Some thoughts at the dismal emerging story from Tuam

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Whenever a society attempts to impose without exception an impossible abstraction on fallible human beings, such cruelty will always be necessary.

Andrew Sullivan on the Tuam Mother and Baby home…

Now we understand that the high mortality rates at Tuam may have been the norm for such homes across the post independence state. A few years back similarly high rates at the evangelical Protestant Bethany Homes were also reported in detail.

There was (to our modern eyes) a remarkable consensus on the pretty awful way unwed mothers should be treated. Shane Harrison reported one such remembered experience:

“I grew up with starvation, was treated more or less as a dog,” he said.

“I was that hungry that I remember going into a farmer’s field and picking spuds so that we could have a meal and putting the roots back in. Well-off people in the area knew the state we were in but they walked around as if it never happened.”

Tuam closed in 1960 or 61, around about the time contraception became available in the UK. Although it didn’t arrive in the Republic till much later, it was this technological change that killed the force of the abstraction Sullivan cites above rather than any spiritual sea change.

It puts me in mind of the “escapee” Larkin describes in High Windows…

That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds
.

In Minnesota in all such homes they had a statutory regulation (Three Month Nursing Regulation) that mothers should be allowed to feed their babies up until three months. In Ireland and elsewhere – presumably because many of the babies were expected to become subject to compulsory adoption – there seems to have been an enforced separation during that time to prevent maternal bonds growing that would later become problematic.

Its not hard to see with modern eyes just what a major health risk that must have posed with the missing the anti bodies that would have come down to them with their mothers milk.

The mass graves are another troubling aspect of the story, particularly given that they were in the care of religious orders. Two thoughts occur:

- one, the Irish state was founded just two generations after the famine, which itself was, in part, a major public health scandal. Within months of the first reports of typhus, there are also reports of reusable coffins with a trap door at the bottom, and then within relatively short order the complete abandonment of any ceremony whatsoever for the dead.

- two, there seems to have been a real unwillingness within the realm of public policy to handle, sensibly and rationally, matters which carry serious moral heft, leaving vulnerable individuals to the joint mercies of chance and circumstance. More recently the Savita Halappanavar case highlighted the sort of practical problems that can be generated by unresolved moral ambivalence within the legislature.

It doesn’t help that an impoverished Irish free State had to lean so heavily on religious institutions to provide most of health and social care infrastructure. Religious institutions which fought tooth and nail against the state’s attempts at reform in this area from the early 1950s on.

That’s not to take anything from the stark cruelty of feeding of the peculiarly rigid abstraction at Tuam or elsewhere . But it seems to me there is much more to this story than the needful channelling of rage at the wickedness of ‘abstraction’ itself.

  • carlota martinez

    The sorry tale of what transpired in Mother and Baby Homes and other residential facilities needs to be told and society must face up to its full horror.

    We should, however, wait for the facts to emerge on Tuam.

  • cynic2

    Its easy to blame the church – and by heavens it deserves the blame – but what sort of families, what sort of government, what sort of people put their girls in a home where they were denied pain relief in childbirth to make them atone for their sins?

    And even given the period the level of child death in these homes seems extraordinarily high and the normal processes of inquests bypassed? What sort of people and what sort of state regards its children as so disposable?

    And I am not interested in party politics in this. I am sure some of the protestant homes may have similar shameful pasts and that the North will have its own history We all need to be honest about our shared culture at that time

  • JR

    I find it hard to get this story out of my head. I have a six month old son at the moment and he is such a jolly happy child it is heart breaking to think of all the children who died in misery at his age in this country. I would agree with cync above in that the families, the church and the state are all culpible in this tragedy.

    Every village in Ireland has a Cilín. The place, usually by the shore or in a small wood or adjacent to the graveyard where untill the early 60′s unbaptised babies were buried in the dead of night by their families because the church would not bury them.

  • mac tire

    I must say, I agree with everything cynic2 says here. And while I have no answers to the questions posed by cynic, they are questions which must be considered.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com John Mooney

    Again I have to agree.
    And frankly I am glad I am nearer to the end of my life than the beginning. I have tried to blog about this and I am just too saddened by it.
    As Cynic notes above few escape criticism. I was talking on Saturday to a Dutch lady who was noting that post WW2 there were many “German” babies treated badly in much of western Europe.
    And as “JR” notes, he is a father who sees things thru the eyes of a father. It actually gets worse. Every “Third World” news story I see …I just see the face of my grandchildren.

