Tag Archives: mother and baby homes

Peter Mulryan lived in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway for four and a half years before he was adopted out. He believes a sister called Marian died at the home or was trafficked out of Ireland as a child.

This morning/afternoon.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration is discussing the Institutional Burials Bill.

The proposed legislation will allow excavations and re-interment of remains at former mother-and-baby home institutions. Coroners will not have jurisdiction in respect of bodies exhumed from sites

Chairman of the Tuam Home Survivors Network, Peter Mulryan, who will address the committee this afternoon, had sought legal advice as to whether the committee was acting within its powers in considering the Bill.

Peter writes:

This Bill reflects work undertaken during the tenure of former Attorney General Mr Séamus Woulfe.

It has two clear objects, (1) to circumvent existing law by dispensing with Inquests into the deaths of children lying in mass graves at Tuam, Bessborough, Sean Ros and (2) to clear the way for the commercial developments on other sites which are stained with the cruelty to generations of Irish women and children.

I am not aware of when the responsibility for burials, burial grounds and the exhumation of human remains became the responsibility of this so-called “Department of Children”.

Neither, am I aware of when responsibility for dealing with unexplained deaths was removed from the Coroners Service, the Department of Justice or An Garda Síochana to this “Children’s Department”

But perhaps the members of the Committee know best. They are perhaps better educated than I was. I was simply a hungry and frightened child in the Tuam ‘Home’ before being ‘boarded out’ as a child farm labourer in a cruel environment. They have ‘satisfied’ themselves that they are acting lawfully.

I am aware of course that it is ‘customary’ that the advice of the Attorney General is not published. I simply asked the Committee if they had sought advice. Their reply was to tell me to ‘take a hike’ that it was none of my business, whether they had or not.

I find their reply whether intended to be or not, offensive. I find it insulting and disrespectful.

My sister who I never met and who has no recorded burial place, lies in the Tuam cesspit into which hers and the bodies of other infants were thrown.

Not a single “Medical Certificate” is to be found for the children of Tuam.

Their Death Certificates are works of fiction.

This Committee now sits to consider a Bill which denies my sister and so many other children, even the dignity of possibly determining her cause of death.

Shame, I say. Shame on you all for even looking at this get out of jail card for the State and the Institutional Catholic Church.

I do not want your soft words.

I do not want your sympathy.

I want justice for all the children whose lives were lost due to the indifference and cruelty of Church and State.

I note that the only amendments to this Bill since the departure of Mr Woulfe and the creation of this new Government are designed to ensure that the owners of the sites where these children lie, are are adequately compensated for any inconvenience when removing the bones of the children.

It would indeed be a crime if the dandelions and weeds that sprout from mass graves of children were to be disturbed before these lands are converted into commercial developments.

Tread softly, for you tread on the bones of my family and those of my fellow survivors

Yours respectfully,

Peter Mulryan
‘Former Inmate of the Tuam Mother and Baby Prison’.

Meanwhile…

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is calling for the Institutional Burials Bill to be significantly reformed.

ICCL and others believe this [not having a coroner] could impede an effective investigation into the cause and circumstances of death.

Overall, it believes the bill is inconsistent with a transitional justice approach.

Call for reform of mother-and-baby homes excavations legislation (RTÉ)

Yesterday.

Further to the announcement of an Inquiry to examine Mother and Baby Homes in Northern Ireland.

Adoptee and activist Eunan Duffy hosted a panel discussion, organised by Amnesty and Ulster University, examining what an inquiry – co-designed by survivors – should look like.

Contributors included Irish Examiner journalist turned academic Conall Ó Fátharta (@39.27).

Last week: Birth Mothers And A sense Of Agency

Saturday.

Outside The offices of the Mother and Baby Home Commission, Dublin 2.

Mother and Baby Home survivor Sheila O’Byrne (top) joined a protest organised by ‘Baby Shoes Remember’ highlighting the treatment of witness testimony by the Mother and Baby Home Commission and the whitewashing of the gravity of crimes committed against women at Mother and Baby Homes in the Commission’s final report.

