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Tuam Children’s Home – emotional minefield of rights

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Tuam Babies

This article was written by the late Connacht Tribune Group Editor, John Cunningham, and first published in the newspaper on April 24, 1998.

“What were the young women to do? Many weren’t wanted at home, they were ostracised by society … in those days a young woman could not become pregnant and stay at home. It was as simple as that. I saw the devastation when they were parted from their children … they nursed the child and looked after it for a year and then they went one way and the child stayed to be adopted, or to be boarded-out a few years later. I don’t know if many of them ever recovered from the heart-breaking parting.” John Cunningham writes on undoing the heartbreak of forty years ago.

The Chairperson of the Irish Birth Mothers’ Association, Mary Scully, has been quoted in the past week on the issue of trying to legislate for the potentially conflicting rights of adopted people in their search for their ‘birth mother’ and the right to privacy of the birth mother. She is quoted as saying “if I was a politician I would run a mile from it”.

Much of the discussion to date has tended to concentrate on the rights of the adopted people to gain access to the records, and potentially, to their birth mother. It is intended to clear up a difficult situation which has arisen through the increasing demand for adoptees to trace their true mothers.

For instance, the attempts to trace mothers have led to adoptees asking for access to Birth Certificates (to which they are entitled). Any person can look at the records for any day – the problem for adoptees is that they are not entitled to be told which are their particular records out of all those registered for the date of their birth.

So, people who were placed for adoption have been known to trawl through the details of births on the date of their birth, and begin trying to find out by process of elimination which was their birth mother.

It is into the middle of this controversy that Junior Minister Frank Fahey, TD, has been projected in trying to frame legislation and a system of coping with the potