferate
. [3]

[3]  Sunday Times (Ireland), 28 April 1996, citing the views of the surgeon, J. B. Prendiville.

One of the "atrocity stories" referred to by Mr. Webster was that Sister Xavieria had been responsible for the death of a baby, Marion Howe in Goldenbridge. This allegation was then supported by Christine Buckley who said she was "angry at the failure by the Sisters of Mercy to admit liability for what had happened to Marion Howe. This is what the above-mentioned Sunday Times article had to say about this particular "atrocity":

One of the more chilling allegations to surface was that an 11-month-old baby died four days after she was put into Goldenbridge. When the infant's father, Myles Howe. returned from England and went to St Ultan's hospital, he was told by a nurse that his baby had burns on her knees but the staff had got her too late to save her. The postmortem said the child died of dysentery.

The Howes have never been satisfied by the official response.

[Doctor] Prendiville recalls that St Ultan's was established largely for dealing with bowel complaints such as dysentery or gastroenteritis, a common illness among children which at that time could reach epidemic proportions in Dublin. He speculated that Marian Howe was more than likely admitted to St Ultan's with a bowel complaint. "I wouldn't say that burns of that size on a child's legs would have been the cause of death. They didn't treat burns in St Ultan's. If the baby died from a burn, there would have to be an inquest. But failure to communicate information is a defect in many hospitals," he said.

But if the burns were not the cause of Marian's death, asks Howe, why was he told by Xavieria that it was an "accident" and not dysentery that killed his child? Why, on his arrival at St Ultan's to see his dead child, did a nurse indicate to him that his daughter had died of burns? And why could nobody explain to him the large burn marks on the sides of her knees?

The outrage that followed the Prime Time programme *** was directed as much at Xavieria's denials of abuse as at an apparently "soft" line of questioning. The allegation that a baby in her charge died of burns was not put to her on the programme. The reason was that after researching the allegation, the Prime Time team could find no evidence to support it. according to an RTE source. The reporter did ask Xavieria about the incident, he said, but her response was edited out of the programme.

Both Buckley and Dear Daughter producer Louis Lentin, regard the Prime Time report as an effort by RTE to undermine the documentary. "Sister Xavieria is perfectly entitled to any right of reply, but this programme bent over backwards to be reverential," said Lentin. "The facts were not put to her in a strong, investigative manner."

*** A Prime Time special broadcast by RTE in April 1996 highlighted some discrepancies in the tale of horror contained in the "Dear Daughter" documentary.

Report of the Commission to Investigate Child Abuse (Ryan Commission) published in May 2009
The Ryan Report contains no reference to the atrocity stories made or supported by Christine Buckley in relation to Sister Xavieria. I originally thought that Ryan had simply ignored them. I subsequently discovered that the claims were investigated by the Commission sitting in private session and no evidence was found to support them. However instead of reporting this very significant fact, the Commission Report simply ommits Buckley's allegations.

Reprise of False Child Killing Allegation in September 2011
In a letter to the Irish Independent for 6 Septembe 2011, Christine Buckley of "Aislinn Support Centre, Dublin" revisits the old lie about about the Sisters of Mercy in Goldenbridge being responsible for the death of baby Marian Howe in 1955. Her letter entitled "Why Moses wasn't Given a Study Document" is given Letter of the Day status and lists the Commandments that the Catholic Church allegedly broke.
"Fifth, thou shall not kill. We know that some victims of institutional abuse have, sadly, taken their own lives. We know children died in care. To name one, Marian Howe died in Goldenbridge Industrial School."

Is it possible that Ms. Buckley actually believes this recycled blood libel?

Rory Connor
25 May 2011 [amended 20 September 2011]

Synopsis of "Dear Daughter" - February 1996

Christine Buckley - a UK Historians View - 1996

Sisters of Mercy: Apologising to "Victims" - February 1996

Sister Xavieria Support Groups - March 1996

Controversy Re "Dear Daughter"; Louis Lentin vs Reg Gahan - March/April 1996

Christine Buckley and Sister Xavieria: Prime Time Programme in April 1996

Christine Buckley vs Sister Xavieria - Irish Times 27 April1996

Letter from Goldenbridge Girl, Ann Mahr, May 1996

Sister Xavieria and "Child Killing" in Goldenbridge - 1996/97

"Hot Poker Was Used On Little Marion", The Mirror (UK) - 11 October 1997

Louis Lentin and Christine Buckley - RTE and TV3 - 1996 to 1999

Letters in History Ireland re Sister Xavieria - Winter 2000

Group Angered by Ads from Child Abuse Commission Seeking Residents with Positive Experiences - 24 Feb 2003

Victims Welcome Sisters of Mercy Apology - 5 May 2004

Christine Buckley, Kathy O'Beirne and Colm O'Gorman - Allegations Against Lay People May 2004

The Sisters of Mercy At Goldenbridge in Modern Times from "A History of Inchicore" - March 2005

Four Accusers After Ryan Report - May 2009

Christine Buckley After Ryan Report - May 2009

Statement by Orders 'an emotional stunt' - May 2009

Irish and European "Volunteer of the Year" 2009

In Silence, They Marched to Remember Our Holocaust - 11 June 2009

Christine Buckley Urges Pope to "Repent", Irish Times - 22 December 2009

Christine Buckley on International Women's Day in Roscommon - March 2010

Who is Christine Buckley - 18 May 2010

Survivors at Loggerheads Over Denial of Sex Abuse; Christine Buckley vs Michael O'Brien -16 May 2010

O'Brien Accused of 'Betraying' Abuse Victims; Former Mayor 'Hurt by Vindictive Attack' - 20 May 2010

Leading Irish Church Abuse Figure Michael O'Brien Once Claimed He Was Never Abused - 24 May 2010

Christine Buckley, Michael O'Brien, Tom Sweeney, Joe Jordan and Children - 23 May 2010

Christine Buckley and a Recycled Blood Libel, Letter to Irish Independent - 6 September 2011