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June 2014 Archives

Exposing the pain of mother-and-baby homes



WHEN well-known scandals, like that of the mother-and-baby homes or the Magdalene Laundries, finally hit the public consciousness — we often hear a common refrain: "Oh it was a different time."

Journalists and commentators get accused of imposing the morality and ethics of 21st century Ireland on an Ireland which bears no comparison.

As a result, we hear that the religious orders and nuns who ran these homes and institutions “did their best” operating within a very different set of moral boundaries. In short, people thought differently and the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children was an acceptable, if unfortunate, aspect of that society

However, a recent discovery made by the grandson of Dr Halliday Sutherland paints a picture of an Irish clergy deeply suspicious of anyone asking questions of how Magdalene Laundries and mother-and-baby homes operated.

The British physician and author’s book Irish Journey recounts a visit made by Dr Sutherland to the Magdalene Laundry in Galway and the Tuam mother-and-baby home 1955.

Dr Sutherland’s grandson Mark Sutherland wrote a blog post “The Suitcase in the Cellar” on where he recounted finding an unedited transcript of Irish Journey. What he found shows a clergy fully aware of how it’s treatment of women in its care may be viewed as unsatisfactory — even in 1955.

In order to visit the Magdalene Laundry at Galway, Sutherland needed the permission of the Bishop of Galway, Dr Michael John Browne.

It is clear that there was something to hide at the laundry as the author is only granted permission to visit the laundry on the proviso that everything he writes is submitted “for approval by the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy”. As a result, the account of his visit to the laundry in Irish Journey was censored.

What his grandson discovered last year in a suitcase were those sections which were removed. They paint an interesting picture to say the least.

Included in the correspondence in the suitcase is a letter from the mother superior of the laundry, Sr Fidelma, asking in no uncertain terms that specific sections of Dr Sutherland witnessed at the institution be removed from his manuscript before publication.

“If it makes no difference to you we would much prefer that you did not include this article for your book at all. Should it not be possible for you to comply with our wishes in this matter would you kindly exclude the paragraph marked on page 122, and that marked at the end of page 123. I do not remember hearing anyone say that a girl ever ‘howled’ to be readmitted. They do come along and ask sometimes. Would you also kindly omit the piece marked on page 124,” she wrote.

The sections removed were as follows:

Following a question from Dr Sutherland asking if some of the women resident in the Laundry were “backward” — the following reply was requested to be removed.

“Yes, some of them cannot read or write. A few are sent by Probation Officers into whose care the girl was placed by the Justice before she was charged with some criminal offence.”

The fact that a direct link between the State and the Magdalene Laundries was requested to be removed is instructive, particularly as countless governments stuck by the line that Magdalene Laundries were autonomous institutions, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Another section which was requested to be excised concerned an escape attempt by one of the inmates of the laundry:

Dr Sutherland: “Do they try to escape?”

Mother superior: “Last year a girl climbed a twenty foot drain pipe. At the top she lost her nerve and fell. She was fortunate. She only broke her pelvis. She won’t try it again.”

The mother superior also requested that a section concerning the physical abuse of women also be excluded from the final piece:

“For that kind of thing the girl gets six strokes of the cane, three on each hand.

A nun: “Sometimes on the legs.”

Dr Sutherland: “I suppose only the sister-in-charge may inflict corporal punishment.”

Nun: “Yes, and the only time I gave it I felt positively ill.”

This clearly points to physical abuse in the laundry as routine and as something that the order did not want being made public.

Well over half a century later, the McAleese Report was of the view Martin McAleese’s report found that “the ill treatment, physical punishment, and abuse that was prevalent in the industrial school system was not something they experienced in the Magdalene Laundries”.

Clearly this was not the view of the nuns running the Galway Magdalene Laundry.

Remarkably one entry that was allowed to remain tin the chapter by the order was a reference to food being removed from inmates if they misbehaved:

Dr Sutherland: “What about discipline?”

Mother superior: We give them a good scolding when they need it.”

Dr Sutherland: “And more serious offences?”

Mother superior: We stop their food”.

Dr Sutherland: “For how long?”

Mother superior: Only one meal and we know that the other girls feed them.”

Again, here is a nun acknowledging in the mid-1950s that women were starved if they did not toe the line. Such shocking treatment jars uncomfortably with the findings of the McAleese Report.

Another nun spoke of length of stay acknowledging that some women stayed “for life” and confirming that the women were not buried on the same ground as nuns but rather in “common burial ground”.

Dr Sutherland also recounted the conversation he had with Bishop of Galway Dr Michael John Browne when seeking permission to visit the laundry.

The bishop clearly took exception to the request and issued a veiled threat concerning anything negative he might write.

“Well, if you write anything wrong it will come back on you. Remember that.”

Following an extremely tetchy conversation, Bishop Browne denied there was anything to “hide” in the laundry but stressed it was his “duty to defend these nuns. I have done so in the past and shall do again.”

Before visiting the Galway Magdalene Laundry, Dr Sutherland visited the Tuam baby home — which in the past few weeks has made international headlines.

From the chapter, it is clear that the State was paying to keep women and children in the home.

“The nuns keep the child until the age of seven, when it is sent to an Industrial School. There were 51 confinements in 1954 and the nuns had now 120 children. For each child or Mother in the Home the County Council pays £1 per week. That is a pittance... In the garden at the back of the Home children were singing. I walked along the path and was mobbed by over a score of the younger children. They said nothing, but each struggled to shake my hand. Their hands were clean and cool,” Dr Sutherland wrote.

“Then I realised that to these children I was a potential adopter who might take some boy or girl away to a real home. It was pathetic. Finally I said — ‘Children, I’m not holding a reception’. They stopped struggling and looked at me.

“Then a nun told them to stand on the lawn and sing me a song in Irish. This they did very sweetly. At the Dog’s Home, Battersea, every dog barks at the visitor in the hope that they will be taken away.”

Labour TD Anne Ferris, who is herself adopted and also lost a daughter to adoption, first wrote about Dr Sutherland’s account last July but acknowledges that the recently discovered uncensored version is of huge significance.

“The standard refrain from the Church bodies in recent years has been that where abuses occurred they happened within autonomous institutions and so were isolated incidents outside the knowledge of senior members of religious orders or the Church hierarchy.”

“Dr Sutherland’s story shows that, not only was the Catholic Church hierarchy and the senior members of the religious orders aware of the abuse, but that even then the religious people in control sought to hide the extent of what was happening. This is not a case of a different code of practice for different times. In deleting passages from Dr Sutherland’s work, it seems quite clear that Sr Fidelma considered those particular abuses to warrant a level of secrecy,” she said.

Dr Sutherland’s preface to Irish Journey from 1958 contains an accusation about money that could be thrown at the Church in 2014.

“...all the critics have ignored my main criticism, which concerns the Irish secular clergy. In my opinion they have too much political power. They hold themselves aloof from their people, and are too fond of money.”

Some might say little has changed.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Plea to include children 'boarded out' in mother and baby inquiry


Man alleges abuse in foster home in 1940s

Eddie McEntee, who says he  was abused in foster care in Kildare in the 1940s. He is applying to mother and baby inquiry to have fostered children in  the 1930s and 1940s and up to 1952 to be included in the terms of reference of mother and baby inquiry. Photograph:  Joanne O'Brien

Eddie McEntee, who says he was abused in foster care in Kildare in the 1940s. He is applying to mother and baby inquiry to have fostered children in the 1930s and 1940s and up to 1952 to be included in the terms of reference of mother and baby inquiry. Photograph: Joanne O’Brien

Eddie McEntee (73), a Kildare man who has lived most of his life in England, says he endured daily neglect as well as physical and emotional abuse between the ages of four and 10, first in Kildare County Home and then in foster care. Today is the deadline for applications to be included within the terms of the inquiry, which are being drawn up by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Mr McEntee was born in Naas, Co Kildare, in January 1941. He had two older sisters and an older brother. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recommended the children be taken into care after their mother applied for a warrant in 1943 to have her husband arrested on charges of desertion and neglect of the family.

“My brothers and sisters were put in Goldenbridge and Artane but because I was so young I was put with the nuns in the county home,” says Mr McEntee, who now lives in Camberwell, London.

He says he was physically and mentally abused during his three years here, particularly by an older boy in charge of him. In 1947 he was “boarded out” by Kildare County Council to a family in Moone where he stayed until he was 10.He says he was daily beaten, starved, humiliated, excluded from family meals, made to work on the farm and he says he survived two attempts by the parents to drown him.

“I wasn’t allowed to have friends or play and had to do the work of a grown man seven days a week. I was never given meat and just got fat from the meat. If I got sick I was beaten. They had a ration book for me and got money from the welfare to buy me food, but they ate my rations. I was so hungry at school I begged and stole some of the other children’s lunch. The teachers saw this and told the family and so I was beaten. I stole food from a neighbour’s window and she told the family and I was beaten. One of my many jobs was to feed the pigs and often I was so hungry I would sit down with them and eat the swill with them. Sometimes I slept with the pigs too.”

He says he was removed from the family after a neighbour reported saving him from the father’s attempt to drown him in a water barrel. He remembers the family being inspected by a woman who came annually but she never spoke to him.

He was again “boarded out” to live with and elderly brother and sister, in Donandea, Co Kildare. Again he was put to work on the farm but, he says, “they were lovely and those were the happiest years of my childhood”. His mother successfully applied to get him back when he was 13 and he moved to England when he was 16.

He remains scarred by what happened. His account of his time “boarded out” was made to The Irish Times in writing, because he says it too painful to speak about. He has been through years of counselling and from 2004 has corresponded with Kildare County Council, the former South Western Area Health Board, the Departments of Health and Education and he has engaged solicitors, hoping to make someone accountable for what he says happened to him.

In correspondence seen by The Irish Times, none denies his account but all variously say the alleged abuse happened so long ago as to be statute barred.

Mr McEntee’s older siblings were compensated by the Institutional Redress Board but as he was not in an institution, his case could not be heard. “It doesn’t seem fair they were heard when the abuse I suffered was just as bad, worse even. I was on my own in that family. It’s wrong.”

Dr Sarah-Ann Buckley of NUI Galway says many families in poverty took in children like Eddie because they came with a monthly payment from the local authority and they were seen as cheap labour.

The “boarding-out” system, particularly pre-1953, remains under-researched, partly because records are scant and dispersed among local authorities. It is also clear, she adds, that foster families were meant to be inspected annually but many were not.

Dr Lindsey Earner-Byrne of UCD has said the “boarding-out” system was a product of the same thinking that gave rise to mother and baby homes and merits inclusion in an inquiry.

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Midland car worker's plea: Tell us what happened to 222 children who died at care home


Derek Leinster, who now lives in Rugby, was a former resident of the controversial Bethany Home in Rathgar, Dublin

Derek Leinster, 68, from Rugby

A Midland car worker has won his 16-year fight to get the Irish government to investigate a former children’s home where 222 youngsters died from 1922 to 1949.

Derek Leinster, who now lives in Rugby, was a former resident of the controversial Bethany Home in Rathgar, Dublin, which has been included in the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes in Ireland.

Derek, aged 72, claims he suffered neglect at the home and as a result endured gastroenteritis, diphtheria, whooping cough and pneumonia in his formative years at the home, where his unmarried mother, Hannah, was forced to spend the last four months of her pregnancy.


Chairman of the Bethany Survivors group Derek Leinster looks at the memorial to 222 children from the Bethany Mother and Child Home
Chairman of the Bethany Survivors group Derek Leinster looks at the memorial to 222 children from the Bethany Mother and Child Home


The Commission for Investigation has previously probed the Magdalene laundries featured in the Oscar-nominated film Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

The movie is based on the real-life story of how journalist Martin Sixsmith helps an Irish mother become reunited with her son after Catholic nuns, who ran the laundries, cruelly separated them, and told Philomena Lee that her son had died.

Like the Magdalene laundries, Bethany Home housed “fallen women” – including unmarried mothers.

But it was run by the Protestant Church of Ireland rather than the Catholic Church.

Derek was one of the lucky ones.

He survived.

But he claims the victims’ harrowing stories have been swept under the carpet – partly because it was a Protestant-run establishment. Meanwhile, much ink has been spilled over the failings of Catholic care homes.

Derek, who worked at Coventry’s Chrysler parts factory from 1969 to 1980, said: “I feel sick, I feel sad, I feel ashamed, but I have never allowed bitterness to get into my DNA. If I had, I would’ve been well gone by now.”

The former boxer welcomes with caution Ireland Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s call for Bethany’s blackened past to be included in a probe of Catholic mum-and-baby homes.

Documents reveal many of the infants who died between 1922 to 1949 were months, weeks, even days old.

They fell victim to conditions such as malnutrition, heart failure, German measles and syphilis.

The paperwork, gained by Derek in 2007, makes harrowing reading.

The oldest victim was four-and-a-half. One child died after crawling into a scalding pot of gruel. Many survivors endured abuse after being illegally adopted.

In April, Derek and fellow members of the Bethany Survivors Group saw their campaign for a memorial to those innocent victims unveiled at Dublin’s Mount Jerome cemetery. It was paid for by the government.

At the ceremony, Derek said: “For too long, the short lives of these children have been unacknowledged, unnamed and their remains unmarked.

“It is highly appropriate that at last we can now rectify this situation, and that all of us have the opportunity to pay our respects, and to jointly remember a very sad occurrence in our history.”

As a result of being a Bethany resident Derek says he has no legal identity. He claims his school records do not exist.

Derek’s childhood was joyless. Hope, tattered and frayed, fell from his slender shoulders like the rags he wore.

His mother, Hannah who has since died, was forced to stay at Bethany as a punishment for conceiving out of wedlock.

The horrors Derek endured at the home from 1941 to 1944 still stir in the mists of his memory. “I only have shadows,” said Derek. “I remember lying in rotten nappies and never having them changed. I was left to rot. In the Catholic society of Ireland, young, unmarried women and their children were crap – the muck at the bottom of shoes.

“I spent weeks in an isolation ward and now suffer from a form of blood cancer. That’s because my bone marrow spent its young life fighting all the diseases that overwhelmed me.”

Derek’s torment continued when he was dumped with foster parents clearly incapable of fending for themselves.

He and a girl, 11 months older, were swept under the threadbare, grimy carpet of the shambling County Wicklow home.

They were Ireland’s guilty secret.

A previous child in the couple’s care died of pneumonia.

The authorities simply handed them, like cannon fodder, two replacements.

To throw further chaos into the dysfunctional family, the wife fell pregnant with a child of her own.

“My father lived in another world,” Derek said matter-of-factly, “and he was a drinker. There were times when my shirt would be shiny with the muck. I was in rags.

“Neighbours could see no sense in the couple having another child, so they ignored us. That is how they dealt with it.

“You got food when you did and sometimes you’d have to catch a rabbit. When he did work, my father would work away. It was a terrible thing to have happened and it happened in what was, by and large, a wealthy community of protestant people.

“None of us came through it without difficulties – it was a very tough experience for all.”

At 15, Derek was handed a lifeline through a farm job and left for England.

Three years later, with a tenner in his pocket, he settled in Rugby.

Despite the emotional and physical scars, the grandfather to eight, harbours no anger towards his blood or foster parents.

He believes it is the Irish government which should carry the guilt.

Hannah has since died.

“Twice I tracked down my mother,” Derek said. “The pain and suffering, she was never able to deal with that. She pulled an iron door down.

“As for my foster parents, they were the best parents I had, they were the only parents I had. I learned to love my foster father and would have done anything for him.

