Author Archives: Ciaran Tierney

From top: Blanket ceremony in Tuam, County Galway last Saturday; from left Ciaran Tierney, Alison O’Reilly and Anna Corrigan

Last Saturday, Journalist Ciaran Tirerney attended the Remembrance Day at the site of the mass grave at the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway.

From Ciaran’s recent blog entry:

Three hundred women all across the globe, including many in North America, were inspired by a Dublin artist to make a blanket of 796 hand-knitted pieces which they presented to the families and survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home on Saturday.

In an emotional ceremony at the site where up to 796 babies and children are believed to have been buried in an unmarked grave,

Dublin artist Barbara O’Meara unveiled the beautiful white blanket – sewn together in four parts to depict the four provinces of Ireland – to the family members after meeting them for the first time.

The unveiling of the beautiful blanket, knitted by hand following a Facebook campaign, coincided with an inaugural Remembrance Day for the Lost Children of Ireland event at the site of the former home.

…At the ceremony, I was also delighted to meet Anna Corrigan of the Tuam Babies Family Group and author Alison O’Reilly.

Alison and Anna worked together to write ‘My Name is Bridget’, the story of Anna’s mother who had been incarcerated in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

Anna, who grew up in Dublin, only discovered that she had two older brothers after her mother passed away.

Her two brothers are among the 796 missing children and babies.

The book is a harrowing read, but it also really ‘humanises’ the story of the lost children and also looks at some other case histories from homes across Ireland.

Breeda Murphy of the Tuam Home Survivors Network pointed out that the infant mortality rate at the home was five times that of the population outside; and that 126 of the babies died within the first six months of life.

“Death certificates were not signed by a medical practitioner, but rather a domestic at the home, burials were outside the norm, custom or law. Without coffins. Without a word, a prayer or a gesture of sympathy in a land that is renowned for its funeral services where communities seek comfort in the untimely death of a young person,” she said.

She pointed out that 35,000 women and girls went through Ireland’s Mother and Baby Home system between 1904 to 1996.

This was a national issue, she said, as she pointed out that survivors from institutions all across Ireland had travelled to Tuam for the event.

They travelled to remember the lost children of Tuam (Ciaran Tierney)

 

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) and US President Donald Trump in the White House Washington last March; Ciaran Tierney

It has been amazing to hear so many people in Ireland express regret that President Trump has postponed (or cancelled) his Irish visit this coming November.

They were so fired up that many said they were looking forward to joining a political protest for the first time.

Irish protesters had to reach out to their counterparts in the UK, who turned out in their thousands to make the President feel so unwelcome when he visited London back in July.

Sorry, they said, we won’t need to ship the giant orange “baby blimp” to Ireland after all!

People in Dublin were really looking forward to the sight of a giant baby Donald in a nappy floating across the skyline.

And a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign had already covered the cost of bringing over the six metre high blimp within days of being set up.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be part of mass protests against the US President. The sense of anti-climax was palpable as soon as the White House announced that he had postponed his travel plans.

The leaders of two opposition parties, Labour and the Greens, had come  together to announce plans for a joint rally for “democracy, decency, and international solidarity” in Dublin.

As though such concepts, so alien to Mr Trump, were plentiful across the political spectrum here in Ireland.

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin went as far as to say that President Trump was “no friend of democracy or human rights”.

Mr Howlin said it was important to stand up to Trump on issues such as climate change, the treatment of migrant and asylum-seekers, spending on arms, and the slashing of aid budgets.

In Galway, the local anti-racism group wanted hundreds of people to gather to spell out the words “Feck off Trump” (with a little Irish humour, from the ‘Father Ted’ TV series) on a beach.

In much different times, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy addressed 50,000 people in Eyre Square and the city authorities renamed it as Kennedy Park in his honour.

We are unlikely to see a ‘Trump Park’ in Galway any time in this millennium.

So many people are disappointed that the street protests are off. They wanted to convey a firm message that Trump’s policies have no place in a modern, prosperous, outward-looking Ireland.

They want to reject the anti-immigrant rhetoric on an island where emigration provided the only refuge for the afflicted through much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The street protests are off . . . as though there was nothing to protest about closer to home.

The economy might be in recovery, but the recovery does not seem to have reached so many Irish people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

Last week, masked thugs – protected by masked Gardai – used heavy-handed tactics to evict homelessness campaigners from an empty building in Dublin.

The sight of masked policemen with no identification on their uniforms caused consternation at a time when there are almost 10,000 people living in emergency accommodation across Ireland.

And now our Minister for Justice says he would support moves to criminalise the photographing of Gardai as they carry out their duties.

Such a move would be an attack on press freedom and should lead to questions as to what the Gardai have to hide.

Would that mean banning photos of public events such as GAA games or the annual Macnas Parade?

The last time I checked such measures were only being considered in states such as Israel, where an oppressive occupation force has a vested interest in covering up its crimes in the West Bank.

Given recent Irish history, we don’t have to cross the Atlantic in search of police forces who abuse their power. In fact the filming of protests has helped to prevent injustice from occurring.

So, instead of worrying about Trump, perhaps we should be looking at how power is being abused much closer to home.

Last month, a photo of homeless children sleeping in a Garda Station went viral. The youngsters had to sleep on hard chairs in the police station because there was nowhere else for them to go.

The distraught mother who took that photo could soon be guilty of a crime.

Last week, a photo of a sick and distressed 92-year old woman sitting on a chair in a public hospital Emergency Department went viral.

Gladys Cummins posted the photo on Facebook out of frustration and despair. Her mother did not even have a trolley, as she spent 25 hours sitting on that chair.

Two months ago, I saw a 93-year old family member spent 48 hours on a trolley in the ED Department in Galway. The unacceptable has become acceptable and lengthy waiting lists in our public hospitals have become the new norm.

In a supposedly “socialised” health service – compared to the US at any rate – the old and the weak are being forced to spend days lying in corridors in overcrowded facilities.

But Irish people are not taking to the streets to protest about our health crisis.

In June, Irish people became outraged by the images of child migrants on the US-Mexico border crying in distress after being separated from their families. They were outraged by Trump.

Yet few of them have much awareness of the hardships endured by those who spend up to seven or eight years in Ireland’s own Direct Provision system.

About 5,000 asylum-seekers are detained at 31 accommodation centres without permission to work, or even to cook for their children. Among them are 2,000 children, growing up in highly inappropriate shared spaces with adults from a variety of countries.

Direct Provision centres have been described as the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes of our times. Some even see them as a “time bomb” for future problems to come.

We have British politicians steamrolling headlong towards Brexit, with little or no awareness that their dangerous language is threatening the peace process which transformed life in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years.

We have the families of victims of loyalist collusion who are shocked that a former member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is now at the helm of the Irish Gardai.

They believe he has questions to ask about their long search for justice for atrocities such as the Miami Showband Massacre and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

We rant against Trump for his sexism, at a time when Irish society has been convulsed by a cervical smear test scandal in which the Irish Government treated Irish women appallingly this year.

