Tag Archives: Sean Ross Abbey

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).

This morning.

The Irish Daily Star (above) revealed the official death toll at Sean Ross Abbey (top) in Roscrea, County Tipperary.

The abbey was a mother and baby home from 1930 to 1970 run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Journalist Alison O’Reilly, who broke the Tuam story, says a total of 1024 children died at the home with 455 deaths listed as ‘heart failure‘ and  a further 128 children dying from severe malnutrition.

Last week, an Aljazeera investigation claimed a sewage system was built on the site where children are buried.

Last week; Evidence Of A Sewage System In The Angel’s Plot


In the second part of his investigation into Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes,  Aljazeera journalist Laurence Lee looked at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, County Tipperary.

The abbey  was a mother and baby home from 1930 to 1970 run by Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Laurence says (from @13:25 )

‘In the mid 1980’s Michael Donovan was working as a gardener in Sean Ross Abbey when he was asked by the Nuns to help landscape an overgrown area of scrub.

Michael said:

“ The tractor drove down this way and turned over the sod and I just noticed lots of small bones”.

That area where Michael found the bones is now a carefully tended burial ground known as the Angel’s plot. But that plot is not all it seems.

Nine years ago the nuns admitted 269 babies died in Sean Ross, a number that could plausibly be buried in this plot but it is now clear that over 1,000 babies died here.

So where are they?

This Photograph (above) was taken in 1974 not long after the Nuns closed the Home, but there is no obvious sign of the Angel’s plot which the nuns now claim was a consecrated graveyard where they buried babies in individual coffins.

However, we’ve established that the area above this hedge (green line) which takes up the top third of the claimed angel’s plot actually contains a pit used by the Nuns for the mass burial of unbaptised babies and stillborns.

Toni Maguire, an archaeologist and anthropologist who specialises in the location and excavation of unmarked graves, says:

“They have no death certificates for these infants and those infants are not included in the 1000 plus babies for Sean Ross Abbey.”

With that area unavailable for the thousand burials, it is even clearer that the remaining area cannot be the true extent for the graveyard.

The most probable scenario is that it in reality extends to a faintly visible pathway (above) on the 1974 picture right up to the walled garden (at left).

And that is a cause of deep concern because of something else we discovered.

This plan produced by Tipperary Town Council was submitted to the Commission. A copy has found its way to us.

It describes a sewage pipe installed in the late 90’s which runs from an inspection hatch directly beside the current Angel’s plot to another inspection hatch at the other end and beyond,

But as we have established that plan is wrong in several important respects.

The inspection hatches are actually situated above  (marked in blue) and between them in a project apparently agreed between the Nuns and the council a sewage system has been constructed on land which may well contain child burials.

Our investigation suggests that the system above includes a settlement tank, an overflow pipe here and a sewage outlet pipe cutting through the probable burial grounds and emptying into another tank constructed within the current angel’s plot.

Disturbingly around the same time the sewage system was installed yet more damage was done to the potential burial grounds when they were planted with fast growing conifers.

Toni Maguire says

“what they’ve done they have not planted the trees over the area where the pipes been laid, the roots obviously damaged the pipes and would do exactly the same thing to any burials that may be included in that land as well.”

In early 2019, the Commission ordered a ground penetrating radar survey of the plot followed by test excavations

They still have not said what they found but we can reveal the survey confirmed existence of a tank within the Angel’s plot.’

Part 1 here

Previously~: Sean Ross Abbey on Broadsheet

Thanks Breeda Murphy

Yesterday.

At the children’s burial ground in Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary – which was a mother and baby home run by the Sacred Heart Sisters from 1930 to 1970.

A geophysical survey is carried out on behalf of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

On Tuesday, the MBHCI stated that the survey would take “approximately one day”.

Previously: ‘Geophysical Survey’ Of Burial Ground At Sean Ross Abbey To Begin Tomorrow

Pics: Eric Clarke

Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary

This afternoon.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation has announced it will carry out a “geophysical survey” of a children’s burial ground at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary – which was a mother and baby home from 1930 to 1970.

This will begin tomorrow and is expected to take one day.

[According to Mike Millotte’s Banished Babies, 438 babies were secretly exported from Sean Ross Abbey to the US for adoption.]

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone told RTÉ’s News At One that the MBHCI received “new information from a member of the public in relation to the burial grounds” at Sean Ross before Christmas.

She also confirmed that Cabinet has approved a request from the MBHCI for an extension of a year before publishing its final report.

Survivors, family members and supporters of people who lived in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway first became aware of this request for an extension via a report in The Irish Times on January 9.

The extension means the final report will be published in February 2020.

Ms Zappone also said the commission has said it will publish an interim report on March 15 “on burials for all of the institutions that they are investigating”.

On News At One, journalist Aine Lawlor asked Ms Zappone about the exclusion of survivors of Bethany Home from the State redress scheme.

Ms Lawlor put to Ms Zappone that any delay in including the Bethany Home survivors “compounds the injustice being done to elderly people at this state, time is not on their side”.

Ms Zappone said:

“Yes, I deeply appreciate those views that are being expressed. I am aware of that. May I say that, in relation to the Bethany Home, of course, I think many are aware, there was a decision made not to extend the original redress scheme to them, subsequent to the Ryan Report.

“That decision is being reviewed by a number of, on a number of occasions, by a previous Governments. My own Government looked at it again and ultimately decided that we needed to wait in order to have the final reports from the Mother and Baby Home Commission.”

Ms Lawlor put it to Ms Zappone that the survivors of Bethany Homes “don’t have a year to play with”.