“The powers-that-be knew what was happening. It was no secret.”

At last Irish politicians have heard the drum beaten by Derek and fellow Bethany survivors.

Children’s Minister Charlie Flanagan declared: “I am conscious of grievance on the part of people associated with Bethany Homes and I am anxious the scope of the inquiry would be beyond Tuam and County Galway. I would include all mother and baby homes with specific reference to the Bethany.

“It is absolutely essential that the story be told, difficult and traumatic though that is, especially for the mothers and former babies, many of whom are now adults.”

And he conceded: “Questions remain unanswered about the nature of adoptions and vaccine trials.”

Derek isn’t holding his breath. “I have been close to the top of that hill many times, but I’ve been doing this for 16 years and won’t stop now.”

In an angry swipe at politicians, he added: “Now they are all going round like drunken ducks. Where were all the saints 16 years ago?

“I want justice for all survivors as a priority.”

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Caranua - Alliance Support Distribution of Updated Documents


The Alliance Support Group are seeking more volunteers to distribute the updated Caranue documents in both England and Ireland.  Please Email: or 
Thank you.
News Updates
> Updated Guidelines documents

Updated Guidelines

Caranua has published updated versions of the Guidelines documents on applying for services.

There are three documents: one for applicants from Ireland; another for applicants from the United Kingdom; and another for applicants from outside Ireland and the United Kingdom.

To download these documents, go the ‘Make An Application’ tab

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Former papal nuncio defrocked over abuse claims



Friday 27 June 2014 22.50

Jozef Wesolowski has two months to appeal the ruling
Jozef Wesolowski has two months to appeal the ruling

The Holy See's former nuncio to Dominican Republic has been defrocked by a church tribunal pending possible further criminal proceedings on charges of child sexual abuse.

In a rare move against a senior church official, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered that Jozef Wesolowski be stripped of the priesthood.
According to a Church statement, the former ambassador has two months to appeal the ruling, delivered after a Church trial in the Vatican.

It added that criminal proceedings by Vatican authorities would begin as soon as the sentence is confirmed.
If found guilty, Wesolowski risks being extradited to the Dominican Republic, which has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the case.
Last month, the United Nations watchdog body on torture called on the Vatican to investigate the case and to ascertain whether it warranted criminal prosecution or extradition to face charges in the Dominican Republic.

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Priest convicted of sexual abuse at Cork boarding school


Retired cleric admitted abusing ten boys but denied assaulting complainant in 1979

Today, a jury of ten men and two women at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, unanimously found the retired priest guilty  after just two hours of deliberation.
Alan Betson/The
Irish Times

Today, a jury of ten men and two women at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, unanimously found the retired priest guilty after just two hours of deliberation. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A retired priest has been remanded on bail for sentence after he was today convicted of sexually assaulting a pupil while teaching at a boarding school in Co Cork in the 1970s.

Fr Tadhg O’Dalaigh had denied a single charge of indecently assaulting a 16-year-old boy while teaching at Colaiste Chroi Naofa in Carrignavar, Co Cork on an unknown date in 1979.

The state alleged O’Dalaigh (70) indecently assaulted the boy by masturbating him while he was in sick bay in the boarding school on a date between March 1st and April 30th 1979.

Today, a jury of ten men and two women at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, unanimously found O Dalaigh guilty of the sole charge after just two hours of deliberation.

Judge Donagh McDonagh remanded O’Dalaigh, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, on bail for sentence for the offence on October 31st.

Earlier this week, O Dalaigh of Woodview, Mount Merrion Avenue, Blackrock, Dublinhad pleaded guilty to five counts of indecently assaulting another boy at the school.

Judge McDonagh had earlier remanded O Dalaigh on bail to October 31st for sentence on those offences which occurred on dates between September 1st 1982 and April 1st 1983.

During his trial O Dalaigh told the jury of ten men and two women that he had abused ten boys while teaching at the school between 1969 and 1974 and again between 1977 and 1985

He said that he had given a list with the names of the boys he abused to his superiors after they confronted him in December 1995 about rumours that he had abused boys at the school.

But O’Dalaigh said that the complainant in the current case was not among the names of boys he abused that he gave his superiors as he had never abused the complainant.

“I would prefer to plead guilty (if it had happened) and move on, get the thing over and done with, but I did not, I did not touch him,” said O Dalaigh.

“I don’t know if he was abused or not (in Carriganavar) but I certainly did not abuse him. Maybe someone abused him but I certainly did not,” he added.

Cross-examined by prosecution barrister, Pearse Sreenan BL as to how he could remember whom he abused, O Dalaigh said he had not kept a diary but he did remember his victims.

“You would be conscious of being kind to them. It would not be the event ... it would be making efforts not to antagonise them in any way so they won’t make any complaint,” he said

O Dalaigh agreed with Mr Sreenan that his approach to dealing with his victims was “grooming” but he re-iterated that the complainant in the case was not among his victims.

The complainant, who is now in his 50s, told how he had been sent to the sick bay on the evening in question after complaining of a sore throat and he fell asleep in bed there.

He was the only boy in sick bay that night and he woke up to find O’Dalaigh with his hands under the bed clothes, rubbing his penis which was outside the fly of his pyjamas.

“I didn’t know what to do so I stayed still and I didn’t know what was going on and then what I did was I sat up and he stopped what he was doing,” said the complainant.

“Basically, he stopped when I ejaculated .. ... then he went away but he came back 30 minutes later with a glass of dispirin for me to drink, “ he added.

Cross-examined by defence counsel, Tom Creed SC if he could have been abused by someone else, the complainant said he was there and it was O’Dalaigh who abused him.

He said that he only made a complaint about it to gardai in 2012 after he contacted campaign group, One in Four following media coverage about abuse in the boarding school.

He had not been following the reports but his elderly mother produced cuttings about abuse at the school after it had been raised by Senator Mark Daly and he contacted Mr Daly.

Mr Daly had advised him to contact the HSE for counselling and he did but the waiting time was so long that he contacted One in Four who advised him to report the matter to gardai.

Asked by Mr Creed why he didn’t report the abuse at the time, the complainant said “I didn’t think I would be believed, it was a different time.”

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How the English 'sent back' unmarried mothers to Ireland


Tuam babies: 

In the first in a new series of blogpost,  Policy Press take an in-depth look behind the headlines, talking to experts to discover more about the story behind the headlines.

We spoke to Policy Press author and academic Paul Michael Garrett, whose book Social work and Irish people in Britain looked at the plight of ‘unmarried mothers’ in Ireland between the 1920s – 1960 ten years ago, long before media attention was focused on Tuam…

International media attention has been captivated by the ‘scandal’ uncovered by local Irish historian suggesting that as many as 796 dead babies had been discarded in a ‘septic tank’ at the Tuam Mother and Baby home in County Galway between the 1920s and the 1960s.  

In response Prime Minister Enda Kenny has commissioned an investigation into all the Mother and Baby homes that were once in operation in Ireland.

But are there questions we need to be asking ourselves back on English shores too?

Policy Press author and Galway-based Paul Michael Garrett has researched the women who fled to England from the Irish state partly because they feared possible ‘incarceration’ in in the Mother and Baby homes.

Speaking to Policy Press on the subject he said: “Many women would get on the ferry to Holyhead, present themselves to adoption agencies in Britain and would find themselves being repatriated, sent back to Ireland, in some instances before they gave birth, in some instances after.”

Garrett’s book, ‘Social work and Irish people in Britain’, suggests that fear of having to enter one of the Mother and Baby homes in Ireland was one reason for the historical phenomena that saw hundreds of Irish expectant mothers migrate to England between the 1920s and 1960s.

Garrett said: “Whereas in England you might expect to stay in a home for, say, three months, in Ireland this was much more likely to be a period closer to two years. It simply wasn’t possible to cover up the reasons for that sort of period of absence.”

Fleeing to England offered these women the opportunity to have their baby in secret and then return to their lives in Ireland.  But Garrett explains there were strong forces in operation in Britain, which were keen to drive these women back.

Garrett said: “Often English agencies wouldn’t want the economic burden of dealing with the pregnant women and their babies and the Irish agencies didn’t want the children brought up in Protestant homes.”

Figure highlights how many women were 'repatriated': Garrett 2003:30

Figure highlights how many women were ‘repatriated’: Garrett 2003:30

Garrett says that the women were subject to coercion. Garrett’s chapter in the book which deals with ‘PFIs’ – Pregnant From Ireland – a known and accepted term with English social workers at that time – shares the stories of many of the women such as ‘Bridget’.

A young cinema worker, ‘Bridget’ presented herself to the English authorities for help, having discovered she was pregnant. Despite speaking in the strongest terms against the Mother and Baby home in Castlepollard, describing it as ‘just like a prison’, she was pressurised to return to Ireland and give birth there. Knowing that Bridget was terrified of her father finding out about her pregnancy, the English social worker used the threat of telling him about her condition as a means of making her comply.

This is one amongst a number of stories that Garrett came across in his research and included in his book. The plight of these women is one that he feels passionately should be more widely known and he welcomed both the media interest and the forthcoming inquiry.

Garrett said: “It’s a part of women’s history and Irish history that has been neglected.”

“I think it is entirely advantageous that a voice has been found for those dubbed ‘unmarried mothers’.”

As reports on the Tuam babies have suggested, infant mortality rates in the Mother and Baby homes in Ireland were high and the gap in mortality rates between legitimate and illegitimate children was higher in Ireland than in neighbouring countries. In 1931/32 one in every four illegitimate infants died within the first year of life in Ireland.

Garrett is reluctant to draw the direct conclusion that the high infant mortality rate encouraged the women to flee to England, rather than go into the Mother and Baby homes, though he hopes the official Inquiry into the homes will cast some light on this disparity and why it existed. He said: “Although a number of the deaths were from outbreaks of diseases, it seems to me that some deaths were the result of neglectful care in the homes.”

However Garrett expressed some caution about the media attention.

He said: “The attention could be problematic – the focus on the “septic tank” and what it is conveying about Ireland can tap into strains of anti-Catholicism. I would be worried if the spotlight is entirely focused on the Church because the situation is far more complex.”

There was a threefold system in Ireland to deal with ‘unmarried mothers’ – the Church-run Mother and Baby homes forming one part, but a greater number of women were resident in the County Homes and Magdalen Asylums – both of which were local authority-run and over which the Church did not have any say.

Garrett said: “The focus can’t just be on Mother and Baby homes – it’s just too easy to focus on the wrong-doings of the Church.”

Garrett feels that there are some parallels to be drawn between the then migration of pregnant women taking the ferry to England to have their child adopted, and the women who today travel by budget airlines for terminations. Both are cloaked in secrecy. He said: “In some senses this is about Ireland seeking to export difficulties – social policy questions that are not answered internally can be exported in this way.”

But Garrett, located at the National University of Ireland in Galway for the past ten years, warns against seeing this as a story of victimisation. He said: “It would be wrong to conceive of the women who made these journeys as malleable and compliant – many were tenacious and wouldn’t be manipulated by the agencies. Equally, many were grateful for the assistance they received from the agencies too. It is quite a complex picture and my hope is that the report illuminates some of these issues.”

Social work and Irish people in Britain by Paul Michael Garrett is available on the Policy Press website at £19.99 (20% discount on RRP)

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Irish abuse survivors to meet Pope Francis next week

What about Institutional Abuse? (Alliance)

Second meeting of Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors early next month

 Marie Collins, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and Vatican spokesman  Fr Federico Lombardi,  leave at the end of the first briefing at the Holy See press office at the Vatican last month.    Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Marie Collins, member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, leave at the end of the first briefing at the Holy See press office at the Vatican last month. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Sources in Rome have confirmed that Pope Francis will meet clerical sex abuse victims, including Irish victims, in the Vatican sometime next week. On the papal flight back to Rome following his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Francis told reporters that he would be meeting a group of victims, probably sometime in early July.

Vatican practice where such meetings are concerned usually entails no advance warning, with news of the encounter relayed to the media only after the victims have met the pontiff. In theory, this is to avoid any form of media concentration on what for many victims is a difficult and tortured “spiritual” moment.

However, given that Francis himself released the news on the papal flight, the only blanks to be filled in concern the names and origins of the victims. Vatican sources suggest they will come from Ireland, the US, Britain and Poland.

It is expected that the meeting will take place in the Domus Santa Marta, the Vatican bed and breakfast that Pope Francis uses as his residence in preference to the Apostolic Palace.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi yesterday said he could not confirm speculation about next week’s encounter nor could he offer any details about what might happen at the meeting.

It seems likely that the pope will listen at length to the victims’ stories before praying with them and imparting his apostolic blessing.

The US clerical sex abuse victims lobby Snap said: “In each of those four countries, hundreds or even thousands of victims are bravely speaking up and protecting children by exposing clerics who commit and conceal heinous clergy sex crimes.

“There’s a lesson here for victims across the world. Despite deep pain and long odds, by overcoming your fears and uniting with other victims you can attract attention and sometimes prod Catholic officials to do something.

“More importantly, by stepping forward, you can reduce your shame, get some help and begin – no matter what the church hierarchy does or doesn’t do – to really protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.”

Marie Collins is believed to have been the first known abuse victim to meet Pope Francis and certainly was the first Irish person to do so when they met briefly in Rome last month. She was there to attend the first meeting of the Vatican’s new Commission for the Protection of Minors. Ms Collins is one of four women on the commission, which meets again early next month.

Last night she said she was “hopeful” and “quite positive” about the commission. While acknowledging matters were at an early stage, she said: “From what I’ve seen, I think it’s going in the right direction. I do think the people involved are sincere.” She was “more positive after the first meeting than I was beforehand”.

At this stage the primary task of the four men and four women, who make up the commission, is to draw up the statutes defining its role.

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Revelations add another layer to tragedy over mass graves


Eilish O'Regan

Published 25/06/2014|02:30

THE historic use of any human remains for medical research has long been harrowing and emotive if no consent is involved.

Even today, Irish people, most of whom have a Catholic funeral, are reluctant to will their bodies to medical science.

The revelation that infant remains from mother and baby homes were used by anatomy departments in some of our leading medical schools has been known for several years.

The extent of the practice, however, has not been clear and it is only recently it was confirmed this continued until the mid-1960s. Today, we reveal the homes from where these infant bodies came from.

What is clear is that the mothers of these babies were not asked for their permission. Even by the standards of the time – 1940 to 1965 – the use of these dead infants to instruct well-heeled medicine students about anatomy is questionable.

In the light of what has come to the surface about mass burial graves of babies in some of these homes, the details of the transfer of 474 infant remains to the universities' medical schools is yet another layer to add to the tragedy.

The anatomy departments are now making some amends by inviting the relatives to come forward and inquire about any relation whose body may have been used for anatomical study.

As a nation we are back to judging the past by the rules and obligations to today. It will ultimately be a matter for the Government's inquiry into issues around these mother and baby homes to reach a judgment, based on evidence and hearings.

In 2000 the organ retention controversy erupted in Ireland when parents found out that the organs of some of their dead babies had been retained by hospitals for research without their knowledge.

A report was eventually completed in 2006 and although it led to the tightening up of areas of consent the long-promises legislation covering human tissue is still awaited.

The donation of bodies for anatomical examination is still regulated by the Anatomy Act 1832 – the same that was in place during the mother and baby homes era.

The Department of Health said yesterday it is still developing this long-delayed Human Tissue Bill which will repeal the Anatomy Act 1832. The new legislation will put in place "enhanced arrangements" in relation to the donation of bodies to anatomy schools and provisions for the setting of guidelines and standards to be met in the practice of anatomy. Practices on the ground have changed dramatically but modern legislation is needed too.