‘Baby Shoes Remember’ is a group that commemorates Church and state crimes against women and children.

Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Yesterday evening.

Deputy Whitmore’s bill will be introduced next week.

She said:

“The Social Democrats will be looking for cross-party support for our Bill and call on all members of the House to vote in favour of this legislation so that answers can be found. We cannot allow the State to fail the survivors of Mother and Baby Homes again.”

Yesterday; No Compelling Reason

Breeda Murphy, PRO of the The Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance and adoptee and activist Eunan Duffy on the release of a report looking at Northern Ireland’s Mother and Baby homes, launched last week by, top from left: Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill,  retired senior police officer Judith Gillespie, who led the review and First Minister Arlene Foster…

…and the similarities with Dublin in denying and delaying justice for survivors.

This is the seventh in a series of shows with Eunan and Breeda dealing with Mother and Baby Homes across the island of Ireland and the issues facing birth mothers and adoptees. All are available on our YouTube channel.

Yesterday: The Survivors Of Northern Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes

Pic: BBC

Meanwhile…

Mayo County Council has become the latest local authority to apologise for its role in the operation of mother-and-baby homes.

Almost a third of all mothers admitted to the mother-and-baby home in Tuam, between 1925 and 1961, were from Co Mayo.

Capitation payments were made by the council to the Bon Secours Sisters, for the women and children sent from the county to the Tuam home, over that 36-year period.

A special meeting of the council is being held virtually this afternoon, following the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation last month.

Mayo County Council apologises over mother-and-baby homes (RTÉ)

RollingNews

This afternoon.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster (above) launched the publication of a Stormont-commissioned report into mother-and-baby homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland.

The research carried out by Queen’s University and Ulster University examined whether a public inquiry should be held into the homes.

Ms Foster said:

“First and foremost, we want to offer our personal thanks to those women and their now adult children who came forward to contribute to the research. Your voices were silenced for so many years. That was a significant wrong.”

“This report is an important first step towards a full understanding of what happened to thousands of women and their children in our recent past.”

“It helps is to reflect upon and recognise how poorly they were treated, often in ways that lacked even a basic level of compassion and kindness.”

“…they have been told of the Executive’s decision today to a victim-centred independent investigation into these historical institutions.”

“This will be co-designed with victims and survivors and will give them the opportunity to influence the aim of the investigation, how it should be conducted, how it should be conducted, who should participate in, who should chair it and how long it should take.

“It is with huge regret that we acknowledge the pain of those experiences and the hurt caused to women and girls who did nothing more than be pregnant outside of marriage, some of them criminally against their will.”

“…I also have hope that this will be the beginning of a healing journey for the thousands of people who were harmed by their experience in the institutions, both at the time and through their life time.”

The report’s key findings:

It describes as a “conservative estimate” that over 10,500 women and girls entered the institutions between 1922 and 1990

The majority of them were from NI (86%), with the remainder from the Republic of Ireland and Great BritainAbout a third of those admitted were under the age of 19, with the youngest child to be admitted aged 12

A number were the victims of sexual crime, including rape and incest

Living conditions and care for residents were recorded in little detail but personal testimonies revealed “strenuous physical labour” being expected of them late into their pregnancies

It is “indisputable” that there was “considerable movement” of babies from some of the homes in NI to the Republic of Ireland.

NI mother-and-baby homes: Investigation promised into ‘significant wrongs’ (BBC)

Meanwhile…

This evening.

Thanks Breeda and Eunan

Yesterday.

Dáil Eireann at the Convention Centre.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly (above) returned to the Mother and Baby Home report.

Deputy Connolly addressed statements on RTÉ Radio One from former President Mary McAleese (top) that the report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was ‘scholarly and profound’ and had “tremendous compassion”.

