Thoughts on the Tuam Baby Scandal

I had a baby in Ireland in 1995. I was single and living in Dublin at the time and before falling pregnant I thought this country a modern place, a place for the young. I was wrong.

Ireland was and in many ways still is a place for the old, the conservative, the ‘religious’, the man.

My flat wasn’t suitable for a baby so first things first I had to go flat hunting. No one wanted a pregnant girl for a tenant. It was early stages so I could have lied but already I’d changed in ways deep and old. I felt I couldn’t take the chance I’d be turfed out when they’d find out. I needed some shred of security and so it would go, I’d say, ‘I’ll take it,’ and they’d say ‘Great!’ ‘By the way I’m pregnant.’ Awkwardness, blushes, stammering or plain rudeness. ‘Sorry no.’ Β On I’d go, Rathmines, Ranelagh, South Circular Rd, Drumcondra, Phibsboro, Rathgar Rd.

It took a long, long stressful time. When finally I found a place they hiked the rent a few months in. I was nine months pregnant. In front of the agent I cried. I said, ‘So you’re putting us out on the street?’ He couldn’t look at me but that’s a different story.

Add, people who stopped taking to me, turned away in the street, friends, young, old, people I’d known all my life. Responses varied from how my life was over to oh well you’ve made your bed or just silence.

The two worst incidents were in the hospital, I can’t talk about that one and the christening, saddest day of my life. The priest, let’s just say, he made sure I felt it. Whatever ‘it’ is, well communicated.

The experience of being a single mother was the beginning, the death knell of the church for me. I had my eyes opened. I started to believe and now believe that as a woman particularly it’s my duty to serve no religion. It’s my duty to me, to my children and to the memory of the women and children of the world today and of history to refuse.

It’s funny I got married in a church, I wouldn’t do that today (just in the nick of time Adrian!)

I’ve always felt a close and chilling bond with the girls of the laundries, I’ve never been able to watch that movie for the way it instills a cold terror in me. In some ways I feel I was there, I’m with those girls. I’ve seen today where people have asked, ‘How could people have stood by and let this happen?’ ‘How could mothers give up their children?’ ‘How could parents send their daughters away? Never mention their children or their children’s children again?’ ‘How could nuns, nurses terrorise young girls in labour, not meet even their medical needs and then torture their children?’ The answer, malignant shame, vested on Irish society and other societies by religious organisations, by men, by a patriarchal society that has nothing to do with any god and nothing you say will ever make me believe it. There’s no god, no humanity and no divinity in how the church has treated women and children. The people were complicit too long.

Every day I’m thankful I live in a more liberal and open society than the one of 1995 or any year previous. I applaud people who are brave and open and true but I implore those who work with children or anyone vulnerable to also be brave and open and true. There’s no excuse for complicity in cruelty or neglect, now or then.

As the great slave emancipator Hilary Tubman said... ‘I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they’d known they were slaves.’

Like many people in Ireland I decided long ago I wouldn’t be a slave but now we need more whistle blowers, more people who will stand up for the vulnerable. Stand up for you and your children, honour those lost and don’t forget the thousands in care and poverty today. Who will stand up for them? Who at least will offer kindness? Even the smallest kindness stays with a person forever.

One thing for sure, if there is a hell it’s not full of mothers or children.



17 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Tuam Baby Scandal”

  • What a powerful and moving post, Jane. So well said and also what a sad reminder of the narrow-mindedness and sheer ignorance that existed and still exists in our society.

  • So well said Jane. The more I read of the Tuam scandal, the worse it gets. How many more “septic tanks” are there around Ireland filled with these poor precious wee souls? As a single teenage mother myself I relate to what you went through, but even in 1987 & pregnant in Belfast, I honestly don’t remember ever being treated so badly. Maybe in Belfast it was the norm.!

    The Tuam story is vile & reminds me of something like the concentration camps and I think the site should be declared a Crime Scene and investigated by authorities in Ireland at the highest level. I hope the Irish people and the international communities don’t let this go until everyone of these babies & children have at least a Christian burial.

