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One painstaking task that will bring its own rewards for Catherine

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The old workhouse in Tuam built in the 1840s, that became the mother-and-baby home from 1925 to 1961.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

It’s November and Christmas is just around the corner, a time when most of us strive for some kind of peace and happiness during the mid-winter period, but over the past week there still continues to be something quite haunting about the work of Catherine Corless, as she devotes a large chunk of her work of recent years to remembering and recording the almost 800 children buried in an unmarked graveyard just off Tuam’s Dublin Road.

The story again hit the headlines over the past week when she revealed that the burial site for the children, many of them infants, was in fact much larger than the very well kept little garden, that many local people have lovingly tended to over the decades.

Common sense though always had to dictate that the area required to bury 796 children had to be, in all probability, greater than the size of the enclosed current location, and Catherine Corless’s more recent work actually points to a County Council report back in 1979, referencing the burial area, at a time when there was a playground proposal for the site.

The St. Mary’s mother-and-baby home was established in the building that was the old workhouse in Tuam, dating back to the mid-1800s, but in 1925 the Bon Secours nuns took it over to cater primarily for young women ‘who got in trouble’ (to use that shocking but thankfully archaic phrase to describe pregnant single women). The rest as they say, is history, and a very painful and harrowing one too.

The story of course got distorted out of all sensible parameters when a septic tank was found in the same area and the world’s media cut loose on interpreting what was, and is, just a very sad reflection of an Ireland that was backward, uncaring in a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ kind of way, and that was also hugely deficient in resources and knowledge in dealing with the health of mothers and especially their infant children.

Even the more reputable news organisations like The Guardian, The Washington Post and ABC News Australia couldn’t resist terms like the ‘dumping of bodies’ and the use of ‘septic tank’ graves. The reality is that each year between 1925 and 1961, about 22 children, mostly infants, died at St. Mary’s – almost every fortnight there was a burial at the back of the home. Shocking and horrible yes, but not a mass ‘dumping’ of bodies.

The reality of health care in our ‘great new country of freedom’ through the 30s, 40s and 50s, was that child mortality at birth was high, while as children grew up through their early school years, many also succumbed to a variety of what we would now regard as minor ailments.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Making a difference – a long way from home

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Sorcha Fennell.

For as long as she can remember, SORCHA FENNELL harboured a dream to work in international development – and the Galway woman, who is Director of International Operations with Trócaire, has fulfilled that ambition in some of the most challenging places in the world, as she reveals here.

As my children and their friends tell me, choosing a career nowadays is a complex task with a dizzying amount of choices in what, where and how you work.

I had no such trouble.

From a very young age I knew I wanted to work in international development and I feel lucky and grateful to have been able to fulfil that wish. I have lived and worked in some of the world’s most challenging countries in Asia, Africa and Central America and in my current role I am responsible for the International Operations and projects we manage in Trócaire.

Context can have a huge bearing on our choices and for me going to school in Coláiste Iognáid in Galway was a formative experience. Their emphasis on social justice influenced me at a time where we were living through the troubles in Ireland, famine in Africa and unrest in Central and South America.

My family had an influence as well. My mother had worked with Palestinian refugees in Israel, my grandmother had been a doctor in Africa and my great Aunt was a Franciscan nun working as a missionary in Uganda.

I was always a really engaged activist and even started my own Social Action Group at school. After studying social work in Derry for two years, I decided to go overseas and volunteer.

Nine days after my twentieth birthday, in January 1991, I paid for myself to fly to my great Aunt Terry in Uganda and volunteered as a teacher in a former leprosy colony, that was now a school run by her group of incredible Franciscan nuns, the youngest of whom was 76 and the oldest was 89.

It was a truly eye-opening experience. The country was ravaged by AIDS and still recovering from the brutal reign of Idi Amin.

It took me a while to get used to it, to absorb the smells, the sounds, the numbing poverty. All my senses were on high alert. It felt very far from home and as a social person the new sense of isolation life took a bit of getting used to.

But it was also exciting, challenging and a time of incredible learning. Teaching the children was something I loved. I became aware of the transformational potential of education and how parents wanted above all to give their children the opportunity of school and learning.

Before I left, I decided to help some of them get to secondary school so I hatched a plan. I took out a loan, bought loads of high-quality African art and crafts and brought them back.

I approached Sabina Higgins who helped me put on an African Exhibition and raised enough money to send them to school. The local Galway community was great too. I remember Kenny’s Bookshop giving me loads of Ladybird books to take back to the children.

When my time in Uganda was up, I knew I wanted to continue this kind of work. I came back to Ireland, studied Development Studies and then joined Goal, working in South Sudan for 3 years until 1997.

The people there were suffering from the twin ravages of war and famine, and I learned a lot about the international and political context that shape those events. Southern Sudan and its people those people deeply influenced my view on development, and I still count the people I met there as my friends.

After meeting my husband and spending a year traveling, we moved to Honduras for his work.

