Woman Beaten by Nuns Attacks Probe into Abuse
By Henry McDonald
The Observer [Ireland]
September 14, 2003
The embattled Laffoy Commission into child abuse sent a victim subjected to 15 years of beatings and humiliations by nuns for counselling to a nun.
May Henderson, who was sent to the notorious Goldenbridge orphanage at the age of two, described the commission's decision as 'the final insult after a childhood of abuse'.
Speaking publicly for the first time about her time at Goldenbridge, the London-based pensioner accused the government-backed commission of being 'totally insensitive' towards victims like her.
May was born in Dublin 70 years ago and at the age of two was incarcerated against her mother's will in Goldenbridge because she was illegitimate.
Despite repeated assurances by her father that he could take care of his daughter, the nuns at the orphanage refused to let May have any contact with him.
They even hid 31 letters her father wrote to his child while serving in the Royal Ulster Rifles during the war.
May only received the letters a couple of years ago when the state and the religious orders were forced to tell the truth about the regime of cruelty and deprivation in the church-run orphanages and institutions.
'When the Laffoy Commission was first established I wrote to them and told my story,' she said. 'They recommended that I should get some counselling to come to terms with what went on in Goldenbridge.
'They recommended that I speak to the Immigrant Counselling and Psychotherapy group at Islington, London.
'It was only when I went there that I found out that the centre is run by a Sister Teresa Gallagher of the Loretto Convent and member of the Conference of Religious in Ireland. The Irish government funds it.
'Now I don't know this nun personally and I can't say anything about her. But the bottom line is this - in general I hate nuns and want nothing to do with them. I suffered at their hands and don't want any other nuns near me.
'So I was stunned when the commission was totally insensitive by sending me there.'
May said her life in Goldenbridge was miserable from the day she went in as a toddler to the day she left as a teenager.
She was regularly beaten for minor transgressions, left to sleep in her own urine when she wet the bed, had her teeth knocked out during one assault and was hospitalised following a severe beating at 13 when she and a friend attempted to break out of the orphanage.
May said one of the favoured weapons used by one of the most notoriously cruel nuns at Goldenbridge was a set of thick wooden rosary beads.
'She would beat you with the rosary beads while she prayed and you recited the Hail Mary,' she added. 'The sick thing about it was that we, the children, made those rosary beads in the workshop, which were sold to convents, holy shops and parishes.
'And, by the way, the children who made them were given absolutely nothing in return. So now you know why I hate nuns,' she said.
The Irish government's decision to employ members of the clergy to counsel victims of clerical abuse has caused outrage among survivors' groups.
On 30 March this year a public meeting at Imperial College London broke down in chaos after abuse victims shouted down Sister Gallagher during a meeting attended by Minister of Education Noel Dempsey.
The Irish Survivors of Child Abuse Group organised the protest because the Laffoy Commission website recommended the Islington counselling centre and Teresa Gallagher but did not mention that she was a nun or that the premises are in fact within a Catholic Church in Finsbury Park, London.
May Henderson, a grandmother who spent most of her adult life in self-imposed exile from Ireland, has not moderated in her views on the religious orders or the church.
Irish Survivors of Child Abuse has boycotted Laffoy from its inception, believing that it was designed to exonerate successive Irish governments and ministers - the people who had the ultimate authority over the Industrial Schools and orphanages in the State.
The group were also angry that on the very last day before the 2002 Irish general election the then Minister of Education Dr Michael Woods pushed through an indemnity package that protected the Catholic Church from being sued in the courts from victims of clerical abuse.
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