It is emerging that thousands of children were starved to death in state funded homes run by nuns in Ireland. The Daily Mail today carries a detailed report which quotes Philip Redmond, a survivor of Sean Ross Abbey Hospital, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary where of the 167 babies born in 1942, there were 72 deaths. Mr Redmond says "As far as Bessborough is concerned, there is little doubt in our minds that as many as 2,000 died while we believe another 1,200 died in Sean Ross Abbey" This figures are to be added to the estimated 796 bodies found in a waste tank in the grounds of then Tuam home - see the earlier piece on this page.
The nuns were apparently invited to set up these homes by Éamon de Valera’s government which along with other administrations waged a war on women in Ireland after independence in order to impose a rigid catholic morality of the sort the so called 'pro-life' movement wants to retain today. On the one hand figures like the Bishop of Tuam were removing & burning books with any sex education content from public libraries, as well as those he consider favourable to unmarried mothers. On the other hand poor women who gave birth outside marriage were having their children taken from them, many of whom we now know died in these homes, and were themselves sent into the slavery of the Magdeline laundries to provide free labour, in some cases for the rest of their lives.
The Mail reports that "As stillbirths were rarely recorded, the total of how many babies died .. might never be known. The certificates researchers have seen so far make for harrowing reading. Time and time again, the cause of death is described as ‘marasmus, cardiac failure’. Marasmus is the result of chronic undernutrition, other characteristics are diarrhoea, dry, loose skin and dry, brittle hair."
This story was published on the WSM Facebook page 31st May 2014 based on the reporting that appeared in that mornings Daily Mail (a UK based tabloid). Because no Irish media source ran with the story for several more days our post was shared over 1100 times and attracted 147 commnets, some of them from survivors of these homes detailing their experiences.
Newstalk is finally leading on the story of the 796 children buried in a sceptic tank in a religious home in Tuam - it has yet to appear in the RTE website. It's over a week and RTE has yet to 'realise' this is a major story. A clear indication that we are not dealing simply with uncovering a grim story from the distant past but with the way power continues to be exercised between Church, State & Media in our collective present.
Over the last week we have published 7 stories on this [Workers Solidarity Facebook] page about the discovery of the Tuam grave and the revelation that thousands more children are to be found in similar mass graves elsewhere in Ireland. We are putting this in the context of a deliberate policy of the state to destroy any independence women had, to enforce a grim sexual morality on women and severely punish those who refused to toe the line and their children. The sort of policy that the right wing politicians of the so called 'pro-life' movement continue to push today when they attack sex education, access to abortion and marriage equality.
But also that when we wonder about how our grandparents could live in a society that allowed this to go on we should also question ourselves why we allow the cruel conditions of the Direct Provision Asylum Detention system to exist. That is our equivalent modern day rule through fear in which thousands of people are trapped, and like our grandparents the majority of the population not only turn a blind eye but make excuses for the cruelty of that system.
Around 100,000 people have read these stories and lots of you have helped circulate them. In looking down them we became aware that survivors of these institutions had commented on some of them and we wanted to draw attention in particular to this eyewitness account posted as a comment last night
“I spent the first 9 years of my life in St Clare's in Stamullen. The abuse and degradation was rife. Lack of proper food and care were key to the nuns power over us. Cold tired hungry children will do whatever to survive. I have many memories of washing babies who died as a result of this neglect and as a result of this have been scared for life. The only good that came out of this was that I Survived. They broke my body but they couldn't break my spirit. But the nightmares never leave. Thank god these places no longer exist.
When you turned 4 in the place I was in your role was to be mother to 6-8 newborns and when they died as many did I would wash them and get them ready for burial in a communal grave. We in our innocence would give them names without the nuns ever knowing. I've lived with the guilt of their deaths all my life poor little souls never stood a chance.”
The question we must all address is not just how we uncover this terrible past but how we recognise the same forces at work in the present and come together to defeat them.
Published on WSM Facebook on 3 June 2014