A lot of Irish people are disappointed that they won’t get a chance to protest against President Trump, but let’s not pretend that we don’t have some pressing problems much closer to home.

Call Off The Blimp (Ciaran Tierney)

Top pic: MerrionStreet


From top: Historian Catherine Corless (third right) and survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home lead the vigil in Tuam, County Galway last Saturday; Ciaran Tierney

They stood together, side-by-side, in solidarity in the heart of an Irish town.

Their hearts beating loudly, but their heads held high.

These were once the marginalised, the forgotten ones, the ones who were never supposed to speak out, express their pain, or make much of their lives.

As children, they were called the ‘Home Babies’.

Or . . . the children of the ‘fallen women’.

Or . . . the illegitimate ones.

Or . . . appallingly, the bastards.

Bastards –  the disgusting word of choice of a judgmental society, which allowed the imprisonment of innocent women and children to go on for decades.

There were thousands of children like them all around Ireland, malnourished, tearful, forced to march to school in hobnailed boots; forced to arrive later than the luckier ones who were considered “legitimate” in the eyes of a Church and a State which never cared much for their welfare.

There but for the grace of a God who didn’t show much concern for them in the first few years of their lives.

They could have been adopted to America, illegally, to “good” Catholic families who were able and willing to pay the right price.

They could have been farmed out to “respectable” Irish families, some of whom were quick to remind them of their true place in this earth and their lowly station in life.

Abuse did not always end in the confines of those homes.

Or, God forbid, they might have lived just a matter of days or months, and found themselves dumped in a mass grave in a septic tank.

These were people who were never meant to make it onto our TV screens or into our newspapers, but thanks to the tireless research of a brave historian called Catherine Corless we are now getting to know their stories and their names.

They stood together in the heart of Tuam on Sunday afternoon and tears were shed as they began their silent, dignified walk through town.

People like Peter, who expressed his anguish to a small group of us in a Galway graveyard last year.

At 70 years of age, he found out about the little sister he never knew he had. He’s 74 now and only a disgusting, morally bankrupt Church or State would dare to deny him access to justice and the truth about what happened to his younger sibling.

People like Annette, whose older sister, Mary Margaret O’Connor, died as a child in the home in 1943. Annette, who lives in Manchester, England, described it as an “obscenity” that the site was not being excavated in order to provide closure and the truth to the families.

“I don’t know a country that would put 796 babies in a disused sewage tank. Those babies aren’t hidden, they are in that septic tank and they need to be given back to their families,” she said.

People like Anna, who only discovered she had two older brothers after he mother’s death in Dublin.

“The Tuam grave is a jigsaw and it needs to be put together,” she said.

How can any of us imagine the emotions Anna went through when it began to dawn on her that her brothers could have been buried in a septic tank on the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home?

How can any of us imagine how they and other family members feel when they see that part of the site is now a children’s playground in a Council estate in the North Galway town?

As though the authorities really went out of their way to cover up and forget the horror of what happened at that site.

How can any of us imagine what they go through every day when the Irish authorities fail to comply with their absolute conviction that there should be a complete and thorough exhumation of the site?

Can we even begin to imagine what it’s like to believe you have a close member dumped among 796 children in a mass grave in a septic tank?

If all of those family members are even there at all, because many Irish campaigners now believe that dozens of the “home babies” were adopted by families in the United States.

While Pope Francis was appearing before thousands of Irish people at a Mass in the Phoenix Park on Sunday, these amazing survivors came together in the heart of Tuam.

The hundreds who turned out to support them were moved into a sustained and dignified round of applause after their silent vigil through the town.

They read out the names of all 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, one-by-one.

Local people hung children’s toys along the route to show their support to the survivors and to remind participants of the terrible, brutal injustice which occurred at the site.

While the visit of Pope Francis was expected to cost €32 million, these families are waiting on tenterhooks to see if the Irish authorities will come up with the funding required for the full exhumation of the site.

Local people tied baby shoes, toys, and teddy bears to railings all along the route to express solidarity to the families, the survivors, and the 796 children whose names were read out at a simple, but poignant, ceremony.

Now that Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland has concluded, the Tuam Home Survivors Network have called on the Irish Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, to convene an Inquest and complete a full exhumation of the site.

They want her to show them what correspondence, if any, she has had with the Bon Secours order who ran the infamous home from 1925 to 1961.

The Bon Secours order has refused to engage with the survivors and the families and even hired a PR person to try to ‘spin’ their role in this terrible affair.

Minister Zappone wrote a letter to Pope Francis on Monday, calling on the Vatican to contribute €2.5 million as part reparation for its role in the scandal of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

The families read her letter with interest, but released a statement claiming that the letter “smacks of a stunt, a desperate attempt by a Minister completely out of her depth”.

Their anger has not disappeared.

Two activists who have campaigned for justice for the ‘Tuam Babies’, Izzy Kamikaze and Sadie Cramer, cordoned off the site with tape on Sunday and declared it a crime scene.

They said they were sickened that the Irish authorities had not carried out a full investigation at the site.

Catherine Corless, Izzy, Sadie, the families, and the survivors all came together in the heart of the North Galway town this weekend and they won’t be silenced any more.

Perhaps that, more than anything, will be the legacy of Pope Francis’ 2018 visit to Ireland. The whole world has been alerted to and shocked by the crimes committed against Irish women and children and their subsequent cover-up.

The loved-ones of the 796 have found their voices and they are determined to find out the truth now, no matter what barriers they face from the Church or State authorities, or the concerns expressed about the cost involved.

Because, thanks to the overwhelming support and solidarity of ordinary Irish people, all of their shame has gone.

Their search for justice goes on.

They stood together in an Irish town (Ciaran Tierney)

Saturday: Deliver Us From Evil

From top: The youth mass at Ballybrrit Racecourse, County Galway during Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979: Ciaran Tierney

In far more innocent times, as children, we got up at the crack of dawn. I remember the excitement in the family home, as we arose and prepared for the biggest and most symbolic walk of our young lives.

I still recall the folded deck chairs, the home-made sandwiches and flasks of tea, the yellow and white flags.

At the house, the looks of envy on the faces of the younger siblings and the two grandmothers, who were not old enough or able to join the mass exodus on foot to the racecourse on the other side of the city.

We met up with the cousins, seeing the sense of adventure in their eyes, and the adults around us gave us a sense of what a huge moment this was in our shared history.

There were thousands upon thousands at the racecourse, corralled into zones at the biggest event I had ever seen. This was bigger, even, than an All-Ireland final and a ripple of excitement went through the crowd as the helicopter landed near the grandstand.

And, then, the immortal words . . .

“Young people of Ireland, I love you!”

This was Ballybrit, Galway, in 1979. It felt like a moment of triumph for Catholic Ireland and I could see its significance in the eyes of my parents as they told me how wonderful it was that Pope John Paul II had come to our town.