Ms Zappone said:

“Again, I’m fully aware of that Aine, because I have met many of these people. I aware of the recommendation of the commission. At the same time, they have not provided us with a report in terms of findings of, final findings of abuse or neglect.

“And so we decided that it was not appropriate to deal with redress…but on the basis of that decision, I did move forward and establish a collaborative forum of representative stakeholders across all of the mother and baby homes to see what kind of supports maybe we could provide to former residents in relation, while we are waiting for the final findings of the commission.”

Meanwhile…

Ms Zappone has delivered a fourth interim report from the commission to Cabinet today and it states that the commission’s confidential committee has met with 519 former residents or other people connected to the institutions under investigation.

Meetings were not only held across Ireland but also in Birmingham, Manchester and London, while 26 people are still waiting to be heard – including residents in the US who will speak to the committee via Skype.

The commission is also arranging to have affidavits sworn in some cases.

The fourth report also states that “considerable work remains to be done to cross reference” the information the commission has regarding registers of entry, exit, birth and death.

The report notes that the commission has received “extensive material” from the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs but the commission “only recently received the bulk of this material and further material is in the process of being provided”.

It also states that the commission is “painstakingly analysing” more than 100,000 pages it has received in discovery from the two departments and cross referencing them with records maintained in the institutions.

The first tranche of discovery consisted over more than 12,000 pages in March 2017; more than 54,000 pages in March 2018; 36,000 pages in June 2018, while the commission learned in November 2018 that 277 more relevant files – likely to run to “many thousands of pages” – are also available.

The report also says the commission is “dismayed” by the documentation it has received from the HSE.

It states:

“The Commission acknowledges the efforts made by the HSE staff to find relevant documentation but it is dismayed that so little has been found. It is clear that the HSE does not have any system, much less a proper system, of storing and archiving material.”

It adds:

“It is difficult to understand how relatively recent documentation is not available. For example, the North Western Health Board, and subsequently the HSE, was intensively involved in the running of one of the institutions under investigation – The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal. This opened in 1984 and closed in 2006. The HSE has been unable to provide any documentation on its involvement with this institution.”

Listen back to Ms Zappone on RTE Radio One in full here

Thanks Breeda

From top: Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, County Tipperary; Catherine Sheehy (right) with Kevin whom she named William; Kevin Battle today in Portland, Maine, USA

Kevin Battle was a baby when church officials raided his family home in Ireland and plucked him from the arms of his mother, an unmarried 24-year-old who had run away from the convent where she and hundreds of other Irish girls were sent to give birth to secret children.

After raising the boy she named William for more than a year, his mother [Catherine Sheehy] couldn’t bear to give him up, so she grabbed her chubby-cheeked boy and escaped home to her family in County Limerick.

But the nuns had plans for the boy, so they tracked down the mother and child and forcefully reclaimed him.

Within weeks of seizing the baby, the Catholic Church sold him to an Irish couple in New York grieving the death of their own infant.

The price? A $1,000 donation to the church. Records show that the convent, Sean Ross Abbey, secretly exported 438 children like Battle to America.

Yet Battle, a retired South Portland police officer who works as a harbor master and state legislator, grew up knowing none of this.

He’d always known he was adopted. He’d searched for his mother, following the paper trail to Ireland in 1978, but the nuns there told him she was dead…[more at link below]

Maine man learns truth of his past: Nuns stole him as a baby from his mother in Ireland (Penelope Overton, The Portland Press Herald)

Previously: ‘They Wouldn’t Have Been Believed’

Pics via Portland Press Herald

Thanks realPolithicks

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From top: Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton at the graveside at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary at a private memorial for her son Anthony Lee (Michael Anthony Hess)

This morning.

On Today with Sean O’Rourke.

Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton spoke to Mr O’Rourke in light of the ‘significant quantities of human remains’ being found at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Readers will recall how, in 1952, Philomena gave birth to her son Anthony [Michael Anthony Hess] at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.

She was subsequently forced to give him up for adoption and he was sent to America. He died in 1995.

Philomena was portrayed by Judi Dench in the movie Philomena.

From this morning’s interview:

Sean O’Rourke: “Jane, good morning to you.”

Jane Libberton: “Good morning, Sean.”

O’Rourke: “And thank you for coming on the line. Now, we know, just looking, particularly, a lot of interesting reporting, invaluable reporting done on this by The Irish Examiner [Conall Ó Fátharta], but in 2011, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart who operated the Sean Ross Abbey, they gave figures to the Health Service Executive [HSE] showing there were 269 deaths at that home between 1934 and ’67 – a period of just over three decades. Now, the paper has reported that some of those buried in the plot on the site, they are not on that register. So, the number may be higher. So I’m just wondering do you support the view that maybe there should be excavations also at Sean Ross Abbey?”

Libberton: “Yes, I do, absolutely. In fact, I think they should be conducted in all mother and baby homes. We’ve been there, to the plot, several times, and we recently spoke to a young man, there was a man, sorry, in his younger days, he was a gardener there. Now, he said that, years ago, him and I think maybe his father, or some other chap, they’d gone to clean the angels’ plot as they call it now. And he went in there and they started to dig the place and they said that they came across bones, you know, not very far down, three or four inches down in the ground.”

“And so, they didn’t know what to do about it, at that time. And I think they didn’t say anything at that time because I think that they wouldn’t have been believed.”

Listen back in full here

Names of dead infants at Bessborough and Roscrea were given to the HSE in 2011 (Conall Ó Fátharta, Irish Examiner)

Pics: Mark Stedman/Photocall and Adoption Rights Alliance