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Added to on December 7, 2007

[ Following the furore created by the "Dear Daughter" TV documentary in February 1996, RTE broadcast a follow up 'Prime Time' programme in April 1996 that revealed some rather basis contradictions in Louis Lentin's tale of horror in Goldenbridge industrial school. (This may have been the last time that Prime Time - or RTE- seriously questioned the basis of our Irish Salem Witch-hunt.)

In "Dear Daughter" Sheila Doyle said that she was locked in a bunker for a whole day as a punishment; in the Prime Time programme, her sister Christine Doyle said it was for 20 minutes. Christine Doyle also said she had never seen babies strapped to potties in Goldenbridge, whereas her sister had claimed it was routine.

Apparently Christine Buckley was so annoyed over the Prime Time programme that she proposed to take legal action against the producers. (So what was the result of that, Ms. Buckley?). On the other hand a solicitor for former pupils taking legal action against the the Sisters of Mercy explained the decades long delay as follows: he said he believed that there was a "spell of fear" in the intervening years, during which they were unable to discuss these events with anyone, not even among themselves (!).

Christine Buckley also claimed that Prime Time failed to confront Sister Xavieria on a number of issues, notably the case of baby Marion Howe, who died within days of her admission to Goldenbridge of dysentry, according to the post mortem examination. However The Sunday Times (quoting an RTE source) reported on 28 April 1996 that the allegation that the baby died of burns was not put to Xavieria on the programme because, after researching the allegation, the Prime Time team could find no evidence to support it. (See "Sister Xavieria and 'Child-Killing' in Goldenbridge" on on 4 December 2007)

Although this baby-killing allegation received short shrift in 1996, it was probably the first in the series of blood libels against the Catholic Church that proliferated in the years that followed.**

Rory Connor
7 December 2007

** For example see the articles "Murder of the Undead: Patrick Walsh and the Irish Times" and "Responses to 'Murder of the Undead'", both on in January 2007.]

(A) RTE Programme "Unjust" to Former Orphanage Inmates
Irish Times, 24 April 1996 by Colm Keena

Former residents of the Goldenbridge orphanage last night reacted strongly to the Prime Time programme which featured an interview with Sisters Mary Xavieria.

Ms Christine Buckley, who appeared in the RTE documentary Dear Daughter two months ago, described the programme as an act".

Ms Buckley watched the programme along with two other former inmates of Goldenbridge, Ms Carmel McDonnell and Ms Sheila Doyle. With them was Mr Louis Lentin, who made Dear Daughter.

Ms Doyle and Ms Buckley said they did not accept the apologies which Sister Xavieria made on the programme.

Ms Doyle, who appeared in a recorded interview on the Prime Time programme, said Sister Xavieria should have said at the end of the programme that she hoped that former orphans would forgive her. Instead, what the nun had said was that she hoped the differences between the two sides could be resolved.

Ms Buckley said the programme was "a grave injustices to former inmates".

Sister Xavieria said on the programme that she had not poured boiling water on any child and that she had not beaten any child so much that she or he had to receive stitches.

On last night's programme, a Fine Gael deputy, Mr Jim Mitchell, said he had seen toys and lollipops when he had visited Goldenbridge, to which Ms Buckley replied: "How dare Jim Mitchell ignore our pain."

Sister Xavieria said that rosary beads had been made at the orphanage as a money spinner.

"At what cost to us? To shiver and shake and wrack with fright, because that's what we did," said Ms Buckley.

Both Ms Buckley and Ms Doyle said it was not true that Sister Xavieria had used a ruler to hit children; it was a bigger stick.

In the programme, Ms Christine Doyle differed with her sister, Ms Sheila Doyle, over an incident in which Ms Sheila Doyle was allegedly locked in a bunker at Goldenbridge as a punishment.

Ms Sheila Doyle said she had been locked in the bunker for a whole day and not 20 minutes as her sister had said.

Asked for her reaction to Sister Xavieria's apology, Ms Doyle said: "What else could she say? you know it was in her face".

Mr Lentin said he had no doubt but that all of the women he had spoken to when preparing his film I had been telling the truth.

It was Mr Lentin's film two months ago which began the controversy into Goldenbridge.