In the meantime, the onus is on the anatomy departments of the universities to deal with any inquiries they receive about the use of deceased infant remains from the 1940s to the 1960s.Revelations add another layer to tragedy over mass graves

Eilish O'Regan

Published 25/06/2014|02:30




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President of Catholic League calls Tuam report "a hoax" and "mass hysteria"



But the startling number of deaths at the home – an estimated 796 infants and children – is not disputed by Donohue.

“No, the average of 22 a year is about right,” he says. (In fact in one year alone 57 children died in the home.)

Continued Donohue: “Given the conditions the kids were in when the nuns acquired them, and given the fact that people in these homes died prematurely with these so-called fallen women in these homes and orphanages, I’m not doubting that at all.

“I’m sure the conditions by the standards of 2014 were horrible. I think there’s an awful lot of exaggeration going on. I’m not doubting that the conditions were harsh and some kids were probably mistreated.

“But this kind of hysteria that I’ve seen in Ireland, England and the United States fits like a glove with the Magdalene Laundries and Philomena Lee. It’s very disturbing to me that there’s such an appetite to believe the very worst about these nuns.

IrishCentral: But we know these children died by the hundred and we know their graves are all unmarked. Isn’t that shameful in itself?

Donohue: “I suppose if the worst were true it would be disturbing. But it wouldn’t reach the level of this inflammatory rhetoric I hear from people comparing it to the Holocaust.”

People were perhaps trying to convey that these children belong to an underclass, that their fate didn’t matter; their lives weren’t even recorded in the end.

Well now the AP is walking it back. They’re saying that in fact these kids were baptized.

Their births may have been marked but their deaths weren’t.

If that is true –

We know that’s true. The graves are unmarked so we can’t find the graves yet, no one can. I’m concerned to hear anyone call it a hoax when we already have their death records, we know these children died, we just don't know where they are. That’s the issue, is it not?


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No mention about the Industrials Schools in the Convent?


Sr Colette, flies the flag before her retirement from teaching

A popular teaching sister, who has helped mould generations of children in Killarney, Co Kerry, has retired after a career of well over 40 years.

Sr Colette Dennehy, assistant principal at Holy Cross Mercy primary school, was the last nun to teach in the school.

Her retirement coincided with celebrations to honour the Mercy Order’s contribution to education and healthcare in Killarney, where the order is marking its 170th anniversary.

The milestone event was marked at a special Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on Friday where Bishop of Kerry Dr Ray Browne was the principal concelebrant and his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Bill Murphy, delivered the homily.

The celebrations had continued throughout the afternoon at the 391-pupil Holy Cross Mercy school, established by the order several decades ago.

Principal Ursula Coffey said Sr Colette, who had been working in learning support in recent years, will be greatly missed.

“She was absolutely gifted when it came to helping anyone who was finding it more difficult to learn than anybody else,” said Ms Coffey.

“She’s always been a calm, unflappable and gentle personality, with a wicked sense of humour. She exuded the spirit of her order and it was always great to see her walking along the corridors with the small ones following behind her to her room.”

A native of Fossa, Killarney, Sr Colette spent all her teaching life in the town. She was the last Mercy teaching sister in Kerry.

Prior to her departure, she had the honour of raising the school’s seventh Green Flag which is the culmination of months of hard work and dedication by the school’s environmentally conscious green team.

The Mercy sisters were invited to set up a base in Killarney in the mid-1800s by the then bishop, Dr Cornelius Egan. The Earl of Kenmare later donated a site where the primary school now stands.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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We can't purge our soiled legacy but we can acknowledge the good


Retrospection allows us to ignore the fact that there were people who were trying to make a difference

Mary Leland

Published 22/06/2014|02:30


Mary Robinson

The young woman ahead of me in the queue to print out digital photographs was arranging the imposition of a Father's Day message across the image of her smiling baby. The words read: 'My Daddy is a Great Bastard!'

Oh no, I thought, stemming my instant urge to intervene, to say that surely she should rethink the wording, surely she didn't want to put such a phrase into the mouth of her infant. I hesitated, because I remembered Mary Robinson. With the memory came the names of Nuala Fennell and Catherine McGuinness, and once at home came the search for that debate in the Senate in January of 1987. It's a long debate, with worthwhile contributions from other senators as well, but the driven logic of a series of amendments to the Status of Children Act came from Senator Mary Robinson, Senator Catherine McGuinness and TD Nuala Fennell, first Minister of State for Women's Affairs in the government led by Garret FitzGerald. What that Act ensured was the removal of any legal discrimination and the equalisation of the rights of children regardless of the status of their parents at the time of their birth.

Which goes to show, I think, that the half-hidden miseries of the mother-and-baby homes and the family outcasts of Ireland were getting attention from people who could – and did – make a difference. It also goes to show what remarkably short memories we have in this country. The national instinct seems to be one of immediately embracing victimhood, almost of rejoicing in shattering stories of abuse, neglect and downright cruelty. Yet no-one winces, for example, when Sinn Feinexpresses its outrage at the institutionalised treatment of women and children, as if the name of Jean McConville had never been heard. Short memories, so no-one remembers the establishment of Cherish (led by Maura O'Dea Richards, with Mary Robinson as its first President) in 1972 and its success in achieving the Unmarried Mothers' Allowance in 1973.

There are terrible stories to be told and to be heard and respected. Sometimes these suggest such bewildering contempt for the law – and there were laws to protect unmarried women and their children – and such a resistance to compassion that they induce a lasting sadness that Ireland was and maybe remains what James Joyce called the old sow that eats her own farrow. Religious orders whose members were monsters of indifference while professing a devotion to Christ. Priests ruling entire communities as if the law itself was an instrument of the Catholic Church, enforcing such social acquiescence that families outlawed their own offspring (if they were female, that is). Clergy devouring the children condemned to their institutional care through rape, brutality and malnutrition. Thwarted lives and injustices so multiple and in those days so furtive that they cannot be annealed.

It is useless to pretend now that this history, this legacy of soiled containment described by James M Smith of Boston College in his 2004 essay on 'The Politics of Sexual Knowledge' as Ireland's architecture of confinement, can be purged. Calls for compensation seem both self-serving and unattainable, for how can we retrieve the dead? All we can do is attempt to balance that history with its parallel, with what was also happening in Ireland.

This is where the absence of memory, or perhaps of curiosity or even, dare one say it, of education, fails us. To absolve that deficit we retreat to retrospection, as if to say that had we been there at the time, had this been a society in which we might play a part, it would have been different. That indignant fantasy allows us ignore the fact that there were people there at the time trying, and sometimes succeeding, to make things different. Some took the flamboyant route: I remember the impact of seeing Vanessa Redgrave who refused to hide her unmarried pregnancy and strode about London as radiant as Cleopatra. Remember Mary Holland, and her campaign for abortion rights? Remember Fr James Good – yes, my goodness, a Catholic priest exiled for his support of the right to practise contraception in marriage and challenged for his efforts on reform of the adoption laws?

Any catalogue of reformed or new legislation can make dreary reading if the context of these efforts is uncharted territory. But it isn't. There are maps to guide even the least investigative of us. Among these campaigns, those of Cherish, where Senator Mary Henry succeeded Mary Robinson as President and which is now merged with Gingerbread Ireland as One Family, are the most immediately pertinent to the current passion for redress.

And before these later developments,the State itself was not irredeemably misogynistic. There was, for example, the Illegitimate Children (Affiliation orders) Act of 1930 which intended to "make provision for the imposition on the father of an illegitimate child of the obligation to contribute to the support or otherwise in respect to such child and for the enforcement of such obligation".

The order, which also applied to the real and personal estate of the father as a civil debt and would be payable until the child reached 16 or beyond if found unfit for any employment, had a comprehensive definition of the mother. She would be a person who is with child, or has been delivered of an illegitimate child, that is any single woman, or widow, or any married woman living separate from her husband, or any married woman not living separate from her husband who, before her marriage, was delivered of an illegitimate child.

The laws were there; the parliamentary records reveal the arguments, legal and political, defining and redefining the rights and obligations of parents and children caught in the Babel of illegitimacy. A judgment expressed the opinion that a mother had the natural right to the custody of her child, a right upheld both by the Constitution and by the Guardianship of Infants Act of 1964; statutory provisions making the mother the guardian of her illegitimate child. But there's always the rider: "However, these rights ... are neither inalienable nor imprescriptible ... they can be alienated or transferred in whole or in part."

Ireland was at least catching up on its own legislative inquisitions such as the Carrigan Report of 1931, whose findings on child sexual abuse were so startling, and whose recommendations of best practice as deployed in England were so politically unwelcome, that the report was never published or acted upon.

A section of our society saw itself as above the law and able to ignore it unless challenged. There were court cases, but not enough to awaken the dispossessed to awareness of their rights. Society censored itself. Among those who had an awareness of human entitlement and dignity was a man whose heart-breaking story, told on radio last week, spoke of an Ireland dominated by those who know best. After a long wait his wife had become pregnant with twins, but this joy was quenched with the news that both babies had died in the womb. After their delivery the father, in his anguish, tried to arrange their burial in his family plot. The local priest said he could not officiate because the twin boys, born dead, had not been baptised, although their father had pleaded the case of Baptism of Desire. When he asked if he could bury his children himself, the priest said he would not stand in the way.

The father then went to engage a monument carver to inscribe the names of the boys on the family headstone, and this was agreed. But not before the mother of the stone-mason felt she had the authority to contact the father herself and advise him that such an inscription would not be suitable: the infants had not been baptised. That was one Ireland; the other lived quietly beside it, for when the pitiful burden was brought to the cemetery the father found a crowd of at least 300 people waiting to share the rite of burial with him.

These are not tales from another world. They are stories only from other years, years when young women went into convents as nuns, often as unwanted at home as their sorrier sisters and becoming prisoners themselves. But in telling these stories we should include the debates on the Status of Children Act of 1987 and the appreciation "on both sides of the house that the word 'illegitimate' had gone from our legislation, that the concept is no longer part of our law..."

So: out of the emotional maelstrom of the last few weeks let us at least acknowledge that thanks to Mary Robinson, Catherine McGuinness and Nuala Fennell, a word of isolating social abuse has attained the status of affection. It's ok (even if not to my personal taste) to tell Daddy that he is "a great bastard".

Sunday Independent


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My adoption story had a happy ending - it's time State helped others find the same



Published 21/06/2014|02:30



‘I FELT LIKE A BIG PART OF ME WAS MISSING’: Senator Averil Power who was adopted as a baby. Photo: Tom Burke

I recently wrote about what it was like growing up as an adopted child and not knowing anything about my birth mother until I was 29 years of age.


Since then, I have been overwhelmed with emails and letters from other adoptees sharing their experiences.

Some of their personal circumstances are very different to mine. However, their pain, sadness and anxiety are all too familiar. The pain of not knowing who you really are and where you came from. The sadness that descends on you each birthday and Mother's Day when you wonder where your mother is and if she's okay. And the anxiety that grips you every time a doctor asks if there is a serious genetic medical condition in your family and you have to tell him that you don't know.

Having finally met my birth mother a few years ago, I now have answers to these questions. However, thousands of Irish adoptees do not.

Adopted people in England have had a right to their birth certs, listing their original names and those of their birth mothers, since 1975. In Ireland, all we are entitled to is our adoption certs listing the date we were adopted and the names of our adoptive parents.

The rationale given for this secrecy is usually that our birth mothers need to be protected from us.

We are characterised as selfish, insensitive people determined to track down our mothers so that we can remind them of their painful past and disrupt their current lives.

In my experience, this couldn't be further from the truth. When I was trying to find my mother, I thought as much about her needs and feelings as I did my own.

I feared that hearing from me might bring bad memories for her of the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy and our separation all those years ago. I also knew there was a chance she had a husband and children who knew nothing about me and that telling them could be very difficult for her.

I needed to find out some information about my background but was determined to do so in a way that didn't cause her pain or upset her life. I hoped we could build a relationship but prepared myself for the fact that this might not be possible for her.

In the end, things worked out very well and I have gotten to know not only my mum but also my half-siblings, aunt, uncles and granny. Being reunited with her has filled in so many gaps for me and helped me feel grounded for the first time in my life.

Not all adoptees want to be reunited with their birth mothers. Some simply want their birth certs or medical information.

Of those that seek reunion, I have no doubt that most of them are just as sensitive to their mothers' needs as I was.

No one wants to find themselves turning up on their mother's door out of the blue and causing any upset to her or her family.

However, this scenario is actually more likely under the current arrangements than it would be if we had a proper information, tracing and reunion service.

Not having an automatic right to our birth certs doesn't necessarily make it impossible for adoptees to find their mothers. It just makes it much harder. Those with sufficient money can often get the information they need through private detectives. They may then use this information to contact their mothers.

In the absence of a state-funded intermediary, their only way of contacting their mothers is often to do so directly by letter or in person. Many mothers welcome such contact and are relieved to finally be reunited with their children. However, others are shaken by the experience and taken aback by being contacted like this after so many years.

It would be far better for all concerned if we had a proper state-funded information, tracing and reunion service.

Adopted people would have a right to get their birth certs through this service.

It would also act as an intermediary between the adoptee and their birth relatives. Instead of adoptees having to reach out directly to their mothers or fathers, this service could do so for them. It could advise the parent in a sensitive way that their child would like to make contact and enable her to advise whether or not she is comfortable with this.

It would also provide counselling for both parties. This would provide a safe and supportive space for mothers to talk through emotions they may have struggled to deal with for years and may be afraid to discuss with anyone else. It would also help adopted people to deal with their own feelings and understand their mothers' perspectives, whether she wished to meet them or not.

Having access to such a service would benefit all adopted people and birth mothers, regardless of whether they have any desire to meet each other or not.

Adoption information is a sensitive issue. However, that hasn't stopped most other countries from dealing with it. It's long past time we did so too and began to provide proper support to the 50,000 Irish adoptees and their families.

Averil Power is a Fianna Fail senator.

Irish Independentf

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More than 660 children died in home over seven years


Almost half of all infants at Dublin's Pelletstown mother and baby home in 1925 died

Pelletstown, on the Navan Road in Dublin: departmental reports acknowledge  a

Pelletstown, on the Navan Road in Dublin: departmental reports acknowledge a “deplorable loss of life” in 1925 and 1926. Photograph: Adoption Rights Alliance

The reports also contain figures compiled by the Registrar General that show the mortality rate among “illegitimate” infants in 1925 and 1926 was five times that of infants born within marriage, something the departmental reports acknowledge as a “deplorable loss of life”.

Department of Local Government and Public Health reports show there were 662 deaths in the institution on the Navan Road between April 1st, 1924 and March 31st, 1930.

Mother and baby homes were established in Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s to house unmarried mothers and their children.


High mortality rate

Some 119 of the 240 children housed in Pelletstown died in 1925, with the high mortality rate attributed to a measles epidemic. Of the 263 children in the institution in 1927, 111 died. No overall factor was given for these deaths.


A further 53 deaths were recorded in the year to the end of March 1933 and there were 42 in the 12 months to the end of March 1940, bringing the total number of deaths at the home for the 18 years for which records are available to 757.

The institution was run by the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul but was “provided and administered by Poor Law authorities”. It closed in 1985.