    And there is something about Tuam, Roscrea and the rest which is Third World.
    And I cant shake off the fact that I was born in 1952 and everything was idyllic or seemed so…even in the home of a chronically ill man with two grammar school kids.
    Cos Childhood is supposed to be idyllic.
    Decent parents…a decent Society makes …Childhood happy.
    How foolish I was to think that this wasnt the norm….I have no doubt that the majority of my Catholic and Protestant friends whether Tony or Herbie knew nothing of what was going on.
    But our childhoods really were about three things then …Family (which I am sure in most cases was pretty good) ….School (of its brutalising time) wasnt so good….but the third thing, Church, seemed at worst neutral.

    Schools have a lot to answer for.
    Clearly Churches.
    Clearly States (in this case mostly the Republic).
    Society.
    And yes as Cynic notes….families.

    And thats what I think hurts most here.
    We relied on a Church that let us down.
    A State which let us down over Banking.
    And yes….lets now hear from the 80 year olds who put their daughters now in their 60s thru that….because those grandparents actually let THEIR Grandchildren go thru that Hell.
    It beggars belief.
    The greatest days of my Life have been spent as a Son, Grandson, Nephew, Brother….Uncle, Husband, Father, Grandfather.
    Nobody I know would have let me born in 1952 have gone thru that.
    Nor would I.
    It is simply too cruel for words.

  • gendjinn

    Its easy to blame the church – and by heavens it deserves the blame – but what sort of families, what sort of government, what sort of people put their girls in a home where they were denied pain relief in childbirth to make them atone for their sins?

    The societal shame of unwed pregnancy was created by the Catholic church, supported & reinforced by the State, its agents & policies. The families were trapped in that society and while they had volition, to shift the blame onto them for the failings of the Church & State is unjust.

    A terrible crime, but this one is not included in the sweetheart deal Ahern et al gave the Catholic church on the sex abuse scandals. I hope that this crime is used to obtain the justice for the sex abuses. The church’s crimes in Ireland have been so great that they should forfeit every single piece of property & asset. From now on they can rent church space from the community for masses. Every school should be transferred lock, stock & barrel to the community. Fines for their crimes with compounded interest back dated to the date of the crime, sent to the Vatican.

    Why is it the number of horror stories I’ve heard from my parents & grandparents are all I ever hear about the church & religious orders? Why is it each of them only has a single recollection of a decent teacher or priest?

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com John Mooney

    I really dont think that anyone…not least me…is trying to shift blame to parents.
    What Id certainly want to do is hope that NOBODY shifts the blame to anyone else.
    An entire generation of people….politicians, churchmen/women and families…can provide testimony.
    I can understand that anyone of Enda Kennys age (or Bertie Ahern or Joan Burton) can be horrified.
    I can understand people of the age of Dr Diarmuid Martin or Fr Brian Darcy being horrified.
    I am of an age that can be horrified.

    But there are retired nurses, doctors, priests, nuns, politicians now in their 80s and 90s who are surely not shocked. Ashamed YES.
    And they must come forward.
    They are not all frail physically or mentally.
    They cant get away with it.
    They are not Victims.

    But nor can those parents, who brought their daughters to Tuam get off the hook that lightly. Are they shocked? Embarrassed? Ashamed?
    maybe they have twinges of conscience as they live their last days in an Old Folks Home (maybe theres a scandal about 21st century Old Folks Homes) that will shock Society in fifty years time)…..Id really like to hear what they say “it was all the parish priests fault” or whatever ….then I will decide on whether they too are “victims”

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin
  • Granni Trixie

    The Tuam story reminded me of what I remember about “Marionville” a mother and baby home run off the Ormeau Road by the Good Shepherd nuns. This home was set behind a wall in a field beside the convent complex. The rule in the Sacred Heart Home (for children of which I was one) was that you were not allowed to ask about Marionville. it was a puzzle to us but there was a rumour that a girl of 13 years was there. A nun whom we only saw in passing was reputed to look after the girls in Marionville. So far, no legal cases have emerged against our children’s home or the laundry next door so I will also be interested to know if anything emerges about Marionville.

  • JR

    I have to agree with John, Most of the women who ended up in these homes were cast out from their familes. They were in their late teens and twenties with nowhere else to go.

    While I don’t want to seem like I am trying to let the church in particular off the hook on this because they should take most of the blame for the children that died in their care. I don’t think it is as simple as saying the catholic church is completely to blame for it all and the state was evil.

    These crimes by church and state happened 60-100 years ago. If we go back just a little further we see over 1,000,000 people die in this country of starvation, under the watch of a different and much more prosperous state.

  • HopefulPessimist

    JR

    I tried to walk on by but I just have to say that your post is one of the worst examples I have ever seen of whataboutery and that’s saying something on this site

  • Granni Trixie

    Hopeful

    I agree that this is a case which ought to go beyond whataboutery but surely it is valid to make the point that society,religion in a culture which prized “being pure” like the Virgin Mary to be part of the explanation as to why these institutions existed?