Catherine Connolly said:

“This is my second time to take part in this debate. My anger has increased, as has my sense of despondency. Once again, I will take courage in my hand, with my privileged position and decent salary, and speak up. If the Minister wants to put the survivors – I hate that word, but I will use it because they have used it themselves – to the fore, he might explain how there was a leak. He has had time to investigate.

He might explain why the survivors have not got copies of the full report yet. He might explain why Deputies did not have copies of the executive summary last week when they spoke in the Dáil. Does he think he could do that? These explanations were not included in his speech.

He might confirm that those who had the courage to go before the commission and the confidential committee will be given copies of their full testimonies. Could he do that? It would be a start. He might publish the report of the collaborative forum, which he mentioned in his speech. God help us, but he also mentioned that he would set up a new interdepartmental committee. Lord protect us from interdepartmental committees. He will also engage with the collaborative forum. Its recommendations were published in April 2019 but not its report.

Perhaps he might balance the power between an interdepartmental committee with no representation by a collaborative forum or survivors and the collaborative forum and the people on the ground. He might confirm that he will make full copies of the commission’s report available to all of us who want them, beginning with the survivors. He might explain how half of the €23 million that was allocated was used last October, although not to print a single copy. He might say that the Government made a mistake in having a webinar without giving out the report in the first place.

Enough on that for the moment and I will now turn to the report. The report refers to all of society. For a change, I will quote a philosopher rather than a poet. When one attributes blame in that manner, one has no responsibility. I touched on this point last week. I will cite Dr. Hannah Arendt, who was speaking in a different context but whose words are equally applicable to this report. According to her, the person who says that we are all guilty, as was the case in Germany, is unknowingly covering up for the ones who did it.

That is why we should not generalise guilt because doing so would be to cover up for the guilty. I do not believe that this finding has been laid out in the report unknowingly. I will bow down to anyone who has read its 3,000 pages – it is not possible. I have spent hours spending 500 to 600 pages. I have read the whole executive summary and what I was given by the Department.

I have read the chapter on Tuam, the statistical analysis of Tuam, the chapter on discrimination and the chapter on vaccines, to which I hope I will have time to return. I glanced at a few other chapters. All of this has taken hours and hours.

The Minister gave his speech, some of which I welcome in terms of the specifics for urgent legislation and access to records, including birth certificates, which is a basic human right. We did not need a report to tell us that, but I welcome it anyway.

However, when the Minister follows other recommendations without even listening to the people on the ground who have not had a chance to read the report, then he is doing exactly what was done to these mothers and children before, in that he is patronising them and carrying on a patriarchal mode.

Let us halt that for a minute and do what the Government should do, that is, legislate and provide access to records. It should set up an archive and so on, but bear in mind that the National Archives have been under-resourced for years. Is the Minister now making a distinction between the 18 institutions in question and the other institutions where mothers and babies were kept?

The report tells us that it is unrepresentative because it has only taken a sample. That is good. This point should have guided the conclusions, but the commission seems not to have followed it. As such, we have an unrepresentative sample and the report makes strong conclusions that are at odds with witness testimony.

The report then adds insult to injury on page 12, which shows a beautiful picture in autumnal colours, but all colour disappears quickly when one reads the witness testimony. That testimony jumps off the page – sexual abuse, rape, babies taken and an absence of any sense of understanding of the bond between mother and child.

This testimony should be preserved and acted upon, but the conclusions were that there was no evidence of forced adoption – I could not possibly accept this – and no evidence of pressure to put people into mother and baby homes.

[Fianna Fáil] Deputy Jim O’Callaghan reinforced the myth that society was responsible. It was not society, but the powerful in society, led by the church. I am not here to scapegoat nuns because the nuns reported to the bishop, who reported to the archbishop, who reported to Rome. What did our Governments do? They bowed down in deference. The Minister mentioned what our local authorities did. The county managers played a powerful role.