Mr Lentin said he still believes and always will that the women - were telling the truth. "I cannot see how anyone who saw the sincerity of the people in that film could believe otherwise," he said.

All through the showing of Prime Time the three women and Mr Lentin listened intently, taking notes and sometimes gasping in astonishment or surprise at statements made by Sister Xavieria.

Ms Carmel McDonnell, who was in Goldenbridge after Sister Xavieria had left, said she was now operating an independent helpline. She had had about 700 calls since giving her number out on the Pat Kenny Show in March.

(B) Sister Xaviera's Defence Only Adds to the Pain of Orphanage Women
Irish Times, 27 April 1996 by Kathy Sheridan

In a week that resolved nothing for the orphans of Goldenbridge, one issue, at least appears to have been settled. Goaded by what she perceives to be the portrayal of Sister Xavieria on Prime Time "as if in the Garden of Gethsemane", and its reporter as St Bernadette, Christine Buckley has told The Irish Times that she intends to take legal proceedings over the case.

It has also emerged that seven other "orphans" have begun legal proceedings against the Sisters of Mercy through the Wicklow solicitors, Augustus Cullen & Co. Augustus Cullen has written to the order, asking for all records relating to its clients as well as outlining what happened to each of them, seeking proposals "to rectify the wrongs of the past". The order's solicitors, Arthur O'Hagan, have since replied, stating that the letter is under consideration and offering the following advice: "From a legal viewpoint, however, we would have to advise our client that any claim (if any) would be well statute barred by now.

Actions for physical assault are limited by the 1958 Act to three years only from the date of the assault. But Mr Augustus Cullen told The Irish Times last night that there are special circumstances in these cases - not the least of which is that his clients were children at the time of the alleged assaults.

He also believes that there was a "spell of fear" in the intervening years, during which they were unable to discuss these events with anyone, not even among themselves. "I believe", he said, "that there was a shroud of secrecy among many of them up to the time of the Dear Daughter documentary."

As to the nature of the assaults, the former residents have, he believes, an action for basic assault "if they can show genuine physical consequences scars, burst eardrums, for example. Injuries of a psychological nature may be more difficult to prove, but the action will be for assault and consequential emotional damage".

Meanwhile, Ms Buckley and other former residents of the orphanage have taken issue with the Prime Time programme on several levels, alleging bias, breach of agreement on how her participation was to be handled, and a failure to confront Sister Xavieria on a number of issues, notably the case of baby Marion Howe, who died within days of her admission to Goldenbridge of dysentry, according to the post mortem examination.

The baby's father, who was discouraged from coming home for the funeral, but who made the journey anyway, claims that the child was burned to the bone on the inside of both knees, wounds for which he was never given an explanation A nun who he believes to be Sister Xavieria told him at the time that it was "just an unfortunate accident", he says.

At no point, say the former residents, was Sister Xavieria confronted by any of her accusers, or by evidence of their injuries, which they say were incurred under her regime. Why, they wonder, was she not asked about these when she denied ever cutting or wounding a child?

Why, when she admitted that a child was admitted to Goldenbridge with a prolapsed rectum and put sitting on a potty, could it not then be deduced that other children were even more vulnerable to being left sitting on potties?

Why, asks psychologist Bernadette Fahy, herself a former Goldenbridge resident, was the process of memory recall, as explained by Dr Patricia Casey, not equally applicable to the orphans as well as to others such as Sister Xavieria? "If she had seen children strapped to potties, she said on Prime Time, she would have remembered that. So she seems able to choose her memories.

"What does that say about her process of memory recall? What she seems to be saying is that she has a different memory recall process to the other professionals, including Dr Casey. It also seemed to me that she apologised for everything that might seem reasonably acceptable to the public, but anything that might be deemed of a `criminal nature' she denied or forgot", said Ms Fahy.

Christine Buckley can produce a letter written by Sister Xavieria to a past pupil in which the nun seeks her comments and writes: "The allegations all nearly have a basic bit of truth, but are blown up to an unbelievable state". The word "all" is underlined by the writer; the word "nearly" is a later addition to the text.

For the Sisters of Mercy, the fall out from Sister Xavieria's television appearance was, clearly, a risk they considered worth taking. Far from being the frail old lady, as originally portrayed when print reporters sought interviews with her after Louis Lentin's documentary two months ago, she was as articulate and alert as a woman half her 78 years.