  • JR

    Ok, I accept that maybe the last paragraph was wateboutery. I was trying, clumsily to make a point that it is difficult to judge events that happened 60-100 years ago in isolation and also through a modern point of view. I am trying to tread as respectfully and as carefully around this subject as possible while making my point.

    I have seen at first hand a child born to unmarried parents and its father been treated very rudely and unfairly by an elderly relitive. it isn’t nice.

  • HopefulPessimist

    JR

    I understand that point although to some extent it is the relative closeness in time and even the overlap with some of our own lives that makes it very hard to accept that such views were held and actions taken. In the context of the church it is most importantly the absence of what we consider to be basic christian values that is sometimes so shocking.

    These moral judgements went on much later than 60-100 years ago, I know myself of a young mother in the early 80s who was put out of her home in Donegal and forced to move away at a time when she really needed the support of her family because of the stigma attached to unmarried pregnancy even then.

  • Politico68

    This story terrifies me, we are all aware of the brutal treatment dished out to Irish children by the hands of the very people that were supposed to protect them. However, this seems to take things on to an entirely different level and I feel sick about it. I am left wondering how many people across this Island were aware that children were suffering under their very noses. I wonder if any of my own deceased relatives turned a blind eye to the torture, persecution and downright murder of innocence. I actually feel physically Ill thinking about it.

  • BarneyT

    Just wanted to skip to the end to comment on jendgin. We should all be as angry as you are on this matter.

  • BarneyT

    I opened up slugger hoping to see a blog on this series of crimes. Prior to this I wondered if a state and government more infused with protestantism could have prevented this or at least diluted the state control given to the Catholic Church. Would Anglican and Presbyterian voices in the Dail and on the streets have helped steer a different path? I however see that this may not have been confined to one state or religion. I often think a non partitioned Ireland may have moved us further along than we are now

  • Republic of Connaught

    Irish society was to blame as well as the nuns in these homes. Familes throwing their daughters into homes because they got pregnant outside of marriage was a gross betrayal of the parental bond with their own children. For what? Being shamed in front of the neighbors; a particularly parochial Irish mentality.

    Too often in Ireland, like in Germany after WW2, people look to put all the blame on a minority in control at the time. The Irish people turned a blind eye even when they must have heard rumours of babies being sold for adoption to America. Many Irish people – the length and breadth of the island – must have turned a blind eye when they heard strong rumours of priests abusing children. Deliberately turning a blind eye essentially makes one complicit in the crime, in my eyes. It’s precisely how evil prospers in a society.

    I will reserve judgement on the Tuam case until the real facts are revealed. The media’s tabloid sensationalizing of the story with headlines about septic tanks is already beginning to sicken me.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whatever the facts about the Tuam case surely it is relevant to the deemed status of Catholic dead babies that if unbaptised they went to Limbo ie not ‘Heaven’.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    A huge blind eye indeed. Parents who likely were abused as boarders in the Grammar school I attended nonetheless sent their own boys to board there. Us kids knew what was going on and the older ones warned us about which priests and lay teachers to avoid. I know that some parents at least were told about the abuse but simply said that they didn’t believe the stories. I eventually persuaded my parents to take my younger siblings out and into the State Grammar school system.

  • gendjinn

    Republic of Connaught,

    you are entirely correct about the complicity of society.

    During the first 50 years of the state I would have to say the church dominated state & society. The state largely ceded control of the institutions the church already ran – education, orphanages, etc – over to them and either implemented the church’s policy in legislation or didn’t interfere.

    People knew but if they stood up to the church they would be crushed. Look at Noel Browne.

    The “we didn’t know” defense will not work this time, after 20 years of reports we now know that many people, knew many things, all along & the coverups have been decades long.

  • Comrade Stalin

    What strikes me about this story is how coldly inhumane the Church was in this and other similar stories (eg the now infamous Magdalene laundries). When we did religion at school in the 1980s I remember religious texts with pictures of Jesus and lots of little kids listening intently to him saying “let the little ones come to me for the kingdom of heaven belongs to ones such as these”. I cannot fathom how you get from there to what happened in Tuam.

    The church was effectively running a concentration camp for mothers and their out-of-wedlock children. This sounds like an exaggeration but it isn’t. Human beings were treated like animals or, at best, property for sale. Medical treatment was withheld, which is a form of torture; experimental testing was performed. Food rations were evidently below those required to sustain life and disease and sickness were a fact of life. When they died they were dumped in a sewage pit out the back (what happened when the sceptic tank was emptied or serviced ? It’s too horrible to think about).