The figures are contained in Local Government and Public Health reports, which are accessible at the National Library of Ireland. In addition to Pelletstown, they contain information on a number of other homes that housed unmarried mothers and their children. During the nine years up to March 31st 1941, there were 419 infant and child deaths recorded in Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and 238 in the Sacred Heart Home in Bessborough in Cork.


Limited Tuam data

Figures indicate that there were 69 deaths at the Manor House home in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, between the date it opened in 1935 and March 31st, 1940.


All three institutions were run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary.

The total number of deaths in the four homes covered by the reports was 1,483.

The reports also contain limited information on the Children’s Home in Tuam, which was also maintained by poor law authorities and run by the Sisters of Bon Secours.

Separate figures from the General Register Office show 796 infant and child deaths were recorded in the Tuam home in a 36-year period between 1925 and 1960.

The Tuam deaths have been the focus of controversy and national and international media attention since they were brought to public attention by Galway historianCatherine Corless.

The Government responded to the revelations by announcing a commission of investigation into mother and baby homes earlier this month.


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True legacy of our past is shameful as we approach 2016


Letters: Irish Independent

Published 20/06/2014|02:30

Captain Eoin Rochford from the Irish Defence Forces reads the Proclamation outside the GPO in Dublin during the 97th anniversary of the 1916 Easter RisingJulien Behal/PA Wire

Reading of the latest scandals arising from a past that seems to be growing darker by the day, my thoughts strayed to the 1916 Rising and the lofty ideals that inspired our Patriot Dead.

The Easter Proclamation pledged, among other things, to cherish all the children of the nation equally. In 1922, we got the chance to translate those ideals into reality but we didn't do that. Within months of independence, boys and girls in industrial schools were being subjected to a level of brutality far above that experienced in those same institutions before we won our freedom. The schools had been handed over to religious orders that ran them as they saw fit. Hence began a long litany of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

For so many women, the new Ireland proved to be a little piece of hell. Just as someone had quietly deleted the image of a woman patriot from a photo taken during the Rising, so were the human rights of women, especially single mothers, airbrushed out of the new order that replaced the power of the black and tan with that of the black and soutane. The Magdalene laundries filled up, and from the earliest days of Irish "freedom", babies were being snatched from their "fallen" mothers to be sold for adoption, while other babies were dying, as we now know, in large numbers in the mother-and-baby homes.

Countless babies that died without baptism were buried secretly, with no funerals as their souls were believed to have gone to Limbo, denied entrance into Heaven to atone for not having been christened. We'll never know how many unmarked graves lie beneath the fertile soil of Ireland.

Ideas abound on how we should celebrate the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Politicians and political parties will undoubtedly vie for the honour of laying claim to that proud patriotic legacy. Here's a suggestion. Directly facing the GPO, opposite the reviewing stand containing the politicians, celebrities and assorted pillars of society, a massive display board could be mounted with a series of murals depicting the truth of our dishonourable and not so distant past:

Children being flogged by grown adults in a grim institution, their voices unheard by an uncaring conservative society; women slaving in a Magdalene punishment centre under the supervision of God's chosen, having been signed in by their families or other "concerned citizens"; images of men and women wrongly consigned to mental institutions by their families because they didn't "fit in"; and a depiction of an innocent baby and her "fallen" mother in one of those homes.



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News of Tuam babies lands in Italy - More lessons from Catholic Ireland




It's far more likely that the so-called septic tank was in fact a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used by institutions years ago. The large concrete headstone slab placed on top of such burial shafts could be removed when needed to allow additional burials.  

Many institutions like maternity hospitals and orphanages across Europe had such communal burial vaults for stillborn babies and infants who died soon after birth. These vaults sometimes were within the grounds of the institution and sometimes in a nearby field.  

This seems appalling to us now, but we have to remember that the remains of stillborn babies or deceased infants or unbaptized babies were not usually given back to parents in those days.   

The easy reaction to all of this, of course, is to heap blame on the Catholic Church and the religious orders once again, and that is not something we have shied from doing in this column. But the more we learn from these scandals, the clearer it is that the blame needs to be spread much wider.   

Irish society as a whole at the time was deeply hypocritical, even sick, and turned a deliberate blind eye to what was happening in the institutions. The fact is that the pregnant unmarried young women and the babies who ended up in institutions were put their by their own families.

De Valera, sinking to his knees to kiss a bishop's ring, was symptomatic of how Irish society operated at the time and the absolute obeisance shown to the Catholic Church and its perverse views on sexuality.

The suffocating Ireland of the time was a land in which anything of a sexual nature outside marriage was treated with horror and anger and seen as deeply shameful. 

As a result, the lives of so many people -- not just those in institutions -- were damaged by the twisted teachings of the church on sex, on masturbation, purity, "company-keeping," "impure thoughts," and all the other nonsense.    

Behind the facade of Holy Catholic Ireland in the first four or five decades of our newly independent state was an ugly hidden reality.  Behind all the daily Communions, the weekly Confessions, the Masses, the devotions, the First Fridays, the family rosaries, the Children of Mary, the Sodalities, and all the rest of the mumbo jumbo, young unmarried women who got pregnant were being removed from society because they had brought "shame" on their families and might "give scandal" to their neighbors.  

The nuns who ran the mothers and babies homes where many of these young women ended up were doing both God's work, as they saw it, and the state's work, since some refuge had to be provided for these "unfortunates." 

The funding the state provided was woefully inadequate, which is one reason why these overcrowded institutions, riddled with infections and short of proper nutrition, became death camps for so many babies.

This was to some degree deliberate. There was a strong punitive aspect to how both the church and the Irish state ran these institutions, with life on the inside deliberately made hard and the inmates made to feel a crippling sense of shame and encouraged to repent.   

These days we are horrified by beatings, acid attacks and "honor killings" in Muslim countries designed to keep women in line with a particular code of morality. But Ireland in the very recent past had its own code and a similarly repressive mindset.  

We may not have stoned women to death, but we incarcerated them in awful conditions and took away their babies, destroying lives and creating great suffering.  We had our own Taliban of the Tabernacle.  

And before anyone thinks we are way past all that now, we need to remember that the latest figures show that at least 10 Irish women EVERY DAY are leaving this country because they cannot get pregnancy terminations in Ireland. 

We're far too holy for any of that abortion stuff they have in the U.K. and Europe, you see.

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Casting a fresh eye on the Tuam controversy


Opinion: ‘Is it possible to ask for reflection without risking condemnation as a fellow-traveller?’

'In 1935, while the Tuam babies were being swept away by catastrophic measles and whooping cough epidemics and the types of debility that continue to kill the poor and the marginalised, a criminal court judge was pondering

‘In 1935, while the Tuam babies were being swept away by catastrophic measles and whooping cough epidemics and the types of debility that continue to kill the poor and the marginalised, a criminal court judge was pondering “the awful plague of infanticide . . . over-running the country at the present time”. ’ Above, the memorial on the site of the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A visit from the sincerely unloved parish priest was the last thing we needed after a hellish winter’s night holding a bellowing, colicky newborn by her armpits to quell the pain. I cowered nearby while my husband diverted him. But the sonorous voice travelled over several rooms: “There’s nothing as evil as an evil woman,” he boomed, about a case that was making the papers at the time.

His next visit was to acknowledge the birth of a second girl-child. In the bafflingly long, uncomfortable silence, he peeled an orange before heading for the door, signing off with a prayerful: “Ah shur mebbe it’ll be a little boy the next time.”

Yes, I have baggage where the institutional church is concerned. Most of us do, back through multiple generations. Vile misogyny is only the half of it. But as the media gallops away on another Dan Brown- style Angels and Demons blockbuster, it is all starting to sound a little too convenient.

When the kneejerk response to honest reporters or objective historians is a snorted “the cover-up begins”; when it requires real bravery to mildly suggest that perhaps critics might look at historical context, it starts to look a lot like bullying. To see this directed atIrish Times journalists – usually unfairly cast as the cheerleaders of the anti-church regiments – is almost amusing. Is it possible to ask for reflection without risking condemnation as a fellow-traveller?


Older children

One popular narrative is that those 796 children who died in the Tuam home between 1925 and 1961 were babies still in swaddling clothes. In fact, well over a fifth of them were more than a year old.


There were at least 13 children aged three and over and they were by no means the oldest. There were two nine-year-olds, an eight-year- old, a seven-year-old, a five- year-old and a four-year-old. All girls, oddly. Is that just a coincidence? Was it only girls who were permitted to stay? Were they being lined up for the laundries or was there simply no one to claim them? If there were that many older children among the dead, how many were among the living?

Clearly, there are complexities beyond the narrative of forced adoptions. Where were the parents of these older children? Why did so many of them (about a sixth of the total) call their babies Mary? Was it the default choice of the nuns?

Yet the demon nuns hardly conjured up names like Sabina Pauline and Sheila Madeline. Or Fabian (not the teen idol of that name, who was only two at the time). Or Thecla.

Above all, where were the fathers? About a dozen of the Tuam babies died with congenital syphilis. Who fathered James Frayne, dead at one month? Or Vincent Keogh? Or Josephine Tierney? Or Mary Margaret Finnegan? Or Joseph McWilliam? Or George Gavin? Or John Keane? Or Mary Elizabeth Lydon? Or Vincent Garaghan? Or Mary Kate Ruane? Or Josephine Mahoney?


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Ireland's portrayal of itself as the purest, holiest or richest country has brought us lies and exclusion




Opinion: Why Irish delusions of being the ‘best’ gives the worst result

'Eamon de Valera openly claimed this unmatched holiness would do nothing less than save the world:

‘Eamon de Valera openly claimed this unmatched holiness would do nothing less than save the world: “Ireland today has no dearer hope than this: that, true to her own holiest traditions, she may humbly serve the truth and help by truth to save the world”.’ Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images


Meet an egomaniac and you know you are also meeting a deeply insecure person. People who are uncertain about themselves sometimes deal with their anxiety by creating an exaggerated image of superiority.

And it is the same with countries – our own for example. There is a certain irony to Ireland’s badness – it arises in part from delusions of grandeur. This place became so vicious partly because of a hysterical insistence on its unique virtue – a habit of mind that has never gone away.

It’s easy to understand why Catholic Ireland became so hyper-virtuous. A long history of denigration, humiliation and subjection creates a profound distortion. It is not enough to be as good as anybody else – you have to be better, indeed the best: uniquely wonderful. But this fantasy is not harmless. At best, it feeds a deluded detachment from reality. At worst, you have to hide, exclude, deny, those who threaten to spoil the picture of perfection.

Stalin’s Soviet Union, independent Ireland did not actually exterminate the spoilers of its unique purity. But it did get rid of them – mostly through emigration but also, notoriously, in its vast system of “coercive confinement”: industrial schools, Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes and mental hospitals.


‘Impure’ women

Thus, the appalling treatment of “impure” women in these institutions was a direct consequence of the insistence that Irish femininity was uniquely pure. This was a key point of national difference: England seethed with sex and sin, Ireland was a paradise of continence and virginity.


This unique virtue in turn compensated for the real economic failures of the new State – what did it matter that we were poor, backward and exporting half our population? Our values were not material but spiritual. And, as Eamon de Valera openly claimed, this unmatched holiness would do nothing less than save the world: “Ireland today has no dearer hope than this: that, true to her own holiest traditions, she may humbly serve the truth and help by truth to save the world.”

This fantasy may have been risible, but for those who had to be locked away to keep it alive it was no laughing matter.


Naive past

But let’s not continue the delusion by patronisingly sneering at the naive past. The insecure nation’s need to construct an exaggerated notion of its own specialness is just as evident in the last two decades as it was in the 1930s or 1940s. It’s there, of course, in the continuing insistence that we’re the holiest country in the world because we don’t allow abortion for women who have been raped. But it was also a large part of the psychosis of the Celtic Tiger years.





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County homes took harsh toll on 'unmarried mothers'


Hard unpaid labour was part of the price mothers paid for basic shelter for themselves and their babies

Candles are lit during a march from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Mespil Road to the Dáil, in solidarity with the babies and mothers from Tuam  and all other homes. Photograph: Colin Keegan

Candles are lit during a march from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, Mespil Road to the Dáil, in solidarity with the babies and mothers from Tuam and all other homes. Photograph: Colin Keegan

In 1925, the medical officer of the Kerry County Home recommended 22 of the institution’s “unmarried mothers” receive two extra eggs daily because they were “required to perform work of an objectionable nature”.

When the department of local government and public health inquired further, the religious matron of the home, Sr Gerard, described the women’s harsh work regimes.

She informed the department there were no paid ward maids and the women were “engaged from 12 to 14 hours” in labour every day. The institution housed up to 400 patients: the majority were elderly and those suffering from long-term chronic sickness, mental illness and intellectual disabilities, and in need of frequent care.

In turn, the “unmarried mothers” carried out much of the manual labour in the home including cleaning, washing and laundry. The matron highlighted that much of this work was “so filthy and unhealthy” it was “almost inhuman” – particularly as the institution had no laundry machine and many of the patients were incontinent – and that some of the women were “almost physical wrecks”.


Stricter regimes

County homes were multifunctional healthcare and welfare institutions. These differed in many ways from mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries, where disciplinary regimes were far stricter and based on redemptive morality.


Mother and baby homes such as Bessborough in Cork city were designed for women with one “illegitimate” child – or “first offenders” – who were often considered “hopeless cases” whose moral character could be redeemed. Many of the women in county homes had more than one “illegitimate” child. These were“repeat offenders” and subjected to the harshest attitudes.

Although the 1927 Poor Law Commission recommended that such “degraded cases” be fully removed from county homes and placed in a new network of institutions for “repeat offenders”, financially straitened local authorities were unwilling to invest in separate institutions.

So large numbers of “unmarried” mothers and children remained in county homes despite the protestations of many, including the matron of the Kerry home. On March 31st, 1943, there were 583 “unmarried women” in 31 county homes in Ireland, compared to 352 in the three mother and baby homes run by the Order of the Sacred Heart – Bessborough in Cork City, Sean Ross in Roscrea and Manor Home in Castlepollard – and 201 in Tuam and Pelletstown combined.


Menial work

Problematically, these women continued to carry out much of the menial work in the homes, and their unpaid labour helped to keep the the local rates down: this was legal under the public assistance laws.


By 1949, the interdepartmental commission into county homes commented on how unmarried women did in a “large part the hard domestic work” of such institutions.

A combination of government inertia, parsimonious ratepayers and the wider social environment that gave unmarried mothers limited options ensured these women remained in county homes.

Furthermore, county homes were interconnected with mother and baby homes, Magdalene asylums and voluntary-run institutions and women were often transferred between these institutions.

County homes also housed a large number of children, many of whom were sent to industrial schools or more commonly boarded out in what was an early fostering service.

On March 31st, 1943, 2,330 children were boarded out by local authorities, 1,425 children were in local authority institutions – primarily county homes – and 685 were in external voluntary institutions.

While boarded-out children were the focus of local and central government inspection, criticisms were prevalent that they were often used for domestic service and as agricultural labourers.


All aspects

While today’s Government decides on the nature of any potential inquiry into mother and baby homes, it is apparent that all aspects of local authority provision for unmarried mothers and children need to be fully considered.


County homes, a hangover from the workhouse system, were peculiar institutions that housed not just “unmarried mothers” and children, but large numbers of the “aged” poor, “infirm”, mentally ill and intellectually disabled in independent Ireland.

On March 31st, 1943, county homes had a population close to 8,000. These were deeply unpopular with the wider population and remained highly stigmatising. Conditions were bare.

