Since the 'dead babies in Tuam' story *hit* the headlines I've read a lot about it on the internet in particular and I wonder a lot of things and this is a difficult blog to write because where do I let my thoughts go.
An extremely emotional subject.
The first things I thought when I heard the story and as I listened to the immediate reaction here in Ireland was
1. Do you have any idea of what life was like for those people (the mothers).
2. Do you remember what it was like to live in a religious (Catholic) dominated country?
3. Do you realise that if this was the case over in Tuam, then it will also be the case with every Mother & Child institute we had in this country at that time.
and my final thought,
4. Not one of you making a comment has any real idea of the history of the period in our country when Mother & Baby homes were so important.
Let me begin with one thing I have read where someone has said that Priests did not baptise children born outside marriage. That may have been true for some priests, but, I can guarantee you, that I could not count the number of babies I have seen listed in Roman Catholic parish registers as being illigitimate or bastard and I have worked/transcribed a lot of Roman Catholic parish registers (see www.from-ireland.net and go to the county pages and for the most you will see some parish register index.)
Do you know that in the days when we had working 'Workhouse' (pre 1845 forwards), the Workhouses had ladies in their employment who used to go round the workhouse area at night 'collecting' babies that they would find lying on the ground somewhere in the parish and that these babies were bundled into a basket on top of one another. In theory, these babies were supposed to be brought to the Workhouse to be looked after *but* some of these ladies would simply go into the area of another workhouse and 'dump' the babies they had found in their own workhouse area. Also, some of those babies would have died in transit.
What life was like for these mothers : the story about baby deaths from Tuam is for a time frame prior to my birth, *but* back in the 1970's, if a girl got pregnant outside marriage in my home town and if her parents were alive, she was shunted off to a Mother & Baby home and as soon as the baby was born it was 'put up' for adoption. The girl was given no choice in the matter. I had a friend when I was in university and she got pregnant and this happened her, for as long as I knew her after that, she always worried about what had happened her little boy, where he had gone to and what his new parents were like. I knew girls in my home town who did become pregnant, who did keep their babies and then they were 'marked' - and that went on for years. These days it is different. In the days before the 70's, life must have been horrific for these young mothers.
Living in a one religion dominated country: The Priests RULED - it was as simple as that. The Priests, the Nuns - they were, I won't say 'adored' but they were respected. You walked past the priest and you bowed your head, or you nodded you always acknowledged them. The Priest came to your house (if it was the house of an ordinary person), then the Priest was brought into the best room and treated as though he was God almighty. When you got in trouble, it was off to the Priest you went for help, support. You have to have lived through this to understand it. Life is not like that now, but, it was.
The Nuns - God love them, in a lot of ways they have been bashed about. I think that few who have not lived in a Catholic dominated country with religious running schools can ever understand the nuns. If you stop and think about it we had nuns in this country from the 1800's - how have they survived this long if they were as bad as I have seen them painted these last few years. I have no doubt that there were bad nuns but I also have no doubt that these were outnumbered by the good nuns. I am a non-practising Catholic so my defense of nuns here has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with my experience of these ladies.
I was sent to boarding school when I was about 11 years old, a boarding school run by nuns. We were allowed see our family one Sunday a month for about 3 hours and I can honestly say that in my 5 years in that school I got into trouble for being a bit bold, but, I was never hit once. Having Mother Malachy's finger stuck into my shoulder and hearing her say my name would make me cringe, but, her pointy finger being stuck into my shoulder was as bad as it got. The school I was in had what we called 'the laundry' where girls (who were poor) had a job cleaning clothes.
In a poor country (and that is what Ireland was - a backward, 3rd level country), we had no money to mind these mothers and babies. The mothers were for the most part 'looked down on' because they had gotten pregnant outside marriage, so..............who was going to deliver their babies? Who was going to mind the babies? Where were the mothers going to get the money to deal with this? We didn't have social services, the parents of the girls didn't have the money to pay to mind their daughters or their grandchildren.
We were paupers *but* we had the nuns, and the nuns took in the mothers and 'looked after' the babies. Yes, they are criticised for 'adopting' out the babies BUT what right have we to stand over them and judge what they did thinking it was the best for the children. Tomorrows generation will judge us for judging that earlier generation
I once worked with the books which had belonged to an Undertaker in a town. The man had listed the details for each person he had buried in these books - he began this work we'll say about 1923. One listing I read was for a baby and a note in the book, it said "We don't need a coffin we have a shoe-box". My mother was a Doctor (GP) and I went home that day and said to her do you know what they buried a baby in a shoe-box and her reply "For God's sake Jane, of course babies were buried in shoe-boxes, these people had no money". We don't think of something like that, we have a habit of comparing what we read about the past with our own lives and that is wrong.
I think I've said enough.
We needed the nuns and the minding they did of these mothers and babies. We were a poor country rampant with disease - outside of our famines, we had typhus, cholera, TB. When I was a child, TB was the big killer - people would get sent to Peamount.
The nuns I lived (1970-75) with were not cruel or nasty.