All of this has been set out in the report, but we are then told that the evidence from some of those who came forward – only residents, mind you – is “contaminated”. Sin an bhfocal – “truaillithe”. Imagine telling people who had the courage to come forward that some gave evidence that was contaminated. How many is “some”? In what way was their evidence contaminated?

Equally, was the same measuring stick used for the professionals that came before the commission? I refer to the doctors, priests, nuns, social workers and the witnesses from the county councils? The reason it was contaminated was because the former residents spoke to each other. Presumably, the nuns and the county managers did also, but their evidence was not contaminated.

I am not sure if the Minister read it. I am openly telling him that I have not read the report’s 3,000 pages. Our former President [Mary McAleese] tells us that she read it, and as a result of reading it she tells us it is scholarly and profound.

With the greatest of respect, I fundamentally disagree that this is scholarly and profound. If somebody has read 3,000 pages then he or she must have had the report before the Minister published it.

We will again look at the conclusions. There is a conclusion regarding vaccine trials. [Fine Gael] Deputy Naughten went through this forensically today. I have read that chapter. There is a paragraph in the summary that tells us that the trials did not comply with the regulations or the law at the time but, magically, there were no ill effects.

If one reads the chapter on the vaccine trials, one sees children getting sick with diarrhoea, convulsions and so on, not to mention the 10,000 deaths at a minimum, yet this commission of three people tell us there were no side effects.

They do not even pose a question on whether there could have been side effects or if more money changed hands. It was pointed out that it went to the doctors. Did more money change hands? What about the other trials? We only looked at seven institutions. Were there trials in other institutions? Does the Minister think the commissioners might have raised a question in regard to that?

Will the Minister indicate whether any of the three commissioners sat and listened to the 500 or so residents who came before the confidential committee? I know there was a tiny overlap of fewer than 100 between some residents who went to both. Did the commissioners sit in? This reminds me of paint-by-numbers pictures. Does the Minister remember that? One was allowed a little discretion in what colour one put into the number, but the picture was predetermined.

The picture was predetermined here because on page 2 the commissioners tell us that it might disappoint somebody that they are going against the prevailing narrative. That is to add insult on top of injury because they confirm the prevailing narrative of the powerful, which is that all of society was to blame.

They add insult to injury by even twisting language. The Minister has a golden opportunity to lead and to bring about transformative action and language. I will back him every step of the way, but he has got to lead. He must break away from the four and a half pages that he delivered here today, which is more of the same.”

Transcript via Oireachtas.ie

Video via Mick Caul

Tuesday: Eamonn Kelly: One Voise Raised In Anger

Last week: Hollow Applause

Meanwhile…

Members of the public pay their respects at the grounds where the unmarked mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of infants who died at the Bon Secours mother-and-baby home in Tuam Co Galway from 1925-1961 rests

Purple Violas

Mid January,
Pottering in the garden,
I sit a moment in the noon sun
Deadhead winter violas
Now heavy with seed.
On the radio, there is a state apology
For the institutional abuse,
Of countless mothers and babies,
Vulnerable and unwanted, the unholy,
Treated like dirt,
And I am heartbroken again
For a lie does not become truth,
A Wrong does not become right
Simply with acceptance.

I gather the seed pods from the spent flowers,
Lay them in rows
Along the stone wall to dry.
I will replant these babies,
Nurture them strong
An small offering for every wounded mother
In this country.

Maire Morrissey Cummins

RollingNews

From top: Trína Mulryan and Dr Maeve O’Rourke on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night; at the Tuam mother and baby home in Galway

Last night.

During an item on the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes on RTÉ’s Prime Time, in which Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman was present in the studio…

Trína Mulryan, daughter of Peter Mulryan, spoke about the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill which the Tuam Home Survivors Network believes will prevent the holding of any inquest into the deaths of at least 9,000 children and mothers, in mother and baby homes.

