To the girl in the mother and baby home…I’m sorry.

I was one of a group of student nurses who came to visit the ‘home’ one day in early 1985.  Even at the time I remember wondering as to the ‘home’s’ purpose. Why did these girls have to go there? Did none of them want to keep their babies? Why were they not in their own ‘homes’?

It was a large house, not too far from where I lived. On arrival we were met by a nun who was to be our tour guide. I cannot give any precise details of that day, how large the ‘home’ was? How warm it was? The only memory I have, is of the nursery.

This was what I’d been looking forward to, as a baby mad almost twenty year old, my heart melted seeing the small babies. There was much ‘Oohing’ and ‘Ahhing’ from the group as we entered.

It was then I saw her. A young girl, possibly the same age as I, standing to one side. Like myself she had dark hair, cut in a boyish style. She was lean, athletic looking with large brown eyes and sallow skin. I caught her eye as soon as I entered the room. We paused a second, taking each other in, before I looked away.

As the nun spoke of ‘helping’ the girls, and ‘caring’ for the babies I couldn’t stop looking towards her, seeking her out. Each time I caught her eye, her expression challenged me. With just a look I tried to let her know I was uncomfortable being there. She shrugged and turned away.

The nun told us we could pick the babies up if we wished, but one look in the girls direction changed my mind. I would not be picking up an abandoned baby, I’d be picking up her baby, or someone else’s. It was clear by her body language her baby, where ever it was, was not unwanted and we did not have permission to pick it up.

As the girls began to cuddle the babies I moved towards her, but she shied away. A fellow nurse lay down one of the babies but it began to cry. In a flash the girl picked it up and I watched her close her eyes and nuzzle the tiny infant, cheek to cheek before, without a word, our tour guide nun took it off her and handed it to another nun.

I have never forgotten the look we exchanged at that credit: P. Marioné in memory via photopin (license)A

Today the names of almost 800 babies and young children who died in a mother and baby ‘home’ in another part of Ireland called Tuam, were released. There are no details of where they are buried but it is suspected many, if not all of them, are among the bodies found in an unmarked grave in unused septic tanks near the ‘home’.

As I read each and every name on the list I was reminded of the girl in the mother and baby home. Those little lives didn’t matter to the nuns, priests, doctors and nurses in charge. They were never shown love or kindness. They were seen as the product of sin. Survivors who were fostered, some as old as five, spoke of not knowing what Christmas was.

However, as I remember the girl in the mother and baby home I’ve little doubt each of those little ones were indeed much loved and their lives mattered greatly to the mothers who lost them.

As the majority of Ireland are rising up in fury at the Catholic church I cannot help but feel that I and all the others like me, who knew what was happening in these ‘homes’ was wrong and did nothing, are also to blame. We too must accept some responsibility for letting this happen.

I cannot go back, I can only accept my small part in this shame. To say I am sorry is not good enough but it is all I can do.

photo credit: P. Marioné in memory via photopin (license)A

34 thoughts on “To the girl in the mother and baby home…I’m sorry.

  1. Such a powerful piece Tric! It is just so heartbreaking thinking what those mothers and children went through. Tears in my eyes reading that x

    1. Thanks Gráinne. It’s so hard to read it all and know it happened and the citizens of this country at the time turned a blind eye.
      Even though we were told in great detail of the Magdalene laundries this is still shocking.
      I can’t help but think of the many women reading about this who had to give away their babies. It must be heartbreaking for them.

  2. Oh, Tric. So powerful and heartbreaking. All that needless tragedy and suffering. We can’t go backward, but we can go forward with compassion and use our voices to speak up against injustice and cruelty. My heart goes out to all those babies and young women.

  3. I read the story about Tuam, and watched “Philomena”, and read all of the other stories over the years about the ‘laundries’ that I could. I don’t have the heart to ignore these stories, because each story is someone’s life, and likely death. I haven’t yet seen the list of names, I would like to read that too. I don’t know how some things ever occur to human beings, to do to other human beings.

    1. That is exactly how I felt Colleen. I had to read each name and mark each life. If you click the link above in red you will see the names listed.
      What a terrible life they lived.

      1. I think sometimes we don’t put enough thought and emotion into trying to understand these horrors. One, because it isn’t believable to our sense of what is right, two, because we don’t WANT to believe it. And by ‘we’ I mean people as a whole. Thank you for pointing out the link…

  4. Growing up, I got the Number 2 bus in and out of town. The girls from Bessborough with their telltale bumps sat together at the back and had names like ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Eileen’. Even as a child I knew these weren’t their real names but ones given to them by the nuns to ensure anonymity for the duration of their stay. Your account of your visit is very touching – thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading. I listened to a heartbreaking account on the radio today from a lady named Brigid,now in her 70s. She described arriving in Cork and being taken to Bessborough. They took her clothes, bag and all belongings and gave her a different name. It’s worth listening to her story on Liveline’s podcast it is incredible.

      1. Thanks, I went looking for it but I think I’ve listened to a different episode as I’ve just listened to the March 9th Liveline episode re Mother and Baby Homes. There were some excellent contributors on the programme but I also found it upsetting that one young woman seemed to think that all nuns and all priests are from the very pit of hell. 😥 I received my primary education in a convent school in the 60s/70s and I NEVER saw a nun lift their hand to a child – I remember nothing but kindness from the nuns and even being given lollipops by Mother Superior.
        I did my nurse training in a convent hospital in the early 80s and knew many lovely nuns there. I worked for a year previous to this as a Nursing Assistant in the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where I worked alongside many nuns and was well treated, as were the patients. I also have a close relative who is a nun, a very caring and compassionate woman.
        I do of course believe the stories of horrible cruelty that people experienced and I accept that other people’s stories and life experiences were vastly different to mine. 😥

        1. I listened to those women and children who survived as I knew they needed to be heard and similarly we need to hear of the many good nuns like those you have met along the way.
          I never met a ‘bad’ nun and knew one amazing nun but that was a matter of luck and timing I think. Thankfully we have moved on but I have been saddened at their lack of compassion expressed on the subject. They seem to be hiding behind legalities, fearful of consequences but saying sorry is so important and openly sympathising and engaging I think would lessen the hurt and anger.
          I too trained in early 80s in Dublin! .

        2. ‘saying sorry is so important and openly sympathising and engaging I think would lessen the hurt and anger.’ tric – you have summed it up very well!

  5. My god those poor mother’s and baby’s they need peace and justice we should make sure they get it x

  6. Heartbreaking. It wasn’t just the catholic church to blame but also the families of the girls who sent them away and society back then which was so cruel about the “shame” of being an unmarried mother.

  7. Perhaps there were many visitors like you who sensed something wasn’t right about the setup, but you didn’t know what, so how could you act on a feeling? It terrifies me to think that I was living here when some of this was going on, and I hadn’t a clue. SO many dark secrets, let’s hope that with the internet, we can shine a light into all dark corners, to stop such scandals ever happening again xx

    1. The cruelty was incredible towards the ‘sinning’ mothers and ‘bastard’ children. They lived terrible lives and many if the girls never got out of the homes.

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