Our generation of children even became known as the “Pope’s children” after that day in Ballybrit but, looking back almost four decades on, it now looks like the end of an era rather than the start of something wonderful and new.

It actually seems unbelievable now that 79% of the Irish people went along to welcome Pope John Paul II to our land 39 years ago.

Up on the altar in Galway, Pope John Paul II was flanked by two Irish clerics, Bishop Eamonn Casey and Fr Michael Cleary, both of whom it would later transpire had fathered children in the years prior to that memorable day in Galway.

As many people have pointed out since, their indiscretions paled into significance in the context of so much criminal abuse which has been uncovered in recent years.

So much has changed.

It dawns on me now that my family and I walked past the Magdalene Laundry in Galway in order to make our way to Ballybrit to hear the pontiff express his love for us.

Only nobody ever talked about the young women who were incarcerated inside, washing the bed linen for the “great and the good” of our city.

As children, we never heard anything about the 10,000 women and girls who were locked up in Magdalene Laundries across Ireland from 1922 to 1996.

Yes, it’s still shocking to think that these prisons for “fallen women” remained in place until well into the 1990s.

It dawns on me now, too, that so many of my generation were being abused at the time of the last papal visit, because nobody questioned those in authority and certainly not members of the Catholic Church who had so much control over our daily lives.

In any Irish family, it was considered an honour to be an altar-boy. In 1979, if a young woman became pregnant outside marriage a priest could still arrive at the front door of the family home to whisk her away to a life of imprisonment. Such was the shame.

We did not question those in authority and we had never even heard of child abuse or peadophilia in 1979.

It dawns on me now that it would take another 35 years before we heard about the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, dumped in unmarked graves less than an hour up the road from where the Pontiff expressed his love for all the young people of Ireland in Galway.

We were never told about the women and children who were imprisoned in that now notorious Tuam home until 1961. I guess the lives of those women didn’t matter because they were ‘guilty’ of being born outside marriage in a far more judgmental Ireland.

As Ireland prepares to welcome Pope Francis next week, it dawns on me now that the Church he leads has done so much harm to my people, destroyed so many lives, and that so little has been done to make amends.

Doubtless, there were children in Ballybrit that afternoon who are no longer with us, because the pain and trauma of what they endured at the hands of the Irish clergy was far too much to endure. For many, death and self-destruction was the only answer to the pain.

So many Irish families were torn apart by clerical abuse, their pain magnified by the response of church authorities who moved abusers around from one parish or part of the country to another rather than helping to find justice for the victims.

So many people were labelled as “illegitimate” or less than human, so many young mothers had children taken from them against their will, perhaps for adoption by “good Catholic families” in the United States, because unmarried mothers were too stigmatised to be allowed bring them up here in Ireland.

So many of us now see the Catholic Church as an international organisation which ignored, facilitated, and covered up the abuse of Irish children that it’s hard to imagine how enthusiastically we welcomed a former Pontiff back in 1979.

Were we really so innocent? So naive? Did people really have no idea that such terrible crimes were taking place at the time?

We now know that a comprehensive report found that the church authorities responded to clerical abuse with “denial, arrogance, and cover-up” nine years ago. In the interim, what has changed?

We now know that the Bon Secours order stonewalled or ignored the victims and families of the “Tuam Babies” when they sought the truth or some semblance of justice for their 796 loved-ones.

They are still refusing to engage with the families in 2018, a year after the research of historian Catherine Corless has been completely vindicated by the Irish Government.

We know that up to 140 Irish children were abused by just one priest in Northern Ireland, Fr Brendan Smyth, who was free to travel throughout the land (and continue to abuse) even though the most senior cleric in Ireland was aware of allegations against him.

Had action been taken, how many shattered lives might have been saved?

We have found out about so many shocking cases of abuse, cover-up, and denial involving Irish women, children, and men at the hands of members of the Roman Catholic Church that it seems we cannot be shocked any more.

It’s because of the clear litany of scandals they have endured that Irish people have changed immeasurably since 1979. In the intervening years we have legalised homosexuality, divorce, marriage equality, and abortion, despite strong opposition from a church which seemed to dominate all aspects of our lives back then.

Now people want the Catholic Church to be removed from our schools and hospitals and they want full and meaningful apologies for all the hurt caused and lives destroyed.

When Pope Francis speaks to thousands of people in the Phoenix Park in Dublin on Sunday, August 26, hundreds of others will assemble at silent vigils in places such as Tuam and Dublin.

All they want is acknowledgement of the truth and the terrible damage caused to so many innocent Irish people by the Roman Catholic Church.

As a child, I took part in the longest walk of my young life to see Pope John Paul II in 1979. Like so many others, I was innocent, joyful, and enthusiastic that the head of our global church proclaimed his love for me and all the young children of Ireland.

Almost four decades on, all that innocence has died.

I would far prefer to attend one of the protests, to stand side-by-side with the amazing victims, than celebrate the visit of the figurehead of an international organisation which has always seemed far more interested in protecting its own power than the welfare of Irish children.

The innocent victims have found their voices and Pope Francis is missing out on a powerful opportunity to atone for a terrible past if he refuses to meet them, hear their stories, and apologise.

Those of us who are of a certain age may have walked in our thousands to Dublin, Galway, Knock and Drogheda in 1979, but Ireland is a very different place right now and people are no longer willing to accept the blatant abuse of power.

Decades of abuse and cover-ups won’t be wiped out by protests, but it is so important that Pope Francis and the entire Catholic Church is reminded of the damage done.

Those who have been abused will stand together in solidarity at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin on Sunday, August 26, and at the site of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

That to me will be a far more powerful ceremony than trying to regain the long lost innocence of 1979 and a ‘Catholic’ Ireland which has long since vanished.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook here

Pope Francis And Long Lost Innocence (Ciaran Tierney)

Pics; RTE/Connacht Tribune

From top: Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin outside the offices of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Maynooth, Co Kildare, last month, as the details are published for the the pastoral visit of Pope Francis; Tuam survivor Peter Mulryan and historian Catherine Corless; Ciaran Tierney

The only surprise about the revelation that survivors of institutions and clerical sex abuse are planning to protest during the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August is that anybody might be surprised.

There are thousands of people across Ireland, the UK, the USA, and Canada who are waking up to the injustice inflicted upon them and their families. They are determined not to be silenced anymore.

They want the Catholic Church to face up to the abuse inflicted on young mothers and their children in both Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes throughout much of the 20th century. As far as many of them are concerned, the religious orders have never faced up to their crimes.

All across Ireland, hundreds of people believe they may have uncles, aunts, brothers, or sisters scattered across the globe.

They believe they have close relatives in cities such as Boston, Chicago, or New York who have no idea of their own true identities, as they were adopted out, illegally and for cash, by nuns whose only concern was that they ended up in good Catholic homes.