Ms Mulryan said:

“First of all, I’d just like to comment that Roderic O’Gorman mentioned there, that he had a number of weeks to read a printed-out version of the report. Survivors and family members affected by this got a number of hours and we haven’t got a printed-off version and we’ve barely been able to look at it.

“So it’s very difficult to actually comment on the report at all but what I will say is that what is very concerning about Tuam in particular, it does call out Tuam as being particularly different to the rest of the mother and baby homes for very negative reasons. And how the children and babies were actually buried there.

“And there is very, very strong evidence to support that there should be a Coroner assigned to work on an inquest to determine how those babies and children died in Tuam. The report just reiterates the fact that the mortality rate was much higher than it should have been and the fact that the conditions were dire.

“So, we’ve asked this question multiple times of Roderic O’Gorman, of Leo Varadkar and we have never received an answer – why there is not a full and proper investigation into how and why they died.

“There’ll be no satisfaction and no truth from any report unless we know that the proper process, the law of the land, is followed, and that those babies and children are given not just a dignified burial but actually the truth of how and why they possibly lie in the grounds of that former mother and baby home institution, why they lie there.

“We don’t even know, we can’t trust the documentation so we can’t say the full picture is painted in the report. What is in the report, the survivors and family members have lived through this, it’s not surprising.

“I will say as well there was a small amount of people who were actually involved in interviews for this report. There are many other people that are living abroad that weren’t interviewed for this. So there are many reasons to believe that the report is not painting a true picture.

“But for the family members of those babies and children, there is no closure until the proper law of the land is followed through an inquest which the legislation the Government is trying to bring in is trying to bypass that process and that’s not good enough. And we will not accept that.

Later, human rights lawyer and Director of the LLM Human Rights Law Clinic at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in NUI Galway Dr Maeve O’Rourke was also asked about the report. Initially, she was asked if the State was stepping up by offering an apology and redress.

Dr O’Rourke said:

“I think all we need to hear is what we heard from the Mulryan family which is that they would like the law of the land to apply. And so it’s really interesting to hear the minister already, as a legal expert, starting to parse the commission’s report because he can see, and I can see, and we can all see that this commission was an interesting procedure and, primarily, is about opening up a story to the public.

“It’s not a justice measure. It’s an aside to the justice measures of our democracy.

“There is a need for inquests, there is a need for Garda specialised investigations, there is a need to enable people to access court and there, of course, are needs for immediate restorative justice measures.

“There’s a massive need for an immediate access to information. The way that this commission operated, I mean we see today in the levels of stress that it has caused to people for everything to be secret for five years until finally they’re allowed to comment. This is not how inquiries into human rights violations are supposed to happen under European or international law. It’s not how they happen in England.

“People who are affected by Tuam and every single institution and, more to the point, by the adoption system as a whole did not have access to any of the evidence coming in, they didn’t have access to their own testimony, they didn’t have access to their own records, they couldn’t suggest lines of inquiry. And so really the Government needs to step up now and it needs to go beyond the limitations of this commission which it had a great part in creating in that the Oireachtas of course set up the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act – that says nothing gathered can be given to the guards or to the courts.

“But also, you know, it has stood by for five years, while people like the Mulryan family have been saying where is the inquest? The coroner has sufficient powers.”

Dr O’Rourke added:

The Government tomorrow could put one section amendment to the Civil Registration Act, in any single bill going through the Oireachtas, to say ‘the registrar general shall give to every person the information they need to retrieve their publicly registered birth certificate‘.

“Dr Conor O’Mahony who is the Government’s own advisor on children, to the Department of Children, on human rights, said this morning, and I absolutely agree with him, that the way of balancing the right to identity, which is absolutely fundamental, in a democracy – who am I? – the way of balancing that with the right to privacy is to give access to information and then to enable people to voluntarily disclose their contact details to each other. Not to reveal them without people’s consent but who I am, is absolutely fundamental and it cannot be kept from people.”

Watch back in full here.