Low standards

One government inspector in 1949 commented on the “low standards of comfort and amenities” in the wards and believed the atmosphere was one of “penury”. He also noted that elderly male residents lacked interest in their surroundings and sat in the day room “motionless and often silent”. The chronic sick were described as “apathetic”.


While Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan’s fear of any potential inquiry descending into a “bottomless quagmire” is somewhat understandable, much deeper understandings of Ireland’s institutional past, complex social history and treatment of the vulnerable in the 20th century are needed.

Dr Seán Lucey is research fellow (AHRC) at the school of history and anthropology, Queen’s University Belfast


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Survivors Website


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Just go to our website, click on the icon when we’re online and it will take you through to a chat box to start talking to us.
The web chat service is rather like our telephone helpline service with national reach providing emotional support to male survivors of sexual violation, their friends, family and advice for professionals. The service is staffed by trained senior helpliners and volunteers with experience in this specific area. 
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How volunteer lawyers joined quest for Magdalene justice


Some argue that work of that nature should not have relied on volunteerism

Magdalene survivors Marina Gambold (left) and Maureen Sullivan after meeting with Enda Kenny last year. In order to deliver his report, Mr Justice John Quirke was assisted by 33 barristers who, over five weeks, talked to the 337 Magdalene survivors. photograph: bryan o'brien

Magdalene survivors Marina Gambold (left) and Maureen Sullivan after meeting with Enda Kenny last year. In order to deliver his report, Mr Justice John Quirke was assisted by 33 barristers who, over five weeks, talked to the 337 Magdalene survivors. photograph: bryan o’brien

Mon, Jun 16, 2014, 01:10

In April last year they began making the first tentative phone calls. Hundreds of women with the same and yet infinitely different experiences answered to tell their stories, share their concerns, say what they needed.

There was a sense that history was being made or put to rest but above all, belated justice-in-action on a scale never before seen.

In order to deliver his Magdalene Commission Report, Mr Justice John Quirke was assisted by 33 barristers who, over five weeks, began to talk to the 337 Magdalene survivors who wished to participate in a process designed to address the issue of compensation.

It was the largest pro-bono project ever conducted by the Bar Council of Ireland and while there was nothing in the way of litigation as it was a non-adversarial process, the barristers - who had to be women - were chosen because of their experience in dealing with sensitive cases and their professional approach to confidentiality.

The process itself appears organic; the women contacted were invited to talk and share at their own pace and to whatever degree they felt comfortable with.

Information gathered would shed invaluable light on their history, create a vital context toward the issue of compensation.

Yet some difficult questions arise about how all this was achieved.

“He [Mr Justice Quirke] felt it was very important to focus on the needs of the women themselves obviously but the only way in order to do that was to set up some sort of system through which their needs could be heard and voiced,” explains Tricia Sheehy Skeffington, one of the volunteer barristers.

“It was really about them, not what we wanted from them. We also wanted them to be able to voice the hurt that they had suffered; the abuse that they suffered but we weren’t engaging in any testing.

“We would listen and take on board the information where it was appropriate but we would have been guided by what the women needed from the conversation.”


Resources and time were limited. The barristers, who volunteered with the facilitation of Turlough O’Donnell SC, had to find pertinent information: what the women required, such as health needs, housing and pensions among others. They had worked for free in the laundries.


In his own report Mr Justice Quirke puts the process like this: “This conversation was intended to be both an information gathering process and, more importantly, an opportunity for the Magdalene women to convey directly to the commission and to me, who they were, where they were, what their circumstances were and what could be done to assist them and make their lives more comfortable.”

To reach this end, the barristers were provided with training from the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in how to interact with the women and since the completion of the report, their testimonies have been destroyed. This was not a historical documentary exercise.

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Call to extend inquiry to mental homes


About 33,000 patients died in overcrowded institutions between 1930s and 1950s

St Ita's psychiatric hospital in Portrane, north Dublin

St Ita’s psychiatric hospital in Portrane, north Dublin

Research shows that 33,000 patients died in overcrowded and disease-ridden psychiatric hospitals between the late 1920s and early 1960s, with death rates significantly higher than in the general community.

The State also had the highest rate of admissions to mental hospitals recorded anywhere in the world at the time, peaking in the late 1950s, when more than 20,000 people were resident in these institutions.

Mind Freedom Ireland, which campaigns for the rights of psychiatric patients, said the proposed inquiry should examine the role of mental hospitals in wrongfully detaining healthy individuals.

“The inquiry should include the sub-human treatment of people in psychiatric institutions . . . including involuntary detention, seclusion, four-point restraint and forced treatment including the administration of electroshock against a person’s will,” said the group.

Dr Eoin O’Sullivan, associate professor in social policy at Trinity College Dublin, said there was merit in examining what happened in psychiatric hospitals, given the role they played as part of Ireland’s system of “coercive confinement”.

“There is a need to look at the wide range of other institutions which operated to confine and regulate unwanted people,” he said.

Social dumping grounds

He said many patients did not have a mental illness, but ended up in social dumping grounds for those who did not “fit in”, often due to disability, addiction or tension within families.

Prof Brendan Kelly, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin, said it was important to note key differences between the way mental hospitals and mother and baby homes were run.

There were annual State inspections of the psychiatric system – with reports made publicly available – while many of the old hospitals were well integrated into the community.

Prof Kelly said it was also important to bear in mind the historical context in which care decisions took place.

Families in many cases opted not to take patients home because they could not care for a mentally ill or disabled person in their home, he said.

“That is not to say these people should have been institutionalised for as long as they were or at all . . . but sometimes the only option the State offered was custodial care,” said Prof Kelly.

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We must shed light on a dark past



OVER the past few weeks we have all been flabbergasted by the Tuam Mother and Child Home controversy.

It has shed some light on what appears to be a dark past that not only treated women as second class citizens but allowed their children to suffer and die in circumstances that are not imaginable in today’s society.

It would appear that mother and baby homes are not the only places that have mass graves, which begs the question as to whether or not other homes, such as the Magdalene laundries and industrial schools, will be included.

In 1993 a mass exhumation was carried out at one of the biggest Magdalene Laundries in Dublin known as High Park, run by The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. The discovery of over 155 bodies led to a public outcry, but 21 years on we still don’t know who these women were and how they die

It would appear that the women exhumed are not the women they had permission to exhume, and out of the 155 names listed on the licence only 103 match that licence.

It is estimated that over 1000 Magdalene women are buried in Mass graves throughout Ireland in Cork, Limerick, Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Wexford.

I think it’s crucial that the Minister for Justice comes out and gives a guarantee that the Magdalene Laundries will be included in any statutory inquiry that looks at establishing the facts around mass graves and mother and baby homes.

It is shocking to think that all this time the identity of these women still remains unknown.

In Ireland we seem to have a habit of half-heartedly doing something. This is an opportunity to face head on our past and finally lay to rest the ongoing misery that surrounds these institutions. We need to allow these mothers and children move on with their lives safe in the knowledge that what happened shouldn’t have happened and it will never happen again.

The right thing to do here is exhume all the bodies in mother and baby homes, industrial schools & Magdalene Laundries. We need to set aside a dedicated plot of land and rebury these people side by side. We need to afford them the same right in death as we should have in life. We need to ensure that each of these graves has an individual head stone, name and date of when the person lived and died. This is the right thing to do!

We need to free their souls and their spirit of this terrible injustice because, as I said before, each life is precious.

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Call for UN role in mother-and-baby inquiry



 The rally at Cork City Hall in support of a public inquiry into the mother-and-baby homes scandal.  Picture: Des Barry

The UN must be involved in any inquiry into Ireland’s mother-and-baby homes scandal, a rally in Cork was told yesterday.

Touched by the Tuam babies tragedy, mother- of-five Fiona O’Leary said she organised the event at City Hall in an effort to ramp up public pressure on the Government to establish a full and independent public inquiry.

“This is a human rights issue. I live in Ireland and I can’t sit back and ignore this kind of atrocity. It hurts,” she said.

“I didn’t want to do a vigil because I think we’ve done enough praying. We need to move forward and help these women get some kind of closure.

“The Irish are very complacent about things. We complain again, again and again but we don’t actually get out there and do things. But this is the beginning of something.”

She urged the 60 or so people who gathered outside City Hall, some clutching teddy bears, others holding placards calling for ‘justice for women’, to lobby TDs until a full public inquiry is established.

Rose Brian-Harrington, whose great-aunt, Esther Harrington, spent 70 years in religious-run institutions until her death in the Good Shepherd Convent in Cork in 1987, aged 83, said previous scandals in this country have proved that the State and the Church cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. “The UN must oversee this report to establish the full facts,” she said.

“We must also investigate land alongside every Church-owned site, orphanage, and industrial school. There are more bodies buried out there. If this kind of thing happened during war-time, it would be a war crime.”

Institutional abuse survivor Oliver Burke, chairman of Munster Survivors Support Services, said: “It is time to admit that this is Ireland’s holocaust. We need a full, independent public inquiry — not a whitewash.”

Sinn Féin TD Sandra McClellan, who raised the issue under Leader’s Questions in the Dáil on Thursday, said the Tuam babies grave scandal had sent shock waves around the world.

“We knew that this wasn’t an isolated case. It would have been replicated across other mother-and-baby homes around the country,” she said.

She said that, since the story broke, she has spoken to women trying to access their children, to children trying to access their parents, and has heard allegations of physical abuse in the homes, and concerns from people who were subject to vaccine trials in the homes.

The Government has said an interdepartmental group will look at the issue and report to the children’s minister before the end of this month, with plans to draft terms of reference for a commission of inquiry before the Dáil recess.

Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power said the Government must act now to give all adoptees a right to their birth certificates.

Ms Power, who was adopted from Dublin’s Temple Hill Mother and Baby Home, said conditions in the homes were only half the story. “The forced separation of thousands of mothers and babies was just as shameful and continues to cause immense pain to many people to this day,” she said.

“By denying adoptees access to their birth certs, the Irish State has robbed them of their identities.”

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Fighting for justice



Kathy Ferguson (Letters, June 12) is right. We are in the year 2014 and the abuse still goes on.

People who were placed in these hell holes for all there childhood years cannot get their medical file or anything about their families. I am a lady of 81 years and I don’t know if I was given the right name.

Your letter gave me hope that more people in Ireland may fight for justice.

Mary Henderson — Cornish 
St James Rd 

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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Prime Time - Anatomy of a Scandal



Monday 09 June 2014 20.40

'Illegimate' babies were used for used for medical research.
'Illegimate' babies were used for used for medical research.

 ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ was an investigation into medical research and vaccine trials carried out on children and babies in Mother & Baby homes and other institutions until 1973.  During the making of the programme we uncovered a number of previously unknown trials.  However we also stumbled across the truly shocking story of ‘illegimate’ babies who didn’t survive.

Sally Mulready was one of four siblings born in Mother and Baby homes around 1950. Her Mother was a  waitress and home help, called Sheila Deasy.   When she became pregnant, it was to a former workhouse called St Pat’s on Dublin’s Navan Road that she was sent.  St Pat’s was a former workhouse, with high rates of child mortality, in common with other Mother and Baby homes at the time.

In 1947 Sally’s brother John died in St Pat’s.  He was two months’ old.  The record of his death tells us that he died of ‘inanition’ or ‘failure to thrive’.  His records also note  that he was not buried for three years.  Initially dismissed as a clerical error, it soon became apparent that he was not alone.  The cemetery logbook recorded a series of entries, with John Deasy among them, as ‘AS’.    This turned out to stand for ‘Anatomical Study’.    John’s baby body had been used for medical research by anatomy students at Trinity.  There is no record that the consent of his mother was sought or given.

During the making of ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ we discovered that the bodies of four hundred and sixty ‘illegimate’ infants had been sent to anatomy laboratories between 1940 and 1965.  The practise may have been a macabre echo of the workhouse practise of sending unclaimed cadavers to Medical Schools, where they were in short supply, highly valued.   The difference of course was that these bodies had, for the most part, living mothers.   The Daughters of Charity which ran St Pat’s said they had no knowledge of this practise.    Yet its continuation until so recently tells us something of the value placed on women and children in these institutions.

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Please read this yourselves

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They adopted me out with an instruction book,' says Ms Lawlor


'We can offer a better class of baby with a good background': The 1961 letter from nuns to adoptive parents

  • Nuns at Sean Ross Abbey, Co. Tipperary sent letter to Mary Lawlor's parents before she was adopted in 1961
  • Letter sheds light on attitudes towards children of poorer single mothers
  • 'They adopted me out with an instruction book,' says Ms Lawlor


One woman who knows the truth of how nuns in Ireland of the late 1950s handled the children entrusted to their care is Mary Lawlor, who was adopted out by the nuns at Sean Ross Abbey, Co. Tipperary.

Letters she obtained from her adoptive parents detailing how she was given to them also sheds light on the nuns' attitudes towards children of poorer single mothers.

The nuns cautioned the prospective parents not to pick a child of the ‘wrong class’, and to take a young child as ‘the better class girl has to leave here quickly so as not to be detected in her sorrow’. 

Shocking: The letter sent to Mary Lawlor's adopted parents from Sean Ross Abbey, Co. Tipperary.

Shocking: The letter sent to Mary Lawlor's adopted parents from Sean Ross Abbey, Co. Tipperary.




In a letter dated July 26, 1961, sent to the adoptive parents of Mary Lawlor, the sister in charge of the Roscrea institution reads:

Cherry-picked: Mary Lawlor was adopted as a baby in the 1960s. Here she is shown today

Cherry-picked: Mary Lawlor was adopted as a baby in the 1960s. Here she is shown today


'We had a wonderful reference from your priest and we think you should take a baby over six months… the baby will be brought up just as you would bring your own child up and a child of two years has been too long in an institution to fall easy into your ways. We have a very nice little girl Mary Margaret who is of good background and very intelligent,’ the nun wrote.




Speaking to the Irish Mail on Sunday, Mary Lawlor said the nuns also gave her adoptive parents a book detailing how to look after a baby.

'They were picking and choosing babies, so the older ones – who would have needed a bit more
support – ended up being left there because the nuns were putting people off them.

'They adopted me out with an instruction book. It's a pity the nuns did not read it beforehand.'

In a follow-up letter on August 12, 1961, the nuns wrote again to Mary’s family to organise her adoption.

It reads: 'It's much better for you not to come here as you could be known and in order to save any unpleasant contact later on for the child.’

Mary Lawlor was instrumental in organising the first annual memorial at Sean Ross Abbey last weekend with fellow adoptee Edel Byrne. The ceremony included readings from those affected by forced adoptions.

One of the letters Ms Lawlor obtained from her adoptive parents detailing how she was given to them

One of the letters Ms Lawlor obtained from her adoptive parents detailing how she was given to them


'We believe there are 700 or more babies also buried on the grounds of Sean Ross Abbey. We want all of the children and their families who were all affected by this terrible period in time to be remembered. We also want a full inquiry, a criminal investigation and compensation for victims.'

Another adoptee Mari Steed, one of Ireland’s so-called 'banished babies', has also provided the MoS with adoption letters from Rev. Mother Barbara of the Sacred Heart Convent in Bessboro, Co. Cork. 

On May 8, 1962, the nun wrote: 'Our expense for this adoption amounted to 160 dollars so we would appreciate a check (sic) as soon as you can after getting Mary Teresa...'

