Goldenbridge orphan Christine Buckley went public on ordeal
Major public response in 1996 to Dear Daughter TV documentary on her experiences
Christine Buckley recounted her memories of Goldenbridge orphanage in a drama-documentary, Dear Daughter, broadcast by RTÉ television in 1996. Dear Daughter attracted a huge audience. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Born in Dublin, she was the daughter of 31-year-old married woman and a 20-year-old Nigerian medical student. At the age of three weeks she was given up for fostering. After staying at a number of foster homes, in 1950, at the age of four, she was sent to Goldenbridge, run by the Sisters of Mercy.
She recounted her memories of Goldenbridge in a drama-documentary, Dear Daughter, broadcast by RTÉ television in 1996. Director Louis Lentin used dramatisations to depict the regime under which Buckley and her fellow residents lived. Also, the participants re-enacted childhood activities: in one sequence they were shown making rosary beads, telling how as children they had to meet a quota of 60 sets of beads a day.
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The children, not known by name but by number, lived constantly with violence. The accounts of the physical and mental cruelty they endured were truly shocking. Tales of beatings, scaldings and infants strapped to potties did not make for easy viewing. One former resident told of accidentally breaking a statue of the Virgin Mary while playing. Her punishment was to stand overnight in the pose of the statue she had damaged.
Christine Buckley was once so badly beaten that she had to get 100 stitches in her leg. On another occasion, when she was 10, a kettle of boiling water was poured over her right thigh.
Dear Daughter attracted a huge audience, and the sympathy of most viewers and media went to the former residents. The Sisters of Mercy issued an apology: “Life in the Ireland of the 1940s and 1950s was generally harsh for most people. This was reflected in orphanages which were, for the most part, under-funded, under-staffed and under-resourced. In these circumstances, many sisters gave years of dedicated service. Notwithstanding these facts, clearly mistakes were made ... we now ask for forgiveness for all our failures.”
Buckley described the apology as “cynical”.
However, Dear Daughter had its critics. In this newspaper, Michael Foley criticised the media’s “rush to judgment”. He wrote: “There are those who disagree with Ms Buckley, and without any disrespect to her or her memories, have a different story ... but few in the media were interested in listening.”
Contributors to an edition of Prime Time portrayed Goldenbridge in a positive light, and the programme featured an interview with the orphanage’s former resident manager, Sister Xaviera, who was much criticised in the documentary.