The history of Catholic institutions in Ireland in the 20th century is one of physical and emotional abuse, shame, judgement, and even baby trafficking and child abduction, as many “illegitimate” children were forcibly taken from their traumatised mothers after they were transferred to institutions all across the country.

This is not ancient history, as we saw in the emotional but wonderful scenes in Dublin two weeks ago when more than 200 former residents of Magdalene Laundries were honoured in public for the first time.

Many of them flew home from the US and the UK, because the shame of their incarceration – or giving birth outside marriage – ensured they could never return to the towns or villages they came from.

The last Magdalene Laundry only closed down in 1996. Some of the women were so institutionalised after spending three decades in these harsh institutions that they did not wish to leave even when presented with the opportunity to do so. They had given up the will to live independent lives.

The youngest woman to have given birth in a laundry is still only 40 years old. These are real, living, breathing people and now they want the truth – and justice – after so many years of secrets, lies, and shame.

The children born in these horrible places did not all end up living in Ireland. They were trafficked in their hundreds to the USA, their birth records falsified, and to this day many do not even realise that they were adopted or born in Ireland.

When we talk about the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’ we should remember that they are not just skeletons buried in and around a septic tank in a North Galway Mother and Baby Home.

They are the flesh and blood of people like Peter Mulryan, a noble man in his 70s who wants to know what became of the little sister he never knew he had for most of his adult life.

Until he finds proof of her death, for all he knows Peter’s younger sibling could be living out her life somewhere in North America, totally oblivious to her roots or where she came from.

This need to know the truth seems to be of hugely important to the survivors and their children as they reach old age. Who would not want to know what happened to a sibling if he or she was forcibly removed from a tearful mother’s arms?

Even if they knew nothing about them for most of their lives.

Birth records were falsified, an order which ran a notorious Mother and Baby home is now making money from private health care, and religious orders are refusing to hand over records until they receive legal indemnity for crimes committed in the past.

Institutions circumvented the rules to send children out for adoption and priests were moved around from one parish to another when ordinary people raised concerns about clerical sex abuse. For many victims and their families, peace will only come when they hear full apologies and they receive redress for the crimes which destroyed so many lives.

Most of all, people just want to hear the truth.

It’s a theme which recurs again and again in ‘My Name is Bridget’, the new book by journalist Alison O’Reilly which examines the desperately sad case of a woman who had two sons taken from her in the Mother and Baby Home.

Bridget went on to live in Dublin, marry a good man, and have a daughter who never knew about the two older siblings who were seized from her mother in Tuam. It was only after Bridget died that Anna discovered she had two missing brothers, who may or may not be buried in that infamous septic tank in Co Galway.

Right now, Anna, Peter, and other survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home are waiting on tenterhooks to see if Galway County Council are prepared to undertake a full excavation and examination of the Tuam site.

They will be shocked and dismayed if the authorities try in any way to cover up what happened in Tuam after all the pain they endured.

Decades may have passed, but they are still entitled to find out what happened to close family members – were they buried in an unmarked grave or were they trafficked to America?

in a letter to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, Anna wrote:

“This is a national scandal, not a popularity contest for who wants the tidiest cover-up. This can’t be the same as in the 1970s. How dare you,”

Anna sent copies of the letter to every member of Galway County Council to make it clear that she and other family members would not accept any kind of ‘cover up’ at the site.

Alison’s book is a very topical addition to the national debate. It shows how important identity is to the adopted and the truth is to survivors of institutions and their families.

In a powerful chapter at the end of her book, entitled Snapshots of Stolen Lives, Alison spoke to a number of survivors about their need to find the truth, justice, and peace.

“Everyone deserves to know who they are and it should not have taken this long and I should never have had to fight so hard,” said Breda Tuite, who was adopted through the St Patrick’s Guild Agency in Dublin in 1959.

It took Breda, from Dublin, years to track down her late mother from Co Kerry. For her, there was a kind of healing in visiting her grave and meeting her friends and family.

Sharon McGuigan was just 16-years old, an innocent child, and had been groomed by an older man when she became pregnant in 1985. She was admitted to the Dunboyne Mother and Baby Home in County Meath and gave birth to a daughter in February 1986.

The daughter was taken from her and adopted. Sharon had no say in the matter. Her daughter is still not ready to meet her but Sharon hopes to build a relationship with her some day.

“We should not have been made to feel so shamed and to be cast aside,” Sharon told Alison O’Reilly. “I just want to tell my story and not to be mistreated because of something that wasn’t my fault. I want an acknowledgement of what happened to women like me.”

Anna Corrigan has described the Tuam grave as a jigsaw which needs to be put back together. The survivors and their families point out that there were many institutions like Tuam all over Ireland and an awful lot of healing still has to take place for those who had no voice for far too long.

They believe that religious orders were engaged in criminal behaviour during the darkest days of 20th century Ireland and it is time the Catholic Church faces up to issues such as the shaming of pregnant women, child abductions, and the trafficking of Irish babies to the USA.

They believe that the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland will be a pivotal moment for the Catholic Church on the island.

If he listens to the people who had their identities stolen or who were separated from their families, a huge amount of healing can occur in August.

Otherwise, Pope Francis can expect very vocal – and hugely embarrassing – protests from victims who are not prepared to be silenced any more.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Victims vow to protest when Pope Francis visits Ireland (Ciaran Tierney)

Rollingnews

From top: site of the Bon Secours Mother and  Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway; Ciaran Tierney

It can be very empowering when the marginalised, the denigrated, and the shamed overcome their fear and find their voice.

In a quiet Galway graveyard last year, I heard an amazing man tell a heartbreaking truth with unbelievable conviction and power in his voice.

Where, he wanted to know, was his little sister?

Why was nobody giving him any answers?

It brought tears to many an eye to hear him speak his truth. I stood there, stunned in admiration, listening a man who had been told he was worthless all his life.

Born into a horrible institution, fostered out to a family who beat and abused him; dealing with the terrible stigma of being branded as “illegitimate” as he set off on his journey through life.

And now, late in life, he found out that he had a little sister who may or may not have been buried in a septic tank.

I marveled at the conviction in the voice of a man who had found love and become a good father against all the odds, despite rather than because of a land which proclaimed to cherish all of its children equally while it branded some of them “bastards”, considered the cruellest label of all.

In the same graveyard this year, I heard an amazing woman find her voice.

She wanted to know why she had been locked up for years, even though she had committed no crime.

She wanted to know why she worked as a slave for nuns in a laundry, within a two minute walk of the beating heart of an Irish city.

Why was she imprisoned?

Why was she forgotten by the world outside?

Why? Why? Why?

And, in case we wanted to blame the nuns, she reminded us of a girl who managed to get a workman to sneak a letter out to her sister in affluent Salthill.

The man thought he was doing the poor girl a favour.

Instead, she was beaten black and blue, and denigrated for months for daring to make contact with the outside world.

Her sister let it be known that she never wanted to hear from her again.