    • Thank you Kerry, It’s all affecting me really badly as I’m sure it is a lot of people. No doubt it’s the Catholic religion to blame in this case so perhaps that’s how you escaped the ostracism and still it’s not easy for any young mother, compassion’s what’s needed

  • Jane, that is so well written and so very very sad. “I posted this less articulately last night on facebook, just so angry. “Just enough. All apologists for Tuam, etc. Just stop already. It was genocide. No apologies or excuses. No excuses. We so need now to grieve and acknowledge the great wrong done to women and children in the name of god and the state” Mind yourself.

  • Jane, you’ve brought tears to my eyes, fantastic post. When I was in labour a horrible old midwife in Cavan was downright rude to me, it became very obvious why she was treating me this way when after the birth Louie said something about his wife and she suddenly changed her tune, “Oh I didn’t realise you were married” (I wasn’t wearing my ring due to swollen fingers), needless to say she got a piece of my mind, it still makes me angry to think about it, religion sure has alot to answer for, thankfully most people have copped on but there are still judgmental ould bible thumpers out there who think that they have a right to look down on others, my aunty Eileen used to say of such people “all religion and no Christianity” she wasn’t too far astray!

    • I think aunty Eileen hit the nail on the head there. Thanks Roisin, it’s very hard to be reminded of these things isn’t it, but it all needs to come out and a more open. liberal and fair society is worth the pain of it

  • Beautiful and poignant Jane.

    When I came here in 1993 people said ‘ahh, it’s so modern now, you should have seen what it was like in the 50’s and 60’s’

    I came from Australia and my parents are Irish and were Catholic so I had my fair share of the religious.

    In the 90’s I thought Ireland was still very conservative and your story tells that tale.

    I’ve been working as the evaluator for 5 projects that were funded in Ireland and the UK who work with survivors of institutional abuse.

    One of the projects in the UK has done and continues to do amazing work with and for women from the Magdalen laundries.

    It is my belief that we cannot repeat the tragedy of silence that shamed literally thousands upon thousands of men and women who were institutionalised because they didn’t fit some kind of picture of what was normal or because they had no parental supports or because some bloody priest or nun or family member decided you weren’t behaving ‘properly’.

    The church and state were culpable in their abuse of power and their disdain for the powerless.

    And if they do it again in 2014 then this may be the straw that broke the camels back.

    I send you huge good wishes for the courage it took to write this post and the feelings you are experiencing as a result.

    If we stay silent then those in power can abuse the trust we place in them – and that has been proven so many times that it breaks my heart.

    Thank you for speaking Jane.



  • Brilliant post. Isn’t it heartbreaking what our society has done to people because of shame. When will it end? It makes me so angry to read about those children and their mothers treated so cruelly by people supposedly working for God. ” Shame derives its power from being unspeakable” Brene Brown – so hopefully by speaking up and acknowledging the dreadful past it will never happen again.

    • Thank you Valerie, a perfect quote that illustrates for me the problem and the answer, a more open and accepting society

  • Apologies if I am simply repeating what others have said here but I’d just like to say ‘Thanks’. Thanks for your honesty and beautiful prose, Jane xx

  • What a candid and eloquent read Jane. Make no mistake, what has happened in the mother and baby homes is ‘our’ holocaust. They were ‘honour’ crimes carried out by nuns and priests in the form of neglect, abuse and starvation. No different to a concentration camp. The catholic church is a dictatorship the same as Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong was. Indoctrination starts when our children are so young, when they are unable to make up their minds about religion. By the time they are able to make their own views, brainwash has set in. I considered withdrawing my son from holy communion next year, as i feel hypocritical going through these senseless rituals of ‘confession’ and ‘communion’. I just fear the social implications and don’t want to isolate him. But one must stay true to one’s convictions. I want my children to grown up with a healthy sense of spiritualism and not a fear based dogma faith.

    I really enjoy your blog, thanks again Jane x

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