Mary O'Mara - Abstracts

Mary O'Mara lives in Clare St. and for many years was a Girl Guide Leader. Through this work she came in contact with children from the Good Shepherd orphanage, one of whom eventually came to live with her for a time. Here she shares her stories and impressions.

I became involved in the Irish Girl Guides in 1971/72 and I started a group in St. Patrick's and it was there I met the first twelve girls from the Good Shepherd who were resident in number 60 Clare Street. They were still under the wing of the Good Shepherd nuns. Now these girls would have ranged from nine to twelve years and you could identify them immediately as having something wrong. Things were never right for them. They were never happy - rarely would you see them happy. There was a great fear there - the fear no matter what you were doing with them, no matter how happy and contented your programme was running.

So guiding was where I started to meet them. They would be dropped off to me or I would collect them in the beginning. But then they started to come on their own as time went by and over time a bond grew, very strong bond, so much so that I had one of them come live with me down through the years and her story that she told me was absolutely horrific.

One of the stories she told me was that one night she had an accident in bed. If they wet the bed the punishment was that they were taken out of the bed. They were stripped. Now this was in the 1970's. They were given a dressing gown or a housecoat or something to cover them. Their underwear was removed and they had to pick their own mattress and leave No. 60 and go to St. Mary's and they would spend the night on the floor there on that mattress with no covering at all. The punishment would continue, well obviously it would just be for one night, but one night was sufficient for any child. This had happened prior to my having her. At this stage she was fourteen.

I had three years with them and there after I began to lose touch with them in that I wouldn't be on a one on one with them. I wouldn't see them every day until one of them came to the door one day and asked me would I take her in. She was sixteen and I said I had to go and get permission and I did. And I was given the permission willy-nilly. I could have been anyone. I got permission to take the child from the nuns and to bring her to my house. No nun ever came inside that door. No priest ever came inside that door. No social welfare officer ever came in here. Nobody in authority ever showed his or her face. Nobody. She was giving problems. She was starting to back answer. She was starting to get a bit cheeky, beginning to defend herself.

I still run a unit. Now I run the unit in the Good Shepherds. And in the Good Shepherds there still are the old residents from the Mary Magdalene. There would be about sixteen of them. Now you would have on occasion reason to go into the kitchen to get a glass of water if you have over thirty kids running around you. So one night I went in to get some ice cubes. The fridge in the kitchen was locked.

It is all hush hush over there. They are inside in this beautiful house, brand new house. They cannot answer the doorbell during meal times. And you can hear them. You can actually hear them. They go to mass – its ritual. They go in groups. It's the old way. They kept them in groups so that they are ostracised from people. I've invited them to numerous Christmas concerts but they weren't allowed come. When you see that week in week out and you are actually seeing it, you are using your common sense. They are not whipping them anymore – they can't do that physically but mentally they are still in charge.

Most of those girls that I had are all in their forties now but they did have to struggle in life because you have to remember that place was an institution. They came from broken homes. It was bad enough coming from a broken home besides being put into prison for it. You are put into prison because you came from a broken home. Where is the right in that? They had to be in bed by nine. The prisoners up in Arbour Hill had more freedom than that. I wouldn't be absolutely sure of their daily routine but I remember one of the girls telling me that they rose at seven, had their breakfast and they did all their jobs before they left the house and then school, back from school and then more jobs, dinner and bed.

They did work in the church. They had to do a lot of work in the church when the church was over there. They'd be cleaning the church, cleaning floors. They were always scrubbing. I went to school in Scoil Carmel. I saw girls on their hands and knees scrubbing boards and they would have to shove to one side when we, the day-girls, were coming in. They would actually have to shove over to one side. They would be there with a big galvanizing bucket and that wouldn't be warm water. It couldn't have been warm water because it wouldn't have been there. And they would have a great big bar of soap. The soap would have been bigger than themselves, bigger than their hands anyway. And they had red hands - there were no gloves. They would scrub and scrub the tiles above in Scoil Carmel, the old church. They came from broken homes.

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