And she was distraught for months afterwards, if not for the rest of her life. The trauma of being locked up in an institution compounded by being rejected for a second time in caring, ‘Catholic’ Ireland.

This country owes a massive apology to these two individuals; and to so many women, elderly now, who were locked in institutions for the terrible crime of bringing a child into the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’.

Funny, how I never see the prominent ‘Vote No’ campaigners in my area attend the poignant annual ceremony of remembrance for the Magdalene Laundry women in Galway.

They express such concern for the sanctity of human life, but don’t seem so concerned with showing compassion for those who were victimised or had their lives ruined by the land of shame.

The voiceless are finding their voices now.

Their testimonials are so, so painful, and they remind us of an appalling past when our nation shamed its own women.

If you became pregnant outside marriage, you were locked up for a year before your baby was taken from you. Forever.

If your baby died, he or she may have been buried in a septic tank. Or – and you may never know because there are no ‘official’ records – the child was adopted, illegally, by a ‘good’ couple in the United States.

If, God forbid, you were unlucky enough to become pregnant for a second time, you were branded a “repeat offender”.

Even though you may have been raped, or totally innocent to the ways of the world after being incarcerated in a Mother and Baby Home.

This was the land which locked up women for a year and confiscated their babies for the ‘crime’ of having a baby outside marriage.

It was the land which locked them up for two years if they were unfortunate enough to become pregnant for a second time.

It was unimaginable how badly this country treated these women and their “illegitimate” children, treating them as second class citizens when they attended ‘normal’ schools outside the home or locking them up in harsh Industrial Schools, where abuse was rife and nobody heard their cries of despair.

Compassion was nowhere to be found.

This is the land that told us sex was sinful, that the most natural thing in the world was somehow shameful, and that a pregnant daughter or sister was the biggest shame a “respectable” Irish family could face.

This is the land that told so many of us that we should be ashamed of our bodies.

It ensured contraception was illegal right up until the 1980s, divorce only became legal in 1995, and a woman with a crisis pregnancy would have to travel to another country if she wanted health care.

No wonder so many of us buried ourselves in alcohol, suppressing the natural Irish joy for life, and that alcohol abuse led to risky behaviour and yet more crisis pregnancies.

During my own university days, I had no idea that a group of women I was friendly with were so brave.

They were the first generation of ordinary Irish women who dared to bring their children up as single mothers. Had they become pregnant just a decade before, they could have been seized from their own homes in the dead of night and locked up in Mother and Baby Homes.

Perhaps the women themselves, struggling to juggle motherhood, work, and college, did not even realise how ground-breaking they were in the early 1990s.

This is the land that told an Indian woman in distress that “This is a Catholic country” when she was denied the health care she was crying out for at my local hospital.

The death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway led to a huge outpouring of grief in my city, a beautiful candlelight vigil in Eyre Square, and the start of a movement for change.

It is the land which told hundreds of women there was nothing it could do for them when they received a terrible diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.

They found there was a special section in Liverpool Women’s Hospital just for Irish women, who made the same lonely journey knowing that the child they desperately wanted had no chance of survival.

This is the land which banned books by the likes of John McGahern and Edna O’Brien, which seem so innocent now but were seen as “controversial” because they dared to explore issues of sexuality in a place gripped by guilt and shame.

This land had the power to destroy a writer’s livelihood, or force him or her into immigration, for daring to explore issues which seem so tame to the modern reader.

It’s a land where priests had the power to name and shame single mothers from the pulpits, or could collude with Gardai to drag them from their beds at dawn, never to be seen in their homes and villages again.

It’s a land which had the power to force the resignation of a Government Minister for daring to try to introduce a mother and child healthcare system. It would have greatly enhanced the ability of single mothers to bring up their own children, rather than being locked up in horrible institutions.

Dr Noel Browne, forced to resign in 1950, was way ahead of his time. His radical measure was seen as too much of a threat to the power structures in Irish society at the time.

It’s a land which has exported so many of its problems. As a much younger man, I met so many wonderful but troubled Irish people in Britain who had fled their native land, branded as “illegitimate”, beaten or abused, and many dealing with addiction issues brought about by so much pain.

In 2018, Ireland is still exporting its ‘problems’ in terms of so many women with crisis pregnancies from every one of the 26 counties who travel to the UK for terminations every day, week, and year.

Not many people I know want to see a widespread “culture” of abortion in this country.

Nobody I knows believes in the concept of “social abortion” which has been repeated as a mantra over the past few weeks.

But we do have compassion for women in crisis and we sure as hell want an end to this land of shame.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Farewell to the land of shame (Ciaran Tierney)

From top: (left to right) Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes campaign speaking in Galway; supporters of the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project, also in Galway; Ciaran Tierney

Ahead of the abortion referendum on Friday, May 25, 2018, Ciaran Tierney attended the launches of both the pro-choice and pro-life campaigns in Galway.

Ciaran writes:

Two meetings in the same city, but they felt like different worlds.

As campaigning begins in earnest ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum on May 25, the battle lines were drawn recently when both sides of the debate launched their respective campaigns at a series of regional events and rallies throughout the country.

Two very different events took place in Galway within 48 hours of each other which underlined the strong feelings in both camps and the intense battle expected to win the hearts and minds of undecided voters over the next seven weeks of canvassing.

Ireland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe and the legislation, known as the Eighth Amendment, which acknowledges the equal right to life of the mother and unborn child was passed by referendum after a bitter, divisive debate in 1983.

Most of those who will vote on the issue next month would not have been around or entitled to vote 35 years ago.

It was notable at the launch of the ‘Together For Yes’ campaign in Galway that many young women in their 20s and 30s were hugely engaged in a political issue for the first time.

Young women made up the majority of the 200-strong attendance at the Harbour Hotel in Galway city centre where a range of seekers called for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in order to legalise abortion in Ireland for the first time.

For Orla O’Connor, Co-Director of Together for Yes, the key issue is to show people that abortion already is a reality in Ireland, but that women are being forced to travel to the UK or Europe for terminations or take illegal pills in secret at home.

Although canvassing had only just begun, she said that those who were in favour of change were receiving a very positive reception at the doorsteps.

“A really important part of our campaign is making sure that people know that women are already travelling to the UK every day or taking abortion pills at home, in secret, but they feel they cannot go to a doctor. It’s already a reality here,” she said.

“Our experience being out leafleting or canvassing is that a lot of people have changed their minds on this issue. People have seen that the Eighth Amendment did not work. It did not stop people from having abortions overseas and it also had devastating consequences when we think of, for example, the death of Savita Halappanavar here in Galway.”

Six years ago, Savita’s death at University Hospital Galway (UHG) made headlines all across the world and galvanised activists in the West of Ireland to seek a change in the law.

The young Indian dentist is remembered at a candlelight vigil in the city on her anniversary every year.

Savita (31) died from blood poisoning at UHG after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week long pregnancy. When the distressed young woman requested a termination in the hospital, she was told: “This is a Catholic country.”