'They adopted me out with an instruction book': Ms Lawlor pictued in 1961 as a baby

'They adopted me out with an instruction book': Ms Lawlor pictued in 1961 as a baby




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Mother-and-baby inquiry 'should cover other institutions'


Government urged to uphold UN Human Rights principles and rulings of European Court

Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan: announced establishment of Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes last week. File Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan: announced establishment of Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes last week. File Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Magdalene laundries and County Homes should be included in terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes , four advocacy groups have said.

In a joint statement tonight, the groups also called for the investigation, announced last week by Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan, to be carried out by an independent commission, including at least one international expert.

In a statement, Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR), Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA), Bethany Survivors Group and the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), called on on the Government “to meet international best practice requirements” in the proposed Commission of Investigation by including the Magdalene laundries and county homes.

Katherine O’Donnell of JFMR said the inclusion of the Magdalene laundries was “absolutely essential to ensuring that the truth of what happened in all of these institutions is brought to light”.

Boston College Prof James Smith, also of JFMR, said the terms of reference of the McAleese committee, which investigated the Magdalene laundries, did not allow it to investigate individual complaints of abuse or examine fully the religious orders’ financial records.

ARA spokeswoman Susan Lohan said it was imperative, given the international dimension to forced adoptions, that there is an international expert in the field involved with the investigation.

Niall Meehan of the Bethany group it was vital that “transparency, accountability and a commitment to ensuring that the experiences and testimonies of survivors, their next of kin and representative groups are placed at the heart of the investigation”.

Rachel Doyle of NWCI said there must be no attempt to minimise physical or psychological abuse. “Survivor testimonies must be the most important resource in the inquiry,” she said.

JFMR’s Maeve O’Rourke said the four groups’ demands were informed by rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and principles established by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“We are calling on the Irish Government to uphold these principles in carrying out this investigation to ensure that truth and justice prevail in the interests of survivors, their families and of Irish society,” she said.

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'Surprise' at inaction on illegal adoptions



A UN body said last year it was "surprised" that the issue of illegal adoptions and vaccine trials in mother and baby homes had not been dealt with.

In an email to the Adoption Rights Alliance last September, Jean Claude Vignoli, programme director of the Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council, praised the group’s submission to Ireland’s fourth periodic report to the UN Committee on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“I took a look at your report, and I am quite surprised no state did raise your issues; your report was of high quality, very well drafted,” said Mr Vignoli. “Did you lobby the states in order to encourage them to make recommendations according to adoptions issues?”

The report, which was also sent to the director of Human Rights and United Nations at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Colin Wrafter, in May 2012, cited a total of 14 articles of the covenant which the State was in breach of.

The ARA submission stated that Irish adopted people continue to be “denied the right to know their families of origin, their own original name, their natural mother’s name, their place of birth, the circumstances which led to their adoption, and their early care and medical treatment”.

It pointed out that Ireland was in breach of Article 2.3 of the covenant “in relation to the unauthorised and illegal vaccine trials that took place in mother-and-baby homes” and was further in breach by “colluding in the arbitrary incarceration of women and girls in mother-and-baby homes and by failing to provide an effective remedy to survivors”.

ARA also said Ireland was further in breach of the covenant by denying Irish people trafficked to the US a right to their nationality.

“The 2000-plus Irish children trafficked by various church-run adoption agencies to the United States, Canada, England, and other locations in contravention of Irish adoption law from the 1930s to the 1970s have been denied their Irish nationality, in fact some have no knowledge at all that they were born Irish citizens,” said the submission.

ARA had been calling for a statutory inquiry like the one announced by children’s minister Charlie Flanagan this week for over a decade.

A 131-page dossier calling for a statutory inquiry into the homes, vaccine trials, and forced and illegal adoptions arranged in such institutions was presented to former children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald in 2011.

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From empire's rule to the vice-like grip of Rome: Irish did Church's bidding over Tuam



THE Ryan and Cloyne reports into child abuse in the Catholic Church could be seen in simple black and white terms: It was easy to loathe the abusers and the parish priests and bishops who colluded to protect them, to shudder at how bereft and powerless the child victims were, and at the torment of parents when they learned what had gone on around them.

But, following Martin McAleese’s Magdalene report last year, the lines began to blur. We saw that 25% of women sent to the laundries had been referred by an arm of the State, 8.8% by priests, and a notable 10.5% by families. We saw how Church, State, and families were complicit in subjugating, degrading, and dehumanising young girls who had fallen foul of Catholic and therefore societal, norms.

The uproar about conditions in mother-and- baby homes over the past number of weeks has underscored this theme — with the finger increasingly pointed at the families and communities that wanted these pregnant women and their babies out of view; who shoved crying girls through the front door of these homes in the dead of night, expected them to feed, care for, and love a child for a year and then to hand their child to a stranger without question.

Nowhere is this blinkered, ignorant, craven supplication and groupthink better illustrated than in the Twitter feed of @limerick1914, where Limerick librarian and historian Liam Hogan posts excerpts from regional newspapers, local authority, and public health archives.

A Tuam Herald report revealed how, in 1907, the Carlow Board of Guardians wholeheartedly approved the Viceregal Commission’s recommendation that all unmarried mothers who had two or more children should be detained at the workhouse. These women were seen as beyond redemption.

In 1924, a Connaught Telegraph journalist wrote of how the “children of misfortune” at a County Galway mother-and-baby home should remain in the home rather than be boarded out “where they might learn of their origins before they had been given the opportunity to outlive it and to form their character”.

A 1922 Connaught Tribune article illustrates how a girl who tried to kill herself with a razor was sentenced to six months in jail or to report at a Magdalene laundry until she was “medically fit”.

Much of this petty, ignorant snobbishness was dressed up in Catholic dogma — with a 1926 Connaught Tribune article on a Board of Health meeting showing how “paying customers” objected to giving birth alongside unmarried women.

Then excerpts from a 1927 County Galway Committee meeting showed how its chairman, Canon MacAlinney, concluded “we have reached a great depth of evil” when the number of unmarried mothers using the hospital increased from an average of three or four to 11 the previous month. At around the same time, a County Galway Meeting asked for a separate ward to be built for the women as they might “remove the stigma or prejudice that some people have against the maternity hospital”.

And then, in 1928, an article in the Anglo Celt revealed how the Local Government Department Minister had written to mother-and-baby homes asking that matrons have discretion about whether an unmarried mother should leave the county home as “it appeared that several women had been shown leniency by the Board... and had returned subsequently with a second illegitimate child”.

Against all this contempt stood the former minister for health, Dr Noel Browne, who in 1975, said that the Canon Law attitude to illegitimate children was “cruel, repressive and totally unjust”, adding: “It was impossible to say what suffering was caused by the monumental stupidity and insensitivity.”

To have death rates of 30%-50% in mother-and-baby homes in Tuam, Cork, and Westmeath in the 1930s and 1940s was outrageous. However, what was more appalling was that these religious orders were just providing a service requested by the newly independent Irish State and in very many ways, their attitudes just mirrored the view of society at large, a society that happily wanted to define its new, hard-won independence by replacing rule by London with rule by Rome.

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Magdalene survivors to get pension top-up



Survivors of Magdalene laundries will begin to receive enhanced pensions and weekly top-up payments from the Department of Social Protection in the coming week, as part of the redress package designed by Mr Justice John Quirke.

More than 400 women have already received €12.4m in lump sum payments in recognition of the years of unpaid labour they provided for the religious orders. Approximately 200 more are still awaiting offers of payment.

Their pensions will also be upgraded to the €230 contributory State pension if they are aged 66 or over. If they are aged under 66, they will receive payments of €100 per week until they reach 66. Payments, which will be introduced on a phased basis, will be backdated to August last year.

Legislation has not been put in place yet to give women enhanced medical cards similar to those available to women infected by Hepatitis C from infected blood products.

The four orders who ran the laundries — the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, Good Shepherd Sisters, and Sisters of Charity — all refused to contribute to the redress scheme.

Meanwhile, Stephen O’Riordan of Magdalene Survivors Together has said the women were “shafted” by the Department of Justice’s failure to establish a commission of investigation to examine what happened in the laundries.

Mr O’Riordan is now calling for the Department to “establish the full facts around the laundries” and the “treatment endured” by the women through a statutory commission of investigation.

Last year, Mr O’Riordan said he did not believe a statutory inquiry “would be beneficial” as the members of his group, aged 60-97, believed “that everything that needs to be articulated has been articulated already”.

The State’s involvement in the laundries was investigated via an interdepartmental inquiry rather than by a full-blown commission with statutory powers to compel information from the religious orders. Its terms of reference did not include potential breach of human rights.

Earlier this week, Justice for Magdalenes Research, which for years had been calling for a statutory investigation into the laundries, asked that the laundries be included in the terms of reference of the mother-and-baby home investigation.

“The need is clear: There was huge traffic between mother-and-baby homes and Magdalene Laundries; the McAleese Committee did not retain records received from the religious orders responsible for operating the Magdalene Laundries; the McAleese Committee’s terms of reference did not allow it to investigate individual complaints of abuse or examine fully the religious orders’ financial records; and all religious orders responsible for the Magdalene Laundries have refused to apologise or provide compensation,” said JFMR’s Mari Steed.

“The independent investigation was a joke, the Quirke report was equally a joke and the whole redress process has just been too slow. We also have women who are being told to verify with the nuns, the dates that they were in laundries. They are being sent by the Department back to their abusers.

“ If the investigation had been statutory such documentation could have been compelled.”

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on the Vatican to investigate the Magdalene Laundries so those responsible for the abuse suffered in the institutions can be prosecuted.

Last May, the UN Committee Against Torture, criticised the report by Martin McAleese as “incomplete” and lacking “many elements of a prompt, independent, and thorough investigation”.

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Ireland's sorrow and our shame



Tuam babies burial site

Can one express with deep sorrow and regret what has happened in Ireland since it gained its independence.

And what we have read over the last two weeks.

The Irish Government gave the Catholic Church the right to decide that women, babies and children that were born out of wedlock and born in the Bethany homes were less then subhuman, and decided women who wore a habit and swore an allegiance to God were the best people to look after babies and children.

These women’s births, deaths, baptism certificates are all missing.

They were used in vaccine trials.

Children were charged and sentenced, sent through the courts for a bounty to the industrial schools for up to 16 years, where their welfare was never checked.

Children were sent to Magdalene Laundries and mental homes.

Then we have Éamon de Valera in 1939 bring out his own starving order, re-enacted it again after the war in 1945 with venom.

People who joined the British forces suffered an emergency order made by the Irish Government to penalise certain named deserters from its armed forces.

Their children were then sentenced to the industrial schools. The Government gave the British Government the bill for the children and the British government paid.

This information went on to your committal papers when children were sent to the industrial schools, and that you were illegitimate like it states on mine. But no country of birth.

There were also a lot of foreign children put into these industrial schools. Yet there are no details for the above mentioned about this in the child abuse commissions report.

Operation Shamrock was the name of a plan to bring German children to Ireland from post-Second World War Germany. Between 1945 and 1946, the Irish Red Cross Operation Shamrock resettled over a 1,000 from Germany, Austria, France, and England.

Most were later repatriated to their homelands, but some were adopted by their Irish host families. None were to be put into the industrial schools.

This happened while our own were rotting in these institutions, dying, starved, beaten, abused, working hard labour, year in and year out and still nobody cared.

I also wonder if the women in the Magdalene Laundries were allowed to vote at the elections. If not why not?

Because even after Ireland joined the EU in 1973 people were free to travel freely to EU countries.

If this same right was denied to the Magdalene women they were prisoners. So you had a state within a state, where the Government allowed this to happen and gave the religious orders the right to do what they wanted and not be accountable to anyone.

Kathy Ferguson 
Jacox Crescent 
England CV8 2NJ

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Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald orders garda report on Tuam mass grave


Friday 06 June 2014 14.02

Amnesty International has joined calls for an investigation into the deaths of almost 800 children at the mother-and-baby home
Amnesty International has joined calls for an investigation into the deaths of almost 800 children at the mother-and-baby home

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has ordered a report from An Garda Síochána on all the information it has to date on the deaths of almost 800 children at a mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.

She has also said the Department of Justice has also been liaising with the gardaí, so that the information available to them can feed into the interdepartmental process under way to examine the issue. 

She said: "Decisions about criminal investigations fall to be considered by An Garda Síochána.





"The purpose of criminal investigations is to lead to the prosecution of persons where the commission of offences has been established.

"Consideration will be given by Government on how best to proceed in the interests of all those who were affected by extremely disturbing events."

Amnesty International has joined calls for an investigation into the deaths.  

The human rights organisation said the investigation must consider whether ill-treatment, neglect or other abuses were factors in the deaths.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Amnesty Ireland Executive Director Colm O'Gorman said gaps in State investigations into alleged past abuses cause concern.

He said research carried out by Amnesty International in 2011 found that the issues of mother-and-baby homes and vaccine trials were not investigated fully.

Mr O'Gorman said: "We carried out research in 2011 ... and [mother-and-baby homes] and vaccine trials there were two issues where we identified gaps in State investigation into alleged post abuses. The other that we flagged was the Magdalene Laundries.

"We would still assert that the Government has failed to follow the recommendation of the UN Committee against Torture and put in place a proper meaningful appropriate and independent investigation into what happened in the Magdalene Laundries and that's our concern about the announcements overnight."

Mr O'Gorman said he hoped the Government would recognise its obligations under international human rights law and deal with past alleged abuses, fully and appropriately.

The human rights organisation has said the Tuam case should not be viewed in isolation, and called on the Government to investigate allegations of ill-treatment of women and children in other homes.

The Government is gathering information through an inter-departmental group to decide how to proceed on the case.  

Yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he wants to know exactly what the scale of the situation in Tuam is and whether there are similar mass graves at other sites around the country.

Mr Kenny said he asked Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan to draw together a number of officials to see what was involved and whether it was an isolated incident.

He said a decision would then be taken in terms of what was the best thing to do to deal with "yet another element of our country's past".

He said he understood the situation had been known about since 1972 and there were Dáil records relating to inspections dating back to the 1930s.

Asked whether he thought there should be an independent investigation, he said Mr Flanagan would keep him informed as what would be the best structure to put in place to look at it.

Meanwhile, the Bon Secours Sisters welcomed the Government's announcement of an investigation into what happened at the home in Co Galway, which they ran for 36 years.

The bodies of hundreds of children and babies born to unmarried mothers were buried in unmarked graves at the home between 1925 and 1961.

In a statement, the Bon Secours Sisters said they were shocked and deeply saddened by recent reports about St Mary's Home.

The said when the home was closed all records were returned to the local authority, and would now be held by the HSE in Co Galway.

The sisters said they were committed to engaging with researcher Catherine Corless and the Graveyard Committee in Tuam, which assisted her in exposing the 796 deaths of children in the home.

They also said they would engage with them together with local residents as constructively as possible on the current initiative to erect a plaque and refurbish the entrance to the grave site.

A spokesperson for the Bon Secours Sisters said members of the order would certainly take part in any investigation about the home.

Keywords: tuam

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Mother and baby inquiry to go beyond Tuam - Flanagan


Religious congregations who ran facilities welcome plan for Government investigation

A Government inquiry into the mother and baby homes will not be confined to St Mary's in Tuam, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan has said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

A Government inquiry into the mother and baby homes will not be confined to St Mary’s in Tuam, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan has said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

A Government inquiry into the mother and baby homes will not be confined to St Mary’s in Tuam, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan has said.

“Tuam was not unique in Ireland as a mother and baby home. Mother and baby homes were not unique in Ireland as cold and brutal places of refuge from an unforgiving society,” he said in a statement this afternoon.