UPDATE:

Meanwhile, this morning, on RTE’s Morning Ireland, broadcaster Mary Wilson put it to Dr O’Rourke that the report has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ms Wilson asked what value “at this time and distance” could inquests serve.

Dr O’Rourke said:

“So the coroner has an obligation, under the 1962 Coroner’s Act to hold an inquest wherever there is an unexplained or suspicious death and the practice, as well, is that inquests are ordinary where people have died in the care of the State. And the point there is is that it is about the individual, it’s about establishing a relationship to that individual, who they are, how they died and that’s what the families are looking for and that is what they’ve been telling us since day one, since the beginning of this investigation. We need to know our own circumstances.”

Ms Wilson then asked if there is nay further information that could be gleaned from inquests that are not already known from the report or from research by survivor groups or people such as Dr O’Rourke.

Dr O’Rourke said:

“But sure nothing to date has given access to the individuals to their own files or their own family files. This has all been an exercise in talking to the public in general terms. There still are no statutory rights. And in practice people’s rights are being denied to their own information, to their own family files.

We have, in my opinion, an existing situation of enforced disappearance which is one of the most serious violations of international law, where someone is institutionalised with the involvement of the State, following which their fate and whereabouts is not disclosed by the State to their family and that needs to be remedied immediately by the Government now.”

Listen back in full here

The nursery at Seán Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home, Roscrea, County Tipperary in the 1960s (top) and as it is today. Two children left outside reportedly died from sunstroke.

Breeda Murphy writes:

This week we celebrate the birth of a child; a child born over two thousand years ago. A child who came from humble beginnings, born to a young mother in a stable surrounded by animals and shepherds who travelled to welcome new life.Also there, three wise men who looked above to follow a star which showed them the way bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This child is a child of hope, of renewal, of love welcomed each year in the Christian faith. In a country where in the 2016 census 78.3% of our population identified as Catholic – is it any wonder the Christmas celebration is the highlight of our calendar?

Almost sixty years ago another child was born in a Mother and Baby Home run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary known as Seán Ross Abbey in Roscrea, County Tipperary. His mother, also called Mary, had travelled in the dark of night to reach the destination.

As the lights from the Hillman Minx lit the pathway, the ‘big’ house appeared to the right. There were few words spoken on the journey; she had wanted to wear her good coat, but it no longer closed around her middle, and so she borrowed one from her mother. It too didn’t close, but it was a better fit. As the car ground to a halt her father never spoke and mother’s last words were “ Good girl Mary, be strong, don’t look back.” She opened the car door and saw a figure waiting for her at the door of the big house.

She did as her mother told her, she didn’t look back. Her suitcase was small and light enough as she made her way up the steps. “We’ve been expecting you” was the greeting. She looked for warmth in the tone but it wasn’t there. Mary was led into the room where the paperwork awaited. Seated, she quietly answered the questions one by one until it came to ….. “The father?” . That one hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity and the Sister looked up. Mary replied “My boyfriend”. She felt tears well up in her eyes and hastily recalling her mother’s words “be strong Mary” she bit her lip and listened attentively to instructions.

“You won’t tell the other girls your name or where you’re from and your house name will be Martha. You’ll be called in the morning for Mass and then you’ll see the nurse.” She rang the bell and a girl of her own age entered and said “Yes sister.” Sister spoke: “Frances will you take Martha to the dormitory”. Frances smiled and said “I’ll help you with that” picking up the case and they went down the stairs. The corridor was long and a statue to Our Lady greeted them at the bottom before they took another turn; Frances said quietly “it’s okay, I had a baby too”. Mary wanted to ask where the baby was, but she couldn’t get the words out.

Mary hardly slept a wink and soon the noise of a bell at 6am. shrieked through the corridors. Everyone was getting ready. Chatter she couldn’t make out but she heard one say “the new girl” and thought that must be me. She met their gaze as they made their way to the chapel, Frances was on hand and said” they’re just curious that’s all”. Mass in the adjoining Chapel was followed by breakfast consisting of porridge and tea. She didn’t feel hungry, she hadn’t felt hungry for weeks but she knew she had to eat to give her growing child its best chance.