Nonetheless, the order declined to make her available for interview to Louis Lent in for his documentary or, more recently, to journalists seeking interviews since Prime Time was broadcast.

In the end, perhaps the lasting impression of Prime Time for many was the conflicting memories of the sisters, Sheila and Christina Doyle. Sheila, who recalls being sent to the furnace room, is stunned by her sister's statements on Prime Time to the effect that she had never seen babies strapped to potties.

But Bernadette Fahy, for example, recalls children strapped to potties as routine: "And prolapsed rectums were common . . ." But what the programme did, she says, was to highlight the disagreement between the sisters instead of dealing with the central issue which no one disputes - that a child was consigned to the nightmare of what seemed like many hours in a furnace room.

Perhaps the only chink of light in the programme for the nun's accusers were the words of Sister Margaret MacCurtain, in which she explained the culture of convents then: "the terrible repression of sisters" in which everything was "stifled", in which the children appear to have been subject as much to the vows of chastity and poverty as the nuns themselves.

This, the Goldenbridge residents believe, is a beginning, at least, in their search for explanations.

Christine Buckley readily agrees that yes, she got an education while at Goldenbridge. "They say I was lucky - lucky? I slaved to earn my fees for nursing".

This week, solicitors' letters were exchanged between the producers of Prime Time, on the one hand, and Christine Buckley and Louis Lentin on the other, about guarantees the latter claim were given about their participation in Prime Time. "At all times", says Christine Buckley, I have been available for interview by RTE, then the one time I asked if I could go on, there is this . . ."

The events of this week have set her back 40 years, she says. As we spoke, the phone rang insistently; she took 24 calls yesterday morning from distressed people who had lived in Goldenbridge. She now feels responsible for them and feels guilty about using the answering machine.

Her domestic life is at a stand still; she has had time to cook just three dinners since Louis Lentin's documentary was broadcast. Where once she smoked 10 cigarettes a day, she now smokes 50.

But the issue, she insists, is not simply a difference between Christine Buckley and Sister Xavieria, even if that is how it has been portrayed this week.

"This is not about one nun - it is about years and years of abuse that went on behind walls. We want an independent public inquiry. How many millions were spent on the Beef Tribunal? That was an inquiry into beef It seems that we are less than beasts".



The Irish Times - Monday, April 22, 1996 from (Rev) COLIN GARVEY

Your correspondent, Ms Mulready (April 11th), in spite of her concern for truth, does not seem to realise that it was apparently badly served in the TV programme Dear Daughter. If truth is telling things as they are, the programme in question failed miserably in presenting anything like a true picture of the orphanage. It concentrated on one period, and it devoted only a few seconds to the fact that according to the protagonist, all was changed after a new sister came, and she was happy there.

Even more disturbing is the fact that many who were in the orphanage at the time rejected the account given in the film as quite untrue, and rejected in particular the account of the sister who was so unmercifully pilloried. I suppose most of us have come across people who can represent an ordinary journey as a heroic saga, or an ordinary institution as "a living hell". They are our best raconteurs, but poor witnesses.

Even while watching the film as it was transmitted, it struck me that perhaps we were being shown the illustrated fantasies of the protagonist, and not the truth. And not a word of compassion for the overworked women trying to care for so many orphans on a pittance.

Since then, this impression has been greatly strengthened. It now appears that the sister in question, far from being the monster portrayed, was a second mother to many of her charges, one who would go to great lengths to help and comfort. She is, evidently, a person of whom the Mercy Sisters can be proud. It is not easy for anyone to emerge with credit and love from an orphanage situation, but this sister did it with flying colours. Ms Mulready, in her zeal, seems to have overlooked this testimony.

I might mention, in passing, that it reprehensible on the part of Pat Kenny to expose Sister Helena to an angry mob in his studio. And indeed, some of the journalists disgraced themselves too like the egregious columnist who thought that getting the children to string Rosary beads was slave labour. And, of course, there were the usual idiots who thought it was like the dying rooms of China.

If there are apologies to be made, it is to the sister who was so cruelty treated, and to the Mercy Order so grossly misrepresented. If there is compensation to be paid, it is to them that it should be paid for the injury done.

Yours etc

The Abbey,

Galway City.