It was expected that officials will advise the Government on the best form of inquiry “before the end of the month”, he said.

“The history of mother and baby homes in Ireland in the early and middle decades of the 20th century reflects a brutally unforgiving response by society, religious and State institutions and, in many cases, families, to young women and children when they were in most need and most vulnerable,” he said. “It is fully recognised by me and my Government colleagues that we need to establish the truth,” he said.

Officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, theDepartment of Health, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education and Skills and theDepartment of EnvironmentCommunity and Local Governmentmet today to discuss issues related to the mother and baby homes and on the form of inquiry they will propose to the Government.

The Taoiseach said this evening he has asked Mr Flanagan to draw together a number of senior officials from across departments to deal with the issue.

Speaking on the matter at a jobs announcement at the head office of computer manufacturer Hewlett Packard in Palo Alto, California, on his three-day trade mission to Silicon Valley, he said:

“I have asked Minister Flanagan to draw together a number of senior officials from across the departments until we see what the scale of it is, what’s involved here and whether this is isolated, or whether there are others around the country that need to be looked at.

“It is to decide what is the best thing to do in the interests of dealing with yet another element of our country’s past.

“I understand that this has been known about since 1972 and clearly the Dáil records themselves show references to inspections under the system that operated at health level way back in the 1930s - so it is an issue that we need to deal with.

“Minister Flanagan will keep Government up to date very much with what is the best structure to put in place, to look at this and if there are others in locations elsewhere around the country.”

This afternoon the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin called for “a full bodied inquiry” into mother and baby homes in Ireland and adoptions made from them. All who had responsibility for the homes should provide “full co-operation” with such an inquiry, he said.

In a statement this afternoon, he urged “those responsible for running any of the mother and baby homes in Ireland, or any other person having information about mass graves, to give that information to the authorities.” He described details of what has emerged from Tuam over recent days as “sickening”.

In separate statements this afternoon, religious congregations who ran the mother and baby homes in Ireland welcomed the Government’s actions. The Sisters of Bons Secours, who ran the Tuam home, said they welcomed “the recent Government announcement to initiate an investigation in an effort to establish the full truth of what happened.”


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Pressure mounts for inquiry into mass baby graves



Local author JP Rodgers at a grotto in the grounds of St Mary's Mother and Baby Home where the unmarked mass grave of nearly 800 infants who died at the home in Tuam, Co Galway, from 1925-1961 rests. Picture: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he wants to know if there are more mass baby graves at mother-and-baby homes across the country.

His comments come as pressure mounts on the Government to launch an immediate independent inquiry into deaths and illegal adoptions at all of the country’s mother-and-baby homes.

Mr Kenny said the State had been aware of the issue since 1972 and there were Dáil records relating to inspections dating back to the 1930s.

Children’s Minister Charlie Flanagan has said the inter-departmental review of the mother-and-baby home scandal will not be restricted to Tuam and includes officials in departments of children, justice, health, education, and environment.

However, Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance, which has campaigned on the issue for more than a decade, said nothing short of a full independent inquiry would be sufficient.

“It’s simply not going to cut the mustard,” said Ms Lohan. “We must have a full, independent inquiry into all mother-and-baby homes and private nursing homes to uncover the scale of child deaths and illegal adoptions they arranged. Simply having departments who knew about these issues investigate themselves is not good enough.”

The Bethany Home Survivors group also supported the call for a full inquiry and demanded redress and compensation for survivors of all mother-and-baby homes.

Mother-and-baby homes were excluded from the Redress Scheme in 2005.

Meanwhile, the Sacred Heart Sisters order said it would be happy to take part in such an investigation to establish the truth about a “very sad chapter in the history of Irish society”. The statement comes after the Irish Examiner revealed that death rates at homes it operated in Bessborough in Cork, Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary, and Castlepollard in Westmeath ranged between 30% and 50% between 1930 and 1945.

The order said it did not have death certs for all children, as all deaths were properly notified to the authorities at the time.

“There was no right to a death certificate bestowed on the congregation,” said a statement.

In a statement, the Sisters of Bon Secours yesterday said they were “deeply saddened” by revelations about a mass grave at St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, which they operated in Tuam, Co Galway, from 1925 to 1961.

The Bon Secours Sisters say they are committed to engaging with local historian Catherine Corless, the Graveyard Committee and the local residents on the memorial initiative and welcomed the Government’s planned interdepartmental inquiry.

Earlier yesterday, leading forensic scientist Geoff Knuper, who works in Ireland and Britain as well as on cases of the Disappeared, told RTÉ the children’s cause of death could be determined despite it being four decades later.

“In addition to providing opportunities for DNA identification, the skeletal structures could show evidence of physical violence, of disease, even malnutrition,” said Mr Knuper.

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Tuam children's bodies: Catholic Church 'has no records'

The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, GalwayThe unmarked grave is in the grounds of a home which was run by the Catholic Church

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A Catholic archbishop in the Republic of Ireland has said the church has no records about the burial of nearly 800 children at a mother and baby home.

The remains were in a concrete septic tank at the County Galway home. The children, aged between two days and nine years, died between 1925 and 1961.

The grave in Tuam was found nearly 40 years ago, but was initially thought to be from the 1850s famine.

Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary said he was "greatly shocked" by the news.

"I was greatly shocked, as we all were, to learn of the extent of the numbers of children buried in the graveyard in Tuam.

"I was made aware of the magnitude of this situation by media reporting and historical research.

"I am horrified and saddened to hear of the large number of deceased children involved and this points to a time of great suffering and pain for the little ones and their mothers."

The home was run by nuns of the Bon Secours Sisters.

Archbishop Neary said that regardless of the time lapse involved it was a matter of great public concern that "ought to be acted upon urgently."

"As the diocese did not have any involvement in the running of the home in Tuam, we do not have any material relating to it in our archives.

"I understand that the material which the Bon Secours Sisters held, as managers of the mother and baby home, was handed over to Galway County Council and the health authorities in 1961.

"While the Archdiocese of Tuam will cooperate fully, nonetheless there exists a clear moral imperative on the Bon Secours Sisters in this case to act upon their responsibilities in the interest of the common good."

He said he would make it a priority to work with the families of the deceased, to obtain a "dignified re-interment" of the remains of the children in consecrated ground in Tuam.

Another congregation of nuns, which ran three mother and baby homes, has said it would welcome an independent inquiry into the burial of babies and children in unmarked graves.

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary ran homes in Sean Ross Abbey in County Tipperary, Bessborough near Cork city and Castlepollard, County Westmeath.

In a statement to RTÉ News, a spokesperson for the congregation said they would be happy to take part in such an inquiry to establish the truth about what it called a "very sad chapter in the history of Irish society".

'Scandal of significant proportion'

Fianna Fáil TD (member of parliament) Colm Keaveney, whose home town is Tuam, said the burial of the children in a septic tank was "horrendous" and a "scandal of significant proportion".

"I've called on the government to make a formal apology to the women involved and take whatever action necessary to unearth the truth," he said.

"We need to hear a formal statement from the taoiseach (prime minister) of this country about plans to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of these children.

"These infants were Irish citizens, their treatment and the treatment of their mothers, was grossly unacceptable."

The remains were originally thought to be those of victims of the Irish famine, however, local historian Catherine Corless found that the register of deaths and burials in the town did not match.

"I went to the births, deaths, marriages registration office in Galway and I asked them would they have records of the children who died at the home," she told the BBC.

"When she came back to me, she said, 'We have the records... but there's quite a number.'"

"I was staggered and I was shocked because there's a total number of 796 babies, children and toddlers buried in one mass grave there on that site."

Funds are now being raised to erect a permanent memorial to the dead children.

'Shocking revelations'

Ireland's Catholic Church has recently been affected by a series of allegations of abuse and neglect of children who were in its care.

The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, GalwayPeople initially thought the grave was for remains of famine victims

"Many of the revelations are deeply disturbing and a shocking reminder of a darker past in Ireland when our children were not cherished as they should have been," said Children's Minister Charlie Flanagan.

"I am particularly mindful of the relatives of those involved and of local communities."

The Tuam home was one of 10 institutions in which about 35,000 unmarried pregnant women - so-called fallen women - are thought to have been sent.

The children of these women were denied baptism and segregated from others at school. If they died at such facilities, they were also denied a Christian burial.

County Galway death records showed that most of the children buried in the unmarked grave had died of sickness or disease.

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'You became so frightened eventually you toed the line'



It was through two nuns squabbling that Mary learned a dirty needle had been used on her during her labour at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork.

It took 31 years before the Sacred Heart nuns admitted to Mary that her baby boy had died of septicaemia, writes Claire O’Sullivan

Mary*, a 17-year-old from Tipperary, knew her newborn wasn’t well. From a big family herself, she understood babies.

“I kept trying to tell the nuns that my baby was ill but they wouldn’t listen. I knew there was something wrong as he wouldn’t feed and he had always fed. Eventually they lost patience with me and stuffed the bottle down his throat, down the throat of a clearly ill baby boy. He was so beautiful, my blonde haired blue-eyed baby boy but they wouldn’t call in a doctor,” the now elderly woman whimpers.

Eventually, the nuns gave in and called for the two-week-old baby to be brought to St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork City.

But Mary wasn’t allowed to travel to hospital with her son, she wasn’t allowed to visit him — even once. When he died in hospital six weeks later, she wasn’t allowed to attend his funeral.

“I don’t know if he was buried in a coffin, if he was buried in a gown. They wouldn’t tell me anything,” she sobs.

It was through two nuns squabbling that Mary had learned that a dirty needle had been used on her during her labour at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork.

It took another 31 years and a visit to Bessborough however before the Sacred Heart nuns admitted to Mary that her baby boy had died of septicaemia.

When she then sought her son’s medical notes, she was handed a sheet of paper with 90% of the details redacted except for Mary’s name and that of her parents.

She then asked to put a plaque on her son’s grave at Bessborough and she was told “No”. There are a number of graves in the grounds of Bessborough but much of the burial area is off bounds to the public.

It was 1960 when 17-year-old Mary had discovered she was pregnant. Her first reaction was to get the boat to England as she didn’t know who to turn to in Ireland. She attended an agency in London called “Crusade of Rescue” who told her she would have to return to Ireland to give birth. They organised her stay at Bessborough and paid for a return boat journey.

Her labour took 72 hours — or three days — and she was in high fever for much of it. To this day, she has no idea why an injection was even administered to her by the nun as she was given no pain relief.

“When you arrived at Bessborough, everything was taken off you, your photos, your possessions everything and you just lived in this constant state of fear. It was consistent verbal abuse. You became so frightened eventually you toed the line”.

After her baby went to hospital, the terrified young mother was put in charge of feeding the babies who “had been left their by their mothers or who had paid the nuns to take them”.

“I just wanted to be with my own baby. I didn’t know what was happening to him, it wasn’t long after I had given birth and I still had milk but I sat there cradling other people’s babies,” she said. She was also seriously ill with abscesses covering her own body since she had given birth. “One day then, I was sent up to the labour ward and this doctor, this pig of an individual came in. I was told to lie down and then all I could see was his knife and the poison splashing from the abscesses on to the floor. When he was finished, he just walked out”. She got no further healthcare.

After her baby’s death, she was put on the boat back to England by the nuns “with nothing more than a sanitary pad”.

“When I was leaving some of the girls gave me letters to post for them but before I left the nuns sent me back to double check I hadn’t left anything in the wardrobe. When I got to a post box and opened my bag, the letters were nowhere to be seen. They had taken them from my handbag”.

One of the saddest things to hear down a phone is an elderly women crying — especially when you know that the woman is alone in a house in London, all alone with the memories of how her baby died 54 years ago.

“I’m doing this on behalf of all the women who have gone through Bessborough, all the women who went through the same thing I did,” says the old lady with the clipped English accent.

“I am doing this for my son too but I don’t want to upset everyone. All I can say is thank God for England”.

‘Every baby had some purulent infection of the skin’

When the Papal Nuncio saw the Chief Medical Officer’s report into conditions in Bessborough he said that they were right to close it.

When the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at the Department of Health closed down the Bessborough mother and baby home in the 1950s because its neglect of children had led to a spiralling death rate, the then papal nuncio complained to Éamon de Valera.

Yesterday the Irish Examiner reported how the (CMO), Dr James Deeny closed the home, sacked its matron and its medical officer when he found children were rife with staphylococcus inflection.

“The deaths had being going on for years. They had done nothing about it, had accepted the situation and were quite complacent about it,” wrote Dr Deeny in his 1989 book To Cure and To Care — Memoirs of a Chief Medical Officer.

A few days after closing the home without any legal authority, he had a visit from the nuns’ ‘man of affairs’ and then by the Dean of Cork, Monsignor Sexton. He then discovered that the then Bishop of Cork, Dr Con Lucey had complained him to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Robinson, a former millionaire stockbroker. Archbishop Robinson forwarded the complaint to then Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera.

However when the Nuncio was shown the CMO’s report he said they were ‘right in their action’ and Dr Deeny wrote “for once, the Bishop, a formidable fighting man, was silent”.

Dr Deeny had travelled to the Sacred Heart institution when he noticed that in the previous years, 100 out of the 180 babies born there had died.

“It was a beautiful institution, built onto a lovely old house just before the war, and seemed to be well run and spotlessly clean”.

“I marched up and down and around about and could not make out what was wrong; at last I took a notion and stripped all the babies and ....examined them. Every baby had some purulent infection of the skin and all had green diahorrea carefully covered up.” he said.

The Adoption Rights Alliance has said it is widely believed that many children who died in the homes had health and disability needs that were purposefully not addressed.

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Call for inquiry into deaths at Tuam mother-and-baby home


Inaction on issue ‘simply not an option for us in Government’ says junior Minister Ciarán Cannon

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that “if a public or state inquiry is not established into outstanding issues of concern surrounding the mother-and-baby homes, then it is important that a social history project be undertaken to get an accurate picture of these homes in our country’s history”. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The Tuam mother-and-baby home scandal has led to a call for “an urgent inquiry, including a Garda investigation, into the circumstances surrounding the unexplained deaths of a large number of children” there.

Making the call, Minister of State at the Department of Education, East Galway TD Ciarán Cannon, said he had spoken to Minister for Justice Frances FitzGerald and Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan on the matter.

“They have both indicated that they will be meeting with their officials this week and have suggested that a cross-departmental approach will be required to determine what is the best way to move forward on this issue. Doing nothing is simply not an option for us in Government when presented with details of this nature,” he said.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that “if a public or state inquiry is not established into outstanding issues of concern surrounding the mother-and-baby homes, then it is important that a social history project be undertaken to get an accurate picture of these homes in our country’s history”.

Archbishop Martin also said that “where there are reasonable grounds” he supports “excavating what may be unmarked graves” and “the setting up of monuments at any unmarked grave sites with, where possible, the names of those who died”.

Following research by a local Tuam historian Catherine Corless into the operation of the mother-and-baby home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours congregations there, it emerged that up to 796 children may have died at the home during the period of its operation from 1925 to 1961.

Records at Galway County Council list a very large number of deaths occurring at the home. Details are also emerging of the discovery in the 1970s of a large number of unidentified remains in a water tank close to the home, leading some to conclude that deceased children were disposed of in the tank without a proper burial or any records being kept on their interment.

Mr Cannon said: “This is turning into a horrific account of maltreatment, neglect and a complete abdication of responsibility for the care of these very vulnerable young children. With each passing day more and more questions emerge - questions which cannot be ignored and need to be answered.”