She’d always wanted a baby; she dreamed of being a mother especially after she fell in love with Matt. She didn’t know she was pregnant. She only ever heard whispers about how babies were born. Now her growing belly nurturing new life was the greatest sin ever and she just wished she had the chance to go back. The nurse was gentle, “You’re seven months Martha I’d say, is that right? “ “I don’t know” was the faint reply. And she didn’t.

She completed her chores in the laundry that day and glimpsed the little children in their cots at lunchtime. Their mothers spoke, some with excitement of feeding them; others didn’t want to – those girls were quieter and she saw her own pain mirrored in their eyes. They are scared just like me, she thought.

The labour pains started quickly in the morning and she was moved to the labour ward. It wasn’t a ward but a back to back space of two adjoining rooms with a high table and a sink and some tools. Those took her eye and the glimmer of the light overhead. Every noise was amplified. She heard a girl cry out followed by the sound of a new born baby cry. Memories of Matt flooded back as she lay there [on the table, the pain of contractions now more regular. She knew it was her turn; she tried not to scream but intense pain got the better of her and her baby came out in one of those deafening moments.

She screamed again then listened for his cry. It was weak and her baby looked so small. It’s a boy she’s told as exhausted she reaches out to him leaving the room for the ward next-door where there were another two beds with a watch station for the staff.

She held her son shortly afterwards and the overwhelming feeling of love enveloped her as she curled his little fingers around hers. She wanted to remember everything, the shock of black hair just like his dad’s, his button nose, his dainty lips; his little fingers and toes so perfectly formed; he is beautiful she thought and he’s mine.

She awoke to think she had wet herself even though she had padding; weakened she reached to check, it was blood. The nurse heard her and came over and said “you’ll need stitches”. She doesn’t remember that part so well; maybe the pain without any relief offered blocked it as the next memory she had was of being back in the room with the other two new mums anxiously looking at her.

Four days later she was up and back in the dormitory. There was no time for self-pity or even thinking of the next step. The girls, some of them had been there over a year; one named Pauline wants to keep her baby and Sister rolls her eyes every-time she says it. She has no one at home and has asked to stay longer until her sister in England can come over to help. “As long as you pay your way” Sister says “I will, thank you Sister” came the reply.

The weeks turned into months; summer came and the babies were placed outdoors for fresh warm air. The nursery was down the same corridor past the labour station where she often heard the women cry out. She saw Frances leave. Two weeks before Frances had told her “it’s my time to go and said you’re okay now Martha, you know what to do”. She didn’t want to cry but when she saw the car appear on the driveway for Frances , she sobbed. Sister heard her and in a kind voice, said “ your turn will come Martha.” She hadn’t expected kindness, it wasn’t offered often and that made her cry all the more.

Her little boy was christened in the adjoining chapel and was now big and strong; he was feeding well, burping as soon as he was fed and looked healthier than the others. They thought he was premature when born because he was so small but he caught up. Naturally curious he seemed to know when she was coming. His little blue eyes fixed on the doorway. For those moments when she held him, even when he had the dirtiest of nappies, she was overwhelmed with love. Pauline told her off for it, saying “don’t look at him like that it will make it harder when the time comes” But she couldn’t help it.

And that time did come; she was to leave him behind. Even if she could find words to say to him she wouldn’t be able to. She pinned the Miraculous Medal she kept in her mum’s borrowed coat onto his top – it was all she had in the entire world. He was her son, her precious son and she had to leave him. They told her where to sign; she innocently asked “Can I come back to see him?” …. Sister looked cross and said in a firm voice ‘no one ever comes back’.