Soon after we arrived, Hurricane Mitch happened, the deadliest hurricane in history at the time.  It’s difficult to describe the devastation we witnessed. People, houses, crops just disappeared. Many had been swept away in their beds.

I remember a woman standing with one flip flop and a plastic bag and a look of total shock. That was all she had left.

The lack of basic infrastructure meant so many people died that shouldn’t have. Existence was tenuous, people living in shacks at the edge of rivers with no ownership or land.

I contacted Trócaire and told them I had experience and was on the ground and so started working with their emergency response.

What I worked on in the following months and years, showed me how utterly transformative aid and support can be.  I began to understand the importance of sustainable, long-term development and tackling the fundamental structural issues that often underpin poverty.

In Honduras, Trócaire began a campaign to ensure women got title to and ownership of their land. Generally, land and home ownership was in the man’s name, which left women with no security.

During the reconstruction phase, we ensured that title deeds were in the name of the youngest child or mother. This simple move was transformative.  We watched whole communities emerge, building not just the security of a roof over her head, but the security of ownership and the protection that ensured. At the opening ceremonies of these estates, women would come up and hold up their key knowing it meant safety, lighting, protection for your children now and in the future. It’s the difference between a band-aid, (which can be necessary in an emergency), and a cure.

Currently Trócaire works in some of the world’s poorest countries. Myanmar, Somalia, Ethiopia, the DRC among others. Hundreds of millions of lives are at risk every day from war, famine and climate change.

In this context, the impact of helping one person can be so simple yet profound. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most insecure places in the world, especially for women. There are around 138 militia groups operating in the Eastern DRC and insecurity is a constant reality for the communities and for our staff.

One day we were meeting a women’s group with whom we had recently run a literacy programme. We sat in a meeting with these women and asked what it had meant for them.  I’ll never forget one woman standing up and simply saying “now I can write a text.”

The enormity of this woman to be able to now read warnings that will impact her security or ask for help is profound. The power that simple skill can now give her can’t be underestimated.

That’s all overseas aid, or support organisations like Trócaire is – we work with people who don’t have the menu of options we do, and help them create those options.

It’s not charity, it is simply enabling and empowering those who are vulnerable to poverty and violence.

The people I have met and worked with over the years are strong, powerful, resilient and dignified people who find themselves in environments and conditions that are simply impossible to get through without some form of support – the support is an enabler, capable of transforming lives – but the people we work with are the real agents of change.

 

 

 

 

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Connacht Tribune

The Transformation Journal to help achieve a better you

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Author Marguerite Tonery with her new foal, Danny Boy.

Health, Beauty and Lifestyle with Denise McNamara

Award-winning children’s author Marguerite Tonery has published her first self-help book to help people reach their goals. The Castlegar woman, who set up her own printing company, Tribes Press, to help authors see their work in print, has produced The Transformation Journal, to help people “rise above your current challenges”

She is currently in the throes of her own challenges. When we speak, she is on a break from her family’s stables, Cooper’s Hill Equine in Castlegar village, where she has moved into for the last three months. Her beloved mare Castlefrench Clover died, leaving behind a tiny foal. She is now bottle-feeding Danny Boy round-the-clock. His antics have become a bit of a hit on TikTok.

“This book is for anyone who is not happy in their lives for whatever reason, and who wants to change. As we change our environment changes,” she reflects.

“It’s to help you to gain a deeper awareness of yourself and how you operate in the world through meditative and psychological techniques.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Capturing Martin’s Magic

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Christian O’Reilly with the poster for his latest play, No Magic Pill, which will be staged at the city's Black Box from September 27-30 before transferring to the Civic in Tallaght for Dublin Theatre Festival. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Lifestyle – Christian O’Reilly’s new play No Magic Pill was a slow burner. Now that it’s finally being staged in Dublin and Galway, he has fulfilled a longtime promise to the late disability campaigner Martin Naughton from An Spidéal. Christian tells JUDY MURPHY how this brilliant and contradictory man changed lives and inspired him.

Christian O’Reilly was fresh out of DCU and in need of a job when he first met Martin Naughton, originally from An Spidéal and living in Dublin. Martin, who had muscular dystrophy, was an activist, seeking rights for disabled people and had established an Independent Living group to do this. He needed someone to lobby on their behalf.

That was in 1995, at a time when Christian, a Communications graduate, knew he wanted to be a creative writer, but also needed money to live.

“I probably turned up to the interview in a shirt and tie and Martin was wearing a fishing hat and smoking a cigarette,” recalls Christian with laugh.

Martin introduced himself by telling Christian to “shake the thumb” and they got chatting,

“I didn’t even know what lobbying involved. But he must have seen something in me because he gave me the job. Within a week, I was introducing speakers at a conference on disability rights,” says Christian.

“I had no confidence but he saw a willingness to work and he had the potential to find out what talent people had.

“He would see a capacity in people to do something and challenge them to do it – and they always rose to it. He railed against the notion of disabled people as passive and the Centre for Independent Living was like the IRA of disability”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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