    At no point did anyone in the religious orders in the church stop to think “hang on, is this what Jesus would have done?”.

    People are talking about who to blame. I’m not sure that I can blame the families or people who sent their daughters or sisters away to these homes. At the time, many communities would have been dominated by the local priest who would have been one of the few educated people in the neighbourhood. People were superstitious and did exactly what the priests told them. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Church had the power to stop all of this. It did not do so, in my view, because its overriding goal was to exert its malevolent, harsh influence on society for its own good. It was only when people began to question the church and become informed about things that these terrible institutions began to fall out of favour.

    I’m also suspicious about why it is taking so long to look into this. That site should be being excavated and relatives of those who died there should be notified. Investigation into who authorized these burials – which may well have been completely unlawful (you can’t just dig a hole in the ground and stick bodies in it) – needs to start and needs to identify who authorized all of this. And the Church needs to offer some sort of apology for what it did here.

  • gendjinn

    Comrade Stalin,

    I agree with you but the bit about the septic tank doesn’t ring true. If it’s a brick lined, underground space – we’d call that a crypt. If it’s an actual in use septic tank, then wouldn’t the bodies have been removed long ago?

    Withholding judgement on that grisly piece until there’s a bit more evidence to hand. The story is horrific with or without it and our outrage is no less diminished if it is untrue.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    There were alternatives, at least to my knowledge, in N.I.
    I knew a few girls who “mysteriously” went away to stay with “an aunt” for 6 months or so and then came back.

  • Comrade Stalin

    gendjinn,

    You are right, it is a bit irresponsible of me to uncritically repeat the media presentation of this story.

    The theory that the bodies were all buried in a septic tank sounds like conjecture based on the bones that were already found near that point. Any investigation should establish whether the septic tank was in use or had been decommissioned.

  • aquifer

    The septic tank was reported in the press as decommissioned.

  • cynic2

    I actually GENUINELY find it hard to comment rationally on this new twist

    http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/nun-admits-children-involved-in-medical-trials-30339349.html

    Can the Irish Government alone ever be competent to investigate this now, given the close links between Church and State at that time? What were these experiments and trials?

  • gendjinn

    It is really important that we recall how the government of the day handled an almost identical situation in the High Park convent in Drumcondra.

  • antamadan

    Shameful

  • mrmrman
  • babyface finlayson

    mrmrman
    According to that article,she is disputing the use of the word “dumped”, rather than the nature of the burial site.
    Not sure that takes things much further really.

  • cynic2

    mrmrman

    I read that article and recommend anyone else to do so. There has been mistake reporting on the septic tank but I am not sure how you think the tank story sensationalises behaviours where

    * the death rate was so incredibly high
    * young mothers were denied pain relief so they could atone for their sin
    * as we now know, children were used to test drugs including at one site being administered drugs for cattle by mistake

    The story is the treatment of the living not where the dead were buried – though even there it showed the attitude towards these poor children

  • BarneyT

    So, the only difference I can see between Tuam culprits and the nazis is the dispatch. Everything else aligns. Ok noone as far as we know was murdered but there was no preventative medicine. They were treated worse than rats….literally like shite in life and death.
    I fear this will die away and become an historical tragedy. They will get offered protection based on “society at the time” arguments….but we still hold nazi warm crime trials. Large can of worms must be opened on this.

  • greenbeer

    We had “Homes for unwed Mothers” in America until the late 1960′s. My memories of the home in my neighborhood..we’re seeing young pregnant girls walking in pairs up and down the long street in front of the home. Lot’s of laughing and smiles. I’m sure the neighbors hated it..but I never heard of any thing bad happening.

    I’ve mentioned to politicians here that that might be a solution to newborn fatalities and incurable conditions as the girls spent months in the home getting regular checkups and good food. So many people want to adopt babies..reasonable fees could support the homes. It just makes so much sense to me..bur sense isn’t what runs my country anymore. I too Mr. Mooney am glad I’m at the end of my life..

  • JR

    Barney T,

    If the only difference you see between the Tuam culprits and the Nazis is the dispatch you need to brush up on your history or visit a death camp.

  • cynic2

    I don’t think that PP in the area ever stood for Pol Pot but the inference is that there was a killing field of neglect and disease and public opprobrium or indifference and we need to understand what happened and why – if only to stop it happening again

    I have to admit to being quite emotional on this issue. I don’t know why but it has touched me much more than a lot of the faux indignation and posturing on issues in the North.

    This happened in all our country under our noses. It is shocking ,,,and I don’t like the way the Government seems set to minimize it

  • Taoiseach

    I don’t think Pol Pot and “killing field” references are helpful or accurate. Nor are they respectful of the thousands of victims of Pol Pot. There is simply no comparison. Life may have been hard in Ireland but it wasn’t akin to Soviet gulags, Nazi death camps or Pol Pot killing fields. It’s ridiculous to make comparisions like that.