She had presented to the hospital with back pain in October 2012, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later. The resultant outpouring of anger revived Ireland’s abortion debate.

“It’s important for us to make sure that people come out to vote. Our feeling is that people want change. This is affecting thousands of women each year and people have changed their minds about this issue. They see that this is necessary. We are confident, but we are not complacent,” said Ms O’Connor.

“We can see that this is an issue which has really captured young women, but it’s an issue that affects everyone. It affects men, it affects couples. It’s about making sure there is proper health care here in Ireland and about making sure that people don’t have to go through the trauma of having to travel.”

She said that the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce same-sex marriage via a popular vote, showed how much Irish society had changed over the past 35 years.

Ms O’Connor said that the issue had galvanised young Irish people abroad so much that many were planning to fly home just to vote on May 25.

Less than 48 hours after the Together for Yes launch, the Pro Life Campaign and Love Both project came together for a rally to mobilise support for a ‘no’ vote at the Leisureland conference hall across the city in Salthill.

Bus-loads of supporters from throughout the West of Ireland attended the event. It was notable that there were far more elderly people and families with young children in attendance at the ‘Stand Up for Life’ event.

There was also far more merchandise on show in the vast hall, including graphic images, posters, and sweatshirts, calling on people to vote no on May 25.

During an extremely well-choreographed event, everyone was asked to move to the front of the hall to take a large group photo to mark the launch of the ‘Vote No’ campaign in the West of Ireland.

There is a widespread perception out there that there is far more financial backing available to those who oppose repealing the Eighth Amendment, including funds from the United States, and this was very much in evidence at Leisureland.

One of the organisers, Katie Ascough, defined next month’s referendum as an “absolutely defining moment” in Irish history.

“I want you to think about the thousands of lives that will be protected when we win this referendum,” she said, to a huge round of applause. “There won’t be any second chances to save the Eighth Amendment. We must stand united.”

Another speaker, Bernadette Goulding, claimed the Irish Government had “awakened a sleeping giant” by attempting to repeal the country’s abortion ban.

“Women don’t talk about abortions, it doesn’t lend itself to conversation,” said Ms Goulding, who runs Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for women who have experienced painful post-abortion emotions.

“Those who are pro-abortion don’t acknowledge the grief women experience after having an abortion,” she claimed. “No country is perfect but we all need to be proud of Ireland’s abortion laws.

“Those who are ‘pro-choice’ believe that ‘pro-life’ people only care about the baby, but ‘pro-life’ people care about the mother and the baby. Many people are alive today because of the Eighth Amendment.”

She claimed that the birth of a child “heals the effect of rape” and called on people to stop rape from happening rather than kill an unborn child.

One of the organisers of the launch, Eilis Mulroy of Galway for Life, said anti-abortion campaigners were incredibly encouraged by the huge number of people who were enthusiastic about protecting Ireland’s ban on abortion.

“We want to encourage people to get out and canvass, to tell their families, their friends, their neighbours about the preciousness of the Eighth Amendment, to explain to them how many lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment. There are people in this hall tonight who are alive because of the Eighth Amendment,” she said.

“Certainly, Ireland has changed since the 1980s, and there’s a lot of positive change, but not on this topic. I’m very encouraged that recent opinion polls have shown there is no majority in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. If you look at the numbers here tonight, you couldn’t but be confident about a ‘no’ vote on ballot day.”

Ms Mulroy said it was too easy to “stereotype” people, but it was clear from the huge gathering in the hall that a huge cross-section of Irish society was concerned by the prospect of having legalised abortion.

“I know many people who have been through an abortion and, for many of them, it wasn’t their own choice. It was the people around them. The challenge for us is to be the type of society that supports women,” she said.

“Our view is that people should get online and inform themselves. People should inform themselves of what’s involved in this legislation, unrestricted abortion, which is a horrendous proposal of ‘social’ abortion.”

When it was put to her that many people would have a difficulty with the term ‘social’ abortion, given the trauma involved, she said that every abortion was a tragedy and claimed that one in five pregnancies in Britain ends in a termination.

“Once you introduce a liberal or unrestricted regime, it becomes socially acceptable in the same way as the smoking ban. You can probably remember being able to smoke on an airplane, but now it’s socially not acceptable, because laws change behaviour. If you say that some people have less of a right to live than others, of course it’s going to make an impact,” she said.

“This proposal is for unrestricted abortion up to eight weeks. I think it’s really important that people are straight and that the facts are out there. We would encourage everyone to be respectful of each other. It’s important that the science and the truth about ‘abortion culture’ and how it harms babies needs to be articulated, and given fair treatment in the media debates.”

An intense period of campaigning is now underway to win over undecided voters ahead of the referendum on May 25.

Ultimately, the real-life testimonies of women across Ireland could be pivotal in terms of deciding the outcome of the vote.

Arlette Lyons of a group called Terminations For Medical Reasons (TFMR) spoke of her personal trauma when she was forced to travel to England for an abortion after being diagnosed with a case of fatal foetal abnormality six years ago.

“We were expecting our third baby when we found out she had a fatal condition at 12 weeks,” said Ms Lyons. “I expected something to be done there and then, but I was told that there was nothing that could be done for me and my family here in Ireland.

“To be given the news that my baby was going to die and then to be told that the only options were to go to the UK or to go full term, I actually thought I was the only one this had ever happened to. The staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital were so understanding, they had seen Irish couples in this situation so many times.

“I travelled back home by boat, because I could not face the ‘plane. I did not want to fly after having my termination. I felt travelling by boat was less public. When I got back to Ireland, an anger just came over me. That’s why I just went public. It was unjust, what happened to me. Since then, I came together with other women to form TFMR and at least 400 families have been in contact over the past six years.

“The only way women and couples with fatal foetal abnormalities can receive the help they need is to repeal the Eighth Amendment. My story could be anybody’s story, even though I hope it does not happen to anyone else. We need to stop punishing tragedy.”

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland.

Rallying the troops for a divisive campaign (Ciaran Tierney)

From top (left to right) Site of the Bon Secours Mother and  Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway; Peter Mulryan, Catherine Corless; Ciaran Tierney

Galway County Council is currently seeking submissions from members of the public regarding what to do with the site of the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway. The deadline for submissions is this Friday, March 16.

Ciaran Tierney writes:

Imagine you are 70 years old.

Throughout your life you have dealt with the stigma of being branded as ‘illegitimate’ and your long quest to find your birth mother had ended in a Magdalene Laundry, where she had lived for over 30 years.

You used to visit her every fortnight, after managing to track her down, although the nuns warned you to pretend that she was your aunt.

They told you they would prevent you from visiting if you told the other inmates the truth about your relationship with your own mother and it used to pain you to see the defeat, the lack of sparkle, in her eyes.

Together with the other inmates, she washed and cleaned the clothes of the great and the good around the city and county.