Representatives of the Sisters of Bon Secours in Ireland are to meet Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary to discuss how best to honour all who died in the home.

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Stolen childhoods and blighted lives - child abuse in industrial schools



The abuse detailed in the report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was described by Enda Kenny as 'torture, pure and simple'.

In the course of compiling her book, ‘Stolen Lives’, Bette Brown has come to believe that the abuse of children in industrial schools was one of the darkest chapters in Ireland’s history.

TOWER BRIDGE stands majestically in the morning sunlight above the Saturday strollers. Among them, Mary Collins is admiring the scene in the city of London that she now calls home but her peace is fleeting.

Fear suddenly seizes her like a physical grip on the back of her head and she is a little girl again, running with her mother through fields in Cork, escaping from hell.

“The fear goes in through the back of my head. We are running, running all the time across the fields.” Mary is just two and a half, but she can sense her mother’s desperation.

“She was escaping. She’d found me, maybe she was looking for my sister Angela too. It could be days or weeks. I remember the rain all the time and the running.”

Mary pauses, before firmly choosing her words. “They captured her. That’s really what it was. She needed help.

“They took her in. Then they captured her. They told me she was dirty, they taught me to hate her. I suffered every day because of her. I blamed her.”

Forty-five years later, Mary wrote a poem about that hatred. But by then she had uncovered many of the dark secrets of her mother’s life and of her own, and the hatred had begun to turn to compassion and one day even to love. That day, Mary found herself praying to her mother for her own son’s recovery from a near-fatal illness at the age of 16.

“I was in a church somewhere near Guy’s Hospital and I was asking her to save him. It was when I nearly lost my son that I began to feel about her. Her children had been taken from her; she had lost her three children.

“Two miracles happened. My son survived and I found my mother. The hatred they’d beaten into me, the shame about my family, was leaving me.”

Mary is one of 10 survivors of institutional abuse, ranging in age from 54 to 87, whom I interviewed for Stolen Lives, published to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the landmark Ryan Commission report on such abuse.

The book traces the horrors endured by children in the religious- run industrial institutions and breaks new ground in the chilling level of detail from survivors of the harrowing effects of the abuse on their lives as adults.

Survivors such as John Griffin, whose nightmare began in Baltimore Fishing School in the heart of West Cork.

The last time John saw his mother he was six weeks old.

Now, 55 years later, after a long search, he had tracked her down to a house in Derby in England, hoping for answers that might rid him of the terrors of institutional child abuse that still haunt him.

He had been searching for her for more than 20 years and had finally found an address for her in England.

But that morning, as John travelled to Derby from Ireland, he was still not sure if he would find his mother.

She would now be almost 90. “Maybe she wasn’t still at that address. Maybe she wasn’t even still alive,” he recalls thinking on that fateful day.

The address took him eventually to a rundown house on Bridge St in Derby. It looked bleak even in the sunshine of a summer afternoon and John felt some trepidation as he approached the house. “I didn’t know what might happen,” he recalls.

“I knocked hard on the door. There was no response. But then from upstairs I heard a window opening. A woman put her head out.

“ ‘No lodgers,’ she shouted. ‘Go away.’ ”

John began to think he was at the wrong house. “I was about to turn and leave but instead I looked up at the woman at the window.”

They could clearly see each others faces now in the bright light of the early afternoon.

“ ‘Come back here,’ she shouted. ‘You’re John, aren’t you? I’ve been waiting for you. Come in.’ ”

When the woman opened the door, she was smiling at him, telling him that the week before a fortune teller had told her he’d finally come.

“’I knew you’d come. I was waiting to die till I saw you,’” Annie Griffin told her son.

But there were no hugs. Too much pain had been endured.

When I travelled to Cork to interview John for Stolen Lives, he described the industrial institutions as “a sea of barbarism”.

The more survivors I interviewed and the more stories I heard, the more I recalled his description.

Others referred to them as being like “a concentration camp”.

That description about Artane Industrial School in Dublin, run by the Christian Brothers, came from Des Murray.

“Artane was a concentration camp,” he says quietly. “I was singled out by two Brothers, two sadists; my biggest regret is that I didn’t kill those two bastards.

“One was particularly savage. One fella I knew had a rheumatic heart but Brother B used to make him fill a wheelbarrow with stones and wheel it around the yard three or four times.”

Des had arrived in Artane at the age of 12 and a half in 1954, having already been moved through a number of institutions in Dublin.

He was the son of an unmarried mother and was born in 1941 in St Kevin’s Hospital Dublin (now St James’s).

Des witnessed sexual violence in Artane but did not encounter it directly himself. “I remember seeing a Brother on the landing and he was spotting the boys,” he says. “They carefully chose their victims. You wouldn’t see the boys going into the Brothers’ room, but sometimes you’d see them running out, screaming. They chose the vulnerable ones.”

Valentine Walsh was not so fortunate in St Joseph’s Industrial School, Tralee, Co Kerry. He was sexually and physically abused there from the ages of 9 to 13.

Valentine shows a photograph of himself as a little boy. He is seven and it is the day of his First Holy Communion. He looks very handsome, this little boy, with his dark hair and his spiffy suit and tie, but Valentine isn’t smiling.

He doesn’t ever remember a reason to smile. All Valentine remembers is the terror.

A locked door, a darkened room, and three Christian Brothers who sexually and physically abused him.

That is the world that lay in wait for the little boy in the Communion group of 1960 in St Joseph’s Industrial School, Tralee, Co Kerry.

“The first memory I have of being sexually abused by Brother D was when I was 9 or 10,” says Valentine. “He would take me into his own classroom in the evening when it was empty. He would lock the door behind us.”

He recalls how it happened and how Brother D prepared the room for this hell. “I remember the blackboard in the classroom was used by Brother D to block off the windows,” Valentine recalls. “Other clippings and newspaper were on the windows and blocked off any sight into the classroom. The clippings and the blackboard prevented anyone from the outside looking in. We were locked in and they were locked out.”

Then the terror began.

AFTER more than two decades as a journalist in various parts of the world, no project I’ve handled has been quite as harrowing as this book. In the course of compiling it, I have come to believe that, without doubt, the abuse of children in industrial schools was one of the darkest chapters in Ireland’s history.

There have been other appalling cases of religious and secular abuse here, as in other countries, but what made the institutional abuse particularly horrific was that the crimes were committed against children who were largely isolated from the outside world, abandoned by the courts of the State and in many cases by their families to lives of unimaginable cruelty. It tore whole lives apart.

The book grew out of the aftermath of the first national March of Solidarity with survivors of institutional abuse on June 10, 2009, which the late Christine Buckley and I organised with the support of Barnardos, One in Four, and the Children’s Rights Alliance,after the publication of the report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, led by Justice Seán Ryan.

A day after the solidarity march, a Dáil Eireann debate opened on the Ryan report. The abuse detailed in the report was described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as “torture, pure and simple”. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said it was “a stain on the conscience of our nation”.

President Michael D Higgins said: “There is evidence of an institutional collusion that was deep, continuous and sinister in terms of its relationship between Church and State.”

The title of the book, Stolen Lives, underlines that through such “collusion” not only were childhoods stolen but the horrors these children suffered blighted their entire lives. Some, such as Mary Collins’s sister, found their suffering unendurable and died by suicide.

In the Dáil debate on the Ryan report on June 11, 2009, Mr Kenny said: “We cannot rewrite those stories, nor can we write a happy ending to them.

“But it is our clear and inescapable duty to reach out and rescue, to listen, and to learn and to create something out of this catalogue of cruelty in which, as a nation, we can take some pride.”

lStolen Lives, priced at €7.99, is available at

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Hundreds of babies and toddlers believed to be buried in Tuam, Co Galway


Mass septic tank grave 'containing the skeletons of 800 babies' at site of Irish home for unmarried mothers

  • Hundreds of babies and toddlers believed to be buried in Tuam, Co Galway
  • The site lies next to a former home for single mothers and their children
  • The children's home was run by Bon Secours nuns between 1925 and 1961
  • Children were malnourished and neglected, which caused many of deaths
  • They also died of TB, pneumonia, measles, convulsions and gastroenteritis
  • Relative of one missing child has filed complaint with local police, the gardai


The bodies of nearly 800 babies are believed to have been interred in a concrete tank beside a former home for unmarried mothers.

The dead babies are thought to have been secretly buried beside a home for single mothers and their children in County Galway, Ireland, over a period of 36 years.

It is suspected that 796 children were interred on unconsecrated ground without headstones or coffins next to the home run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam between 1925 and 1961.

Newly unearthed reports show that they suffered malnutrition and neglect, which caused the deaths of many, while others died of measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia.

The bodies of 796 babies and children are believed to lie next to the former children's home at Tuam, Co. Galway

The bodies of 796 babies and children are believed to lie next to the former children's home at Tuam, Co. Galway


The babies were usually buried in a plain shroud without a coffin in a plot that had housed a water tank attached to the workhouse that preceded the mother and child home.

No memorial was erected to the dead children and the grave was left unmarked.

The site is now surrounded by a housing estate. But a missing persons' report just filed to Irish police, gardai, means that the burial site may now be excavated.

A relative of one boy who lived there, William Joseph Dolan, has made a formal complaint to gardai after she failed to find his death certificate, despite records in the home stating that he had died.



A source close to the investigation said: 'No one knows the total number of babies in the grave. 

There are 796 death records but they are only the ones we know of.

'God knows who else is in the grave. It's been lying there for years and no one knows the full extent or total of bodies down there.'

The existence of the grave was uncovered by local woman Catherine Corless, who compiled the records of 796 babies who died at the home. She has established a group called the Children's Home Graveyard Committee to erect a memorial.

She said: 'People who had relations there are the most interested. They are delighted something is being done.

Horror: The scandal of the babies in the mass grave was discovered by local historian, Catherine Corless

Horror: The scandal of the babies in the mass grave was discovered by local historian, Catherine Corless


'When I was doing the research, someone mentioned there was a graveyard there for babies but I found out there was more to it than that.'

With the help of the Births and Deaths Registrar in Galway, Mrs Corless researched all children whose place of death was marked 'Children's Home, Tuam'. Galway County Council has all the cemetery books for Mayo and Galway, and with the help of the archivist there, Mrs Corless cross-checked the grave records.

She said: 'There was just one child who was buried in a family plot in the graveyard in Tuam. That's how I am certain there are 796 children in the mass grave. These girls were run out of their family home and never taken back, so why would they take the babies back to bury them, either?'

Bridget Dolan: Her two sons were placed in the Mother and Baby home at Tuam and both are recorded as having died there

Bridget Dolan: Her two sons were placed in the Mother and Baby home at Tuam and both are recorded as having died there


The records state that a young single mother called Bridget Dolan from Clonfert, Co Galway, gave birth to two boys who were placed in the home.

John Desmond Dolan was born on 22 February 1946 weighing 8lb 9oz. His birth was recorded as 'normal' but he died from measles on 11 June 1947.

His brother, William Joseph Dolan, was born on  21 May 1950 and was said to have died the following year, but there is no death certificate for William.

His relative, who asked not to be named, said: 'I just want to know what happened to him.  He may have passed on, yet there is no death certificate. I believe he might have been fostered out, and then moved to the US.

'He could still be alive, or he's with his brother in the grave. I want to find out.'

A local health board inspection report carried out in 1944 reveals the conditions the children and their mothers lived in.

It reveals that in April that year, 271 children were listed as living there with 61 single mothers, a total of 333 - way over its capacity of 243.

One 13-month-old boy was described as a 'miserable, emaciated child with voracious appetite and no control over bodily functions and probably mentally defective'.

In the same room was a 'delicate' ten-month-old baby who was a 'child of itinerants', while one five-year-old child was described as having 'hands growing near shoulders'.

Another 31 infants in the same room were described as 'poor babies, emaciated and not thriving'. 

The majority were aged between three weeks and 13 months and were 'fragile, pot-bellied and emaciated'.

The oldest child who died there was Sheila Tuohy, aged nine, in 1934. One of the youngest was Thomas Duffy, aged two days.

Teresa Kelly, the chairman of the Children's Home Graveyard Committee, said an excavation was long overdue.

'It's an awful story,' she said.  'It's a mass grave.  Many of the babies were malnourished. We want to make sure those children's identities are acknowledged. They had names, they were human beings, not animals.'

The grave was discovered in the 1970s by 12-year-old friends, Barry Sweeney and Francis Hopkins.

Mr Sweeney said: 'It was a concrete slab and we used to play there but there was always something hollow underneath it so we decided to bust it open and it was full to the brim of skeletons.

'The priest came over and blessed it. I don't know what they did with it after that. You could see all the skulls.'

The home, which closed in 1961, was one of several such establishments - Catholic and Protestant - for 'fallen women' across Ireland which had astonishingly high infant mortality rates.

Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary was another: in the first year after it opened in 1930, 60 babies died out of a total of 120. Those who survived, meanwhile, were often sold abroad to childless couples.

At a memorial service at the site of the home yesterday, it emerged that women who gave birth at Sean Ross and other homes plan to file missing persons reports in a bid to track down their children.

Dark secrets: Children at the tea room at Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary eat under the stern gaze of a nun

Dark secrets: Children at the tea room at Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary eat under the stern gaze of a nun


The nursery at Sean Ross: The home, which opened in 1930, had an astonishingly high infant mortality rate

The nursery at Sean Ross: The home, which opened in 1930, had an astonishingly high infant mortality rate

Life at the home: Babies and children enjoy the sunshine outside the children's home at Sean Ross Abbey

Life at the home: Babies and children enjoy the sunshine outside the children's home at Sean Ross Abbey



Philomena Lee, whose three-year-old son, Anthony, was handed over by nuns at Sean Ross to an American family 60 years ago, was among those at the memorial service.

She said: 'It's not about getting angry, it's about doing what's right and it's about opening all the files.'

And Mrs Lee, whose story was made into the Oscar-nominated film, Philomena, added: 'Maybe the State never thought the mass graves would be found out about. They seem to be wanting to push it under the carpet, but it needs to be told.'

She said: 'I don't know how many bodies of mothers and children are in graves all over the country,

'I'm shocked at the latest news of the mass grave [at Tuam] - it's appalling and shouldn't be hidden.'

Children in the playroom at Sean Ross Abbey: Such homes for 'fallen women' and their children existed across Ireland

Children in the playroom at Sean Ross Abbey: Such homes for 'fallen women' and their children existed across Ireland


Cribs and playpens: The homes were run by nuns, both from the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches

Cribs and playpens: The homes were run by nuns, both from the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches

The mothers of children given up for adoption by nuns are now calling for more information about their babies

The mothers of children given up for adoption by nuns are now calling for more information about their babies




An 85-year-old woman who survived the children's home in Tuam has told of the miserable conditions at the home, where she was placed in 1932.

The woman, who gave her name only as Mary, and now lives in the west of Ireland, spent four years in the home before being placed with a foster family.

She said: 'I remember going into the home when I was about four. There was a massive hall in it and it was full of young kids running round and they were dirty and cold.

'There were well over 100 children in there and there were three or four nuns who minded us.

'The building was very old and we were let out the odd time, but at night the place was absolutely freezing with big stone walls.  

'When we were eating it was in this big long hall and they gave us all this soup out of a big pot, which I remember very well. It was rotten to taste, but it was better than starving.'

Mary recalled that the children were 'rarely washed', and often wore the same clothes for weeks at a time.

She said: 'We were filthy dirty. I remember one time when I soiled myself, the nuns ducked me down into a big cold bath and I never liked nuns after that.'

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