  • gendjinn

    cynic2,

    The story is the treatment of the living not where the dead were buried – though even there it showed the attitude towards these poor children

    You are dead right, the septic tank is a sensationalist distraction from the heart of the matter – “… the treatment of the living …”

    The same pattern of abuse, neglect, murder across parishes, across countries, across centuries. How does the Vatican get a pass on systemic abuse across it’s entire organization? What are they doing in Asia, Africa & South America today?

  • abucs

    http://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/07/tuam-breaking-800-babies-were-not-dumped/

    http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-tuam-tank-another-myth-about-evil-ireland/15140#.U5cn2LtZqW9

    quote …….. “Between 1925 and 1937, 204 children died at the Home — an average of 17 per year. 17 deaths out of 200 children equals a mortality rate of 8.5%. It is interesting to compare that with the rest of the country at the time. In 1933, the infant mortality rate in Dublin was 83 per thousand (ie. a mortality rate of 8.3%), in Cork it was 89 per thousand (8.9%), in Waterford it was 102 per thousand (10.2%) and in Limerick it was 132 per thousand (13.2%). (Source: Irish Press, 12th April, 1935; below).”

  • abucs

    I’m in Asia now Gennjin, I can answer that.

    They are building schools and hospitals and running charitable institutions and speaking out about government corruption and defending the poor.

  • cynic2

    Taioseach

    You seem to have missed that I was responding to an OTT post on the Nazis and opened by saying “I don’t think that PP in the area ever stood for” …but given the alleged figures in % terms I stand by the ‘killing fields’ comment

    “Life may have been hard in Ireland but it wasn’t akin to Soviet gulags”….then why did so many children die so young? Why were some used in drug trials? Who the hell thought that was right? Why do you seem to be compelled to defend it?

  • cynic2

    “They are building schools and hospitals and running charitable institutions and speaking out about government corruption and defending the poor.”

    People though they were doing that in Dev’s Ireland too …… we now know there was a price to pay

  • ForgottenMaggies

    Respectfully, in response to Taoiseach who wrote ‘

    ‘Life may have been hard in Ireland but it wasn’t akin to Soviet gulags, Nazi death camps or Pol Pot killing fields. It’s ridiculous to make comparisions like that’.

    You were clearly NEVER in one of the homes and probably have no close relatives who experienced them either (respectfully) otherwise you would have some idea of their struggles. Try listening carefully to the survivors who lived in terror in these institutios, experiencing bodily harm and psychological torture on top of neglect. The resulting PTSD is now a recognized condition-their experiences (for those who did get out), in many case destroyed their ability to thrive in the world outside. Those who people suffered and are still suffering- severely damaged psychologically from a young age flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, phobias, depression, guilt, ongoing sense of deep shame and the whole host of associated symptoms which can wreck the chances of leading a productive life. They share much in common with refugees, prisioners, soldiers, journalists from war zones, people who have witnessed terrible events amongst others-this is well documented and more common than the official ‘diagnosis’ would seem to indicate as many people have never been able to talk about their experiences and so are not counted in the statistics). This makes forming relationships, trusting people, holding down a job, and asserting yourself very difficult indeed for many of them. Most of the survivors were denied education from a young age-try developing any sense of self belief and confidence if you have to hide the fact you are only partially literate for example.

    The reason why the UN Committee Against Torture took up these cases is because there IS a factual commonality between the Irish system of Magdalene Assylums, Industrial Schools, Orphanages, Mother and babies ‘homes’ and the torture inflicted there with all the abusive regimes you mentioned. (It is not merely about which brand of machete was used to kill people but about the systematic control and subjugation and abuse. Destroy someone’s belief in themselves as a human being deserving of minimal respect, deny them an education, segregate them, tell them they are worthless from early childhood, tell them their abusive treatment and sadistic punishments are all their own fault, silence them, and persecute them all from a very young age and you will find that those are some of the people whose lives were wrecked. They may be visibly ok now and you may never know who they are-you probably sit next to them on a bus, find yourself standing next to them in a shop, live next door to them, but it is clear you have no idea what the long lasting effects were on them. I suggest you read survivor testimony and then talk about how the regimes were completely unalike.