For years, she never ventured outside the laundry walls even though she was just minutes from the heart of the city.

But you kept the relationship going, and enthused about how her spirit lifted just a little after you married and she met her first grandchild.

You saw flickers of her spirit on occasional weekend visits to the seaside, when the nuns finally started to allow her out of the laundry for a few hours.

She was buried in 1989, in a grave she shared with other women from the laundry.

You hoped that she was resting in peace after a tough life and you got on with your life.

And then, four years ago, your life was turned upside down once again.

Historian Catherine Corless, who has since become a good friend, was on the other end of the phone.

She told you the startling news that you had a little sister nobody had ever told you about.

She was one of the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, who were making headlines all across the globe.

Catherine’s painstaking research had placed one of the little babies in the tiny townland in your mother’s rural community.

When you asked around, you discovered it was true. Your mother had given birth to a second child before being locked up again for years.

For all you knew, that little girl was buried in that infamous septic tank in Tuam.

But, that’s the thing. You didn’t know.

For all you know now, too, she was adopted by a loving family in the US or the UK, because nobody has any records of your little sis and what became of her after being born in that now notorious Mother and Baby Home.

That’s what happened to Peter Mulryan, a remarkable man whose quest for justice for his little sister goes on.

Now aged 74, he has been stonewalled by the authorities.

He’s concerned that they will mark the site with a memorial, before he ever finds out what happened to her and whether or not she ended up in that terrible place in Tuam.

On Sunday, he spoke movingly about giving a voice to the voiceless and the need to heal the hurt caused to generations of Irish women and their ‘illegitimate’ children.

A year ago, he brought a graveyard to tears when he spoke about his quest for justice, to find out the truth about the sister he never knew he had.

He returned to that graveyard on Mother’s Day, to pay tribute to his mother and all the other mothers who had been locked up in Magdalene Laundries across Ireland.

It is believed there were 10,000 of these women locked up in institutions throughout Ireland right up until the 1980s.

Many, but not all, were single mothers who were taken away from their families to hide their ‘shame’.

And now Peter Mulryan, like the other survivors, is wondering what is going to become of their loved-ones. They believe the Tuam site should be examined and the bodies of the infants exhumed.

They want DNA testing to be carried out on the little ones, but they are concerned now that the Irish authorities will cover up the site and just put in a memorial plaque on the unofficial burial ground.

Galway County Council is currently seeking submissions from members of the public regarding what to do with the site. The deadline for submissions is this Friday, March 16.

Family members like Peter are concerned that the local authority may decide to put a memorial in place at the site of the former septic tank rather than the more costly option of a thorough examination.

The council has listed five options for the site.

I’m still looking for my sister. I want her file, to see what happened to her. The council are only adding more pain and hardship to the families. I would like to ask the officials how they would feel if they had a family member in the septic tank there. That’s what I ask them when I meet them and they just go cold,” he said, following a memorial service for the women of the Magdalene Laundry in Galway on Sunday afternoon.

“Those children could not be baptised. That ground was never consecrated. The authorities won’t tell us that they are sorry or admit that they were wrong.

We never did anything wrong, but they are keeping us down by denying us justice for our loved-ones. If somebody was murdered a hundred years ago they would just go in and analyse what’s there.”

Mr Mulryan said he could not accept the argument that a full forensic examination of the Tuam site would cost too much at this stage.

Speaking beside his own mother’s shared grave, he pointed out that many of the mothers worked for free after being incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries for decades.

“When you think of the money which was made out of these women, slaving for free in these laundries, it’s unbelievable the way they are still treating us,” he said.

Breeda Murphy of the Tuam Home Survivors’ Network said the Government should have declared the site a crime scene after Catherine Corless’ research was vindicated this time last year.

Ms Corless also faced hostility or indifference from the authorities when she researched what happened to the babies who died at the Tuam home.

“The people who have family members at the Tuam site want to bring them home and give them a proper burial. There’s nothing dignified in concealing children in a structure which was first built to contain sewage or human waste. You can never get away from that, regardless of the time period or saying that that was how things were done back then,” said Ms Murphy on Sunday.

“The way in which the Magdalene Laundry women are being treated is probably a reflection of how the Mother and Baby home survivors will be treated down the road. So I don’t see justice coming at all. I am totally disillusioned.”

A survivor of the Magdalene Laundry in Galway, Angela Fahy, said families also had to take responsibility for their role in the incarceration of women in the Magdalene Laundries.

She said there were 110 women in the Galway home when she was locked up there at just 14 years of age.

“These women were put there in secret, died there in secret, and buried there in secret,” she said.

“Their neighbours in Forster Street did not even know them. These women washed and cleaned the clothes of this entire province. Many of them never came out of there alive.

“We cannot just put this down to religion. Quite a lot of it comes down to their own families, people who denied their own flesh and blood if they had a child outside of marriage. These women had no voice for so many years, but they have now thanks to events like this.”

A year has passed since confirmation that the bodies of babies who died at the home between 1925 and 1961 were found at the site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby Home, which was run by the Bon Secours order of nuns.

Campaigners, who want the babies to be given proper burials in consecrated ground, have been inundated with messages of support from across North America over the past year.

They are insisting that cost should not be the main concern as they seek justice for the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’.

Galway County Council is facilitating a full public consultation process about what to do with the site where the ‘Tuam Babies’ were found, with submissions accepted until this Friday, March 16.

Members of the public can email TuamConsultation@galwaycoco.ie or telephone +353 (0)91 509561 if they have any queries regarding the full public consultation process.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway.

For Peter and the families, it’s personal… (Ciaran Tierney)

Rollingnews

The Famine statues on the quays, Dublin

Legislation is set to pass through the Dáil soon to commemorate the Famine on the second Sunday in May each year.

Ciaran Tierney writes:

Yet news that Ireland is to get a Famine Commemoration Day has been greeted with a huge online debate over whether or not Ireland really experienced a ‘Famine’ in the 1840s.

The Irish term for the worst time in Irish history, An Gorta Mor, actually means The Great Hunger. More and more people are now of the opinion that there never was a famine, but that the five years of starvation were the result of a deliberate policy of genocide by the British authorities who ruled Ireland at the time.

Historian Christine Kinealy, in a book called ‘A Death-Dealing Famine’, acknowledges that there has long been an argument that the deaths of a million Irish people were a triumph of doctrine over humanitarian considerations.

What is beyond doubt is that food was exported from Ireland to Britain during the worst years of the catastrophe.

Kinealy points out that official export figures are unreliable because Ireland was considered part of the British Empire in the 1840s, it was part of a ‘free-trade’ zone and there was little need to keep official data of food imports from one island to the other.

But, considering that a million died, shipping reports from the main British ports at the time are startling.

In 1847, the worst year of the Famine, almost 4,000 ships carried food from Ireland to the major ports of Liverpool, London, Bristol and Glasgow. Over half of them went to Liverpool, where many Irish people also ran out of money as they strove to make their way across the Atlantic.