She saw Dad’s unmistakeable green Hillman with the ivory trim coming up the drive; Mum was in the front seat. Sister said “Goodbye Martha, we hope we don’t see you again”. She found her voice to whisper “please take care of him for me Sister”. Sister Hildegarde heard that many times; too many times. And sometimes, like now, she felt sorry for them. Even if she remarked often enough they brought it on themselves.

Her mum got out of the car as Mary came down the steps. Looking gaunt thought mum, I’ll make you well again – but she didn’t say it. Instead she said “we told you we would come for you Mary”. Mary tried to smile but found it impossible. The coat, at least three sizes too big now hung on her shoulders and made her look younger than her nineteen years. Her dad didn’t speak all the way home, stopping only once to light a cigarette. Coming into the village she kept her head down and heard Mum say “We said you’d gone to Aunt Bridget in England. They’ll be welcoming you home”

Her room was the same as she had left it; all her clothes were there. She learnt two days later from her friend Catherine that Matt had emigrated, his dad told him to go. Many lives affected, dislocated because of love and shame. Everyone felt sorry for her, Catherine said, but they wouldn’t say anything.

Mary never had any more children. When her parents died she remained in the house. She had given her name and address to the Sisters in Sean Ross and wanted to go back many times but couldn’t find the courage. Besides she had given him up. What else could she do? Her son is now almost sixty years old and she wondered if he would ever look for her. She heard Philomena’s story and it gave her some hope. But it was dashed with fear.

Fear of a little boy, now a man of almost sixty who would not want her; fear that perhaps his life was cut short and he was one of the 1,024 children that perished in Sean Ross Abbey; fear that his remains are in that plot where the sewage system redesigned in the 1990s cuts through; fears that he was one of those included in the notorious vaccine trials or worst still, has the initials AS after his name denoting ‘anatomical subject’.

Fears that she will never be able to face him, even if he does come; fears on how to ask for forgiveness; fears of trying to explain her powerlessness at age 18 and ten months. Fears of forgetting; forgetting his perfectly formed features that flash regularly before her.

She looks out to the steeple of the Chapel where she was baptised almost seventy-nine years ago and the cemetery where her mum and dad are buried and where she will spend eternity. She is alone, with her thoughts as the bells chime for Christmas and the snow falls softly. White haired and softly spoken she has kept her secret, all those years. Matt was the only one she thought she would ever love – she was wrong, she loved his son more. Matt Junior – yes, she called him after his dad.

Unto us a child is born and in circumstances worlds apart – neither ideal, one in a manger and the other in a dedicated mother and baby home. The homes that Alice Lister in her 1939 “Report on Unmarried Mothers in Ireland” stated had abnormally high death rates. The homes where …

“…the chance of survival of an illegitimate infant born in the slums and placed with a foster-mother in the slums a few days after birth is greater than that of an infant born in one of our special homes for unmarried mothers”

With further explanation as,..

“ …in theory, the advantage should lie on the side of the child institutionally born. Pre-natal care, proper diet, fresh air, sufficient exercise, no arduous work, proper and comfortable clothing, freedom from worry, the services of a skilled doctor, the supervision and attention of a qualified nurse, all should be available and should make for the health of the expectant mother and the birth and survival of a healthy infant”.

Footnote:

Mary is not a real name and the character is based on the experiences of women I’ve spoken to. In the year Mary entered the home 94.9% of Irish citizens identified as Catholic. Records reveal that 1,024 children perished in Sean Ross Mother and Baby Home or in the District Hospital, Roscrea, County Tipperary to which they were sent when they became more seriously ill. The Sisters revealed only 269 children had died there. To date, as of Christmas Eve December 2020, we do not know where their remains are located.

Breeda Murphy is PRO of Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance. Breeda has supported survivors and family members of the Tuam Home since 2014. The Tuam home, although run by a different Order of nuns, is inextricably linked to Seán Ross Abbey. When Tuam closed, the residents, both mothers and children, were relocated to Seán Ross Abbey.

Second pic by Breeda (Thanks to Tony Donlan, the new owner, for allowing survivors and families access to the property).