    Survivors from these many different abusive regimes have met and been astonished by how similar their experiences were. Just because there was no uniform worn by a foreign aggressor, that it is not easy or clear as to who the ‘enemy’ was does not mean that Ireland didn’t experience very similar experiences too and it is wrong to deny the similarities of the survivor experiences. Listen hard and listen long to their voices. They were silenced then and many are still silenced. The deep shame, regret and stigma they were forced to assume still prevents many of them from even talking to their closest family and friends and coming forward in the media to educate society as a whole is beyond terrifying for them. Just remember what you have heard and read is but a tiny amount of what really happend for this reason. Respectfully once again, if you weren’t there you don’t know so don’t rest merely on the historical facts of how many were killed and why. Look at the commonality of the human experience-the elements of the abusive system, how it was established, how it functioned, how it was maintained, which structures in society supported it, which structures and institutions failed to challenge it and who is abused. Thank you for reading- it HAD to be said!

  • Reader

    abucs, I am interested in where the blogger you quote got his denominator of “200″ from: to use it to calculate the mortality rate, it would need to refer to 200 births per year to compare with 17 deaths per year. Where does the figure of 200 births per year come from?
    I can see in his article a mention that, at times there were “200 children and 100 mothers”, but that is *not* enough to calculate a mortality rate, and if anything suggests that his estimate is a very, very serious under-estimate.

  • ForgottenMaggies

    Respectfully, in response to Taoiseach who wrote ‘

    ‘Life may have been hard in Ireland but it wasn’t akin to Soviet gulags, Nazi death camps or Pol Pot killing fields. It’s ridiculous to make comparisons like that’.

    You were clearly NEVER in one of the homes and probably have no close relatives who experienced them either (respectfully) otherwise you would have some idea of their struggles and the close similarities of these people’s experiences and the effects it had upon them. Try listening carefully to the survivors who lived in terror in these institutions, experiencing bodily harm and psychological torture on top of neglect. The resulting PTSD is now a recognized condition-their experiences (for those who did get out), in many case destroyed their ability to thrive in the world outside. Those who people suffered and are still suffering- severely damaged psychologically from a young age have flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, phobias, depression, guilt, ongoing sense of deep shame, and the whole host of associated symptoms which can wreck the chances of leading a productive life. They share much in common with war refugees, prisoners, soldiers, journalists from war zones, and people who have witnessed terrible events amongst others-this is well documented and more common than the official ‘diagnosis’ would seem to indicate as many people have never been able to talk about their experiences and so are not counted in the statistics). This makes forming relationships, trusting people, holding down a job, and asserting yourself very difficult indeed for many of them. Most of the survivors were denied education from a young age-try developing any sense of self belief and confidence if you have to hide the fact you are only partially literate for example.

    The reason why the UN Committee Against Torture took up these cases is because there IS a factual commonality between the Irish system of Magdalene Assylums, Industrial Schools, Orphanages, Mother and babies ‘homes’ and the torture inflicted there with all the abusive regimes you mentioned. (It is not merely about which brand of machete was used to kill people but about the systematic control and subjugation and abuse. Destroy someone’s belief in themselves as a human being deserving of basic respect, deny them an education, segregate them, tell them they are worthless from early childhood, tell them their abusive treatment and sadistic punishments are all their own fault, silence them, and persecute them all from a very young age and you will find that those are some of the people whose lives were wrecked. They may be visibly ok now and you may never know who they are-you probably sit next to them on a bus, find yourself standing next to them in a shop, live next door to them, but it is clear you have no idea what the long lasting effects were on them and why the survivors of these seemingly disparate regimes share much in common. This is a very difficult fact for people to face up to-but denying them their voices further is yet more injustice. I suggest you read survivor testimony and then talk about how the regimes were completely un-alike.

    Survivors from these many different abusive regimes have met and been astonished by how similar their experiences were and they listen quietly and respectfully of one another-they don’t argue about who suffered worst and which regime was worst. Just because there was no uniform worn by a foreign aggressor in, that it is not easy or clear as to who the ‘enemy’ was does not mean that Ireland didn’t experience very similar experiences too and it is wrong to deny the similarities of the survivor experiences. Listen hard and listen long to their voices to learn what it was really like and how they have had to bear these injustices and abuses for many decades, denied their experiences by any other than their own. They were silenced then and many are still silenced now in many cases. The deep shame, regret and stigma they were forced to assume still prevents many of them from even talking to their closest family and friends and coming forward in the media to educate society as a whole is beyond terrifying for them. Just remember what you have heard and read is but a tiny amount of what really happened for this reason-some of the most difficult experiences only come out when there is great trust.

    This is why I would like to suggest, respectfully once again, if you weren’t there you don’t know so don’t judge categorically merely on the historical facts alone of how many were killed and why as to whether the situations under the Nazi’s, Pol Pot and others alike or different. Look at the commonality of the human experience-the elements of the abusive system, how it was established, how it functioned, how it was maintained, which structures in society supported it, which structures and institutions failed to challenge it and who it abused.