Records show that ports in some of the worst-affected parts of Ireland, including Ballina, Bantry, Ballyshannon, Kilrush, Sligo, Limerick, and Westport on the Atlantic seaboard, where thousands upon thousands were dying of starvation, were also sending food to the so-called mainland.

Oats, corn, and potatoes left Ireland for the ‘mainland’ while there was an on-going debate over whether or not the ports should be closed raging in British politics.

Merchants had pressed the British Government to keep the ports open and allow free trade to continue without intervention, even though the city councils in Belfast, Cork, Derry, Dublin and Limerick pressed for the ports to be closed so that food could be kept on the island of Ireland.

Mindful of the death and despair all around them, the cries from the Irish cities were ignored.

Under Sir Robert Peel, Indian corn was imported to Ireland following the first appearance of the potato blight in 1845. The main purpose of importing £100,000 worth of corn from America was to stabilise food prices, rather than to feed the destitute Irish.

Peel’s Government fell in 1846 with the Whigs, under Lord John Russell, coming to power in London.

This new Government decided to discontinue the policy of corn importation from America, leaving food importation to “market forces” even though there was far less food than in the previous year.

Merchants and grain producers, a powerful interest group at the time, campaigned to make sure that only a limited number of food depots would open in the West of Ireland, even as thousands were dying.

The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John William Ponsonby, criticised the merchants for striving to keep prices up even in the midst of an appalling catastrophe.

“It is difficult to persuade a starving population that one class should be permitted to make 50 per cent profit by the sale of provisions whilst they are dying in want of these,” he reflected at the beginning of 1847.

Soup kitchens eventually replaced the public works programme which was introduced by the Whig Government, and grain imports to Ireland rose, but by then it was too late for the hundreds of thousands who died.

Some historians now agree that British Government policies deliberately led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Irish people, leading many people to proclaim that there never was a Great Famine.

It could be argued that it was a deliberate act of neglect, if not quite an act of genocide.

During the tense Brexit border negotiations before Christmas, many Irish people were shocked by how little ordinary British people knew about their own country’s history in Ireland.

They don’t teach much, or anything, about the Great Hunger in British schools… (More at link below)

 

Why do the Irish not talk about ‘The Famine’? (Ciaran Tierney)

Rollingnews

From top: Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass and  Joan Nolan arriving at Dublin Airport following their deportation from Israel; Ciaran Tierney

Northern Ireland during the Troubles was not quite the equivalent of modern-day Palestine and, even during the worst of the violence, the British authorities did not take measures to prevent international observers or journalists from seeing what was going on.

In Belfast, people on all sides were welcoming towards journalists and international observers in general, happy that we were able to tell the truth we had seen with our own eyes.

But in Palestine, in 2017, it seems that more and more people are being prevented from seeing what’s really happening to those who have been living under an illegal occupation since 1967.

Earlier this month, four Irish people found that they were not welcome at the start of an eight day fact-finding tour.

On their way to meet Israeli and Palestinian NGOs in the West Bank, they never made it to their destination.

They were seized by the Israeli Authorities at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, questioned, and deported.

It’s amazing this issue did not receive more coverage in the Irish media.

To look at the photo of  them arriving back at Dublin Airport, it’s hard to believe that they were considered such a threat to the Israeli State.

Not that we should ever judge anyone by his or her appearance, but Elaine Daly, Fidelma Bonass, Joan Nolan, and Stephen McCloskey hardly fit the profile of “terrorist sympathisers”.

One of them, Elaine, has brought 451 people, mostly Irish citizens, to the West Bank on fact-finding missions over the past 11 years.

Her only aim is to show people the reality of life under occupation for Palestinians and to let the visitors speak to NGOs and peace-makers on the ground, including organisations from Israel.

Elaine doesn’t preach. She lets her groups make up their own minds about the kind of conditions Palestinians in the West Bank have been living under for the past 50 years.

Elaine was particularly singled out this month because of her history of bringing Irish groups to Palestine. She was deported on the basis of public safety, public security, or public order considerations.

She has since asked the Israeli Embassy in Dublin for clarification, given her record of bringing almost 20 tour groups to the region on fact-finding missions since 2006.

They only intended to be in the West Bank for eight days. All four were travelling with valid Irish passports and they didn’t kick up a fuss upon their return out of concern for the welfare of the 27 other members of their travelling party who were allowed through to the West Bank.

What did they not want them to see?

Was it the humiliation of daily checkpoints or the way in which Israelis and Palestinians have different coloured licence plates on their cars?

Was it the way in which “settlements” (illegal under international law) are encroaching more and more onto Palestinian land, beyond the 1967 borders?

Was it the daily humiliation of strip-searches, checkpoints, and attacks on farmers trying to tend to their olive trees?

Was it the consequences of living beside a huge wall, which in some cases cuts the West Bank farmers off from their own land?

Veteran broadcaster Mike Murphy was one of the 27 who was allowed through after being questioned at Ben Gurion Airport. He was genuinely shocked by the conditions he saw Palestinians living under over the following week.

“The only resistance open to the Palestinian people in the face of their daily degradation and humiliation is simply to remain. The Israelis patently wish them gone,” he wrote in a moving piece in The Irish Times.

At the airport, he had asked Israeli immigration police why his colleagues had been deported.

He was shown a video of a demonstration which showed a couple of Irish people waving a Tricolour and throwing stones at a huge wall. All four had denied attending the regular demonstrations in the village of Bili’in.

On a visit to a small village in the West Bank last month, Galway activist Ian O Dalaigh was told of the intimidation faced by a Palestinian man, Omar Hajajla, whose house happens to be near an illiegal Israeli settlement on occupied land.

There have been repeated attempts to force Omar off the land and he refuses to leave after taking care of it for more than 40 years.

It is hard to imagine how much more difficult his life would be if international observers were unable to visit him and bear witness to the pressures he is subjected to at regular intervals.

In Hebron, international visitors to a refugee camp visited a Palestinian house which had been seized by Israeli settlers.

Draped in an Israeli flag, it was clear that the original inhabitants were no longer welcome in their own home. There has been a systemic campaign to remove families from similar homes across the region.

One suspects that, deep down, even the Israeli authorities themselves must feel there is something wrong with the daily humiliations Palestinians are subjected to as a result of the 50 year occupation of their land.

Why else would they prevent four peace activists from Ireland from visiting in order to bear witness to the reality of life on the ground in Palestine?

Millions of people have been abused and humiliated on a daily basis for five decades and the cost of a never-ending conflict has taken a terrible toll on everyone involved.

It’s harder to show solidarity with the oppressed, people who are abused and discriminated against every day, when you are not allowed to even visit them to see the stranglehold the occupiers hold over their daily lives.

* If you wish to protest the unjust deportations of four Irish people from Israel this month, you can contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, at minister@dfa.ie.


Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway

Deported – for trying to bear witness to degradation (Ciaran Tierney)