Victims hail day of great happiness and healing

 

IT WAS “one brilliant day, 110 per cent” said Michael O’Brien, former mayor of Clonmel and one-time resident at Ferryhouse industrial school near the town. “I feel a free man now . . . The President did us and the people of Ireland proud today,” he said.

“It was a day of happiness, and a day of love and a day of deep sadness,” said Christine Buckley of the Aislinn centre in Dublin and former resident of the Goldenbridge orphanage in that city. “It took us 25 years to be believed and to be at Áras an Uachtaráin . . . the overall picture was one of great happiness,” she said.

“It was a very moving day for all concerned, a momentous, historic day, and I don’t use that talk lightly,” said John Kelly of Soca Ireland, former resident at Daingean reformatory in Co Offaly and former resident in the UK for 33 years. “I feel Irish for the first time . . . it’s a great feeling.”

They were among over 300 people who attended a reception hosted by President Mary McAleese at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday for former residents of institutions for children in this State which were investigated by the Ryan Commission. Attending the reception were representatives of nine survivor groups, their families and friends.

“The President and her staff couldn’t do enough,” said John Kelly. He spoke of the “awe” he felt while waiting to meet Mrs McAleese, “the way she devoted time, listening to people, and understanding people”.

He recalled “I never felt Irish. One week out of Daingean and I was in London. Ireland didn’t protect me or my constitutional rights. That’s why today was so significant for us. Ordinary people don’t understand. We have rights now. It’s tremendous. We were dehumanised in those institutions. The State didn’t care about us. We are the children of Israel who have come out of that, into the light.”

He spoke of an 83-year-old man from Sheffield, an 82-year-old lady from London, another 83-year-old man from Dublin and what the day meant to them; what it had given them before life is taken away. “It’s tremendous,” he said.

As the day ended Michael O’Brien said “we are going home with our heads held high and our hearts full of joy”. He wanted to put on record his gratitude to the President “on behalf of us former residents of the institutions, those here and those not here who we are here to represent”.

He recalled that last Thursday in the Minister for Education’s office he received a certificate proving he no longer had a criminal record. “I am over the moon,” he said.

Christine Buckley noted that the President mingled with and met everyone “which was terribly important”. Though she felt that, in her speech, Mrs McAleese has been “a little soft on the Church”.

She had not called for perpetrators of abuse to be brought to justice, as she had done in Boston shortly after publication of the Ryan report. “Then, it was a day of solidarity for us,” she remarked.

“I saw many tears, but they were tears of happiness,” she said. Her own family had been “hugely moved”. Her husband Donal, their children Conor and Clíodhna were with her. Her son Daragh wanted to come home from Australia for the event, but she discouraged him.

“The Goldenbridge Girls”, as she referred to herself and other former residents at the orphanage, excelled at the Siege of Ennis she said. One of the Riverdance troupe asked “where did you learn to dance?” She explained “it was beaten into us”. The “Girls” deemed the Artane Boys came second in that unofficial dance-off at the Áras, she said.