    Thank you for reading- it HAD to be said on behalf of the vulnerable who can’t speak for themselves.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    The Irish Times reported today on the setting up of an inquiry into various homes for unmarried mothers. The article says that the mortality rates at these homes in the 30s and 40s was 30-50%. If true, crimes must have been committed, at least failures to provide the necessities of life.

  • gendjinn

    abucs,

    I would hope that is what they are doing but given the evidence there is no room for trust anymore.

    You are correct that there have been several sensationalist aspects to the story that seem to be exaggerations by journalists and not based in fact. Does not diminish the primary offense, just the window dressing.

    In your math you are assuming 200 births/year – not sure that’s correct and the denominator is likely much lower.

  • GEF

    “unbaptised babies were buried in the dead of night by their families because the church would not bury them.”

    This seemed to be common throughout Ireland before 1960s. I remember being at a large open meeting during the “West Belfast festival” recently were one of the panel was a well known Catholic bishop. Nearly a whole row of women attacked this Bishop over the burial of unbaptised children outside the Milltown cemetery walls. I was embarrassed by the incident.

  • abucs

    The primary offense? Remind me again what that was.

    The warning to society of the economic and personal costs whene actions create children growing up in families without acting supporting fathers?

    The bearing of such costs upon the CC themselves in providing food, shelter and education to those who are disadvantaged in such a way?

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com John Mooney

    I know that my stillborn brother is buried in my mothers family plot in a small County Armagh village.
    Apparently in a small wooden box.
    Born while my mother was on holiday and buried not exactly in the dead of night.
    That was 1954.
    My grvanddaughter was born and died on the same day in 2004.
    It was 19th December.
    Photographs were taken, foot-prints etc.
    We all got to hold her …for a full week after her death we visited my Daughter-in-Law at hospital.
    The mortuary staff at the hospital were extremely kind.
    As were hospital staff, who necessarily had to keep my Daughter-in-Law slightly segregated from other mothers.

    When she was discharged from hospital, my Daughter in Law then only 20 herself was at the full funeral of her baby.
    The baby is buried in (Catholic) consecrated ground.
    The funeral was conducted lovingly by a priest.
    And the Undertaker was amazing. Seemingly a local tradition with all undertakers that no profit can be made from this circumstance.
    The headstone dedicated to my Granddaughter is beautiful…as indeed was she.
    The love shown by a community (secular and religious) was and remains inspirational.
    I got to see my 20 year old son carry his daughters white coffin.
    Both Grandfathers in pieces held together by two very strong women.
    (The Grannys were amazing).
    Times have changed.

  • cynic2

    Abucs

    The fundamentals were that

    1 the mothers and children were despised because PPs said they should be

    2 the crusade was against sin – as defined by a Church that meantime was covering up its Priests buggering and raping children across Ireland and Europe

    3 this allowed a sense where these people were some form of human riff raff to be controlled and despised and just disposed of when they died

    4 the state turned away – it was all too difficult in the new Ireland and ran counter to the self image oif the bucolic rural idyll

    5 the rest of us let them do it – we turned away and ignored it

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Abucs

    “The bearing of such costs upon the CC themselves in providing food, shelter and education to those who are disadvantaged in such a way?”

    How much extra would one of the most powerful institutions in the world have to fork out to make sure young woman have pain killers for child birth, for detailed records to be kept or for proper medical care?

    Suffering might be free but it doesn’t come cheap.

  • Greenflag

    Cynic 2 above 11 June 2014 at 1:01 pm tells it like it was and perhaps still is in cases as yet unknown /unrevealed

    His/her earlier comment ”

    ” I don’t like the way the Government seems set to minimize it”

    seems alas also true .

    LIke it or not the Irish Catholic Hierarchy implemented the full rigour of primitive/backward Catholic doctrine as regards the ‘disposal ‘ be it banishment , shameful exile or other inhumane treatment of those who had ‘erred ‘ against Catholic doctrine all across Ireland and wherever else they could in the world . The record is appalling and made worse by the fact that the RC Church like the other Churches reputedly preaches it’s flock to ‘love their neighbours as themselves ” etc etc blah blah .

    The then and even now to some extent Irish political and economic elite mirrored the RC Church’s attitude to those who had ‘sinned ‘.

    Dr Noel Browne’s ‘Mother and Child Scheme ‘ was turned down by the then Irish Government because of Catholic Church objections to it’s humane ethos .

    The new Pope has fired all his financial advisers in an attempt to clean up the Roman Curia and it’s now known involvement in money laundering . He’s replaced his ‘Italians with Americans and Swiss financiers ?

