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.
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.