    The Irish Catholic Hierarchy is not alone in it’s corruption .While it’s attempt to reform itself are to be welcomed it’ll be a long time if ever that the majority of Irish /European ?Americans will recover their faith in that institution ..

    Not that religious institutions are the only ones that the public have lost faith in in todays ‘beggar thy neighbour world ‘ .Parliamentary politics , international banking , and the advent of the neo corporate plutocratic state has whittled way whatever democracy people still pretend they still enjoy. Our new elites be they in the USA /UK/Brussels /Dublin/Berlin or Beijing or Moscow are not that much different from their predecessors of the 1920′s in their ability to save themselves at the expense of everybody else and to hell with consequences for the weakest in societies .

    .

  • Pigeon Toes

    Seriously if you think it’s changed, you are all sadly deluded. There are Secret Family Courts within the UK deciding on childrens lives and weighted in the same nefarious, abominable notions, which allowed families to be broken up here in the past.

    They are now “social workers” instead of the the clergy. Their word carries same weight of those community watchdogs of the past
    .http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/9120754/We-already-have-unjust-secret-courts.html

  • Pigeon Toes

    And such childer are now a “Business opportunity”.. so what exactly has changed? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/children_shealth/10882715/Why-the-explosion-in-child-snatching-is-big-business.html

  • Harry Flashman

    A long time ago the stigma of illegitimacy was handled by locking mother and baby up in a “home”, the babies were considered an item of shame and a burden to the families.

    The babies were so despised that they received poor treatment or attention and frequently died, their bodies were buried with little ceremony and were forgotten about.

    We look back at such bleakness and wonder how ordinary decent people, most of whom would have regarded themselves as humane and loving people, could tolerate such things happening in their midst.

    Today we have a neater, better, more progressive method of handling inconvenient babies that might be a burden or a thing of shame.

    We send the mothers to “clinics” where the baby is poisoned, eviscerated, dismembered, disembowelled or otherwise disposed of while in the mother’s womb by kindly members of the medical community, you know the same sort of respected citizens who a generation ago were locking up such babies.

    The remains of the baby is then thrown into an incinerator.

    Progressive, liberal people today congratulate themselves on their humanitarian solution to unwanted babies, they think those Catholics in the past were heartless, cruel bastards for the way they treated unwanted babies.

    Isn’t progress a wonderful thing?

  • abucs

    Cynic2,

    Pointing out the very real consequences of children growing up without supporting fathers is not advocating that people who fell into that trap should be despised.

    It is nowhere near the same thing. Not even close.

    Back in the 1960′s there was the academic manufactured morality that guilt was bad and guilt was caused by evil, backward looking patriarchal churches.

    What a load of crap that turned out to be.

    The very fact that the CC spent time, staff and resources to help the very people who were disadvantaged by their own actions is an open and shut case that the Church did not despise these people.

    Guilt exists because sin exists. Attempts to manufacture a society where this is not the case and anyone pointing out the existence of sin becomes the problem has long had its day.

  • abucs

    Am Ghobsmacht,

    I encourage you to actually reflect very closely on the question you asked.

    Also for consideration I ask you to reflect on the colossal number of Catholic Church contributions around the worlds regarding hospitals, aged care, the poor and medical advice.

    Have a look at the thousands of nuns around the world who follow in the similar footsteps of mother Theresa.

    Look at the great investment in medicine of the Catholic Church in the preceding 8 centuries which has been a light to the world in the field of health care.

    For centuries medicine was the main area of scientific research and for centuries the main area of advancement was in the universities of the Papal states together with Church created affiliates across Europe.

    One of the Popes for example advised the building of a hospital in every European city numbering at least 5000 people.

    I am happy to put the achievements of the Catholic Church regarding medicine and care against anyone.

    As mentioned above, I encourage you to look properly and fully into your question and its underlining argument.

    http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/middleages/healing/healing1.htm

    http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/middleages/healing/healing2.htm

    http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/middleages/healing/healing3.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_health_care

  • abucs

    Am Ghobsmacht,

    I have replied to your question above. As of writing it remains in moderation.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Abucs

    Cheers

    What is this ‘moderation’ mode?

    I’ve had a few comments in moderation but I don’t know what triggers it.

  • Mick Fealty

    It gets triggered if you include more than one URL, sorry for the delay..

  • Harry Flashman

    It is also triggered if you are using anonymiser software on your browser as I have noticed recently.

  • Republic of Connaught

    http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/david-quinn/single-mothers-were-forcibly-sterilised-in-sweden-we-dont-hear-much-about-that-30351488.html

    It is important to contextualize what was happening in Ireland with other countries at the time, otherwise a focus on Ireland alone does come across as deliberately anti-Catholic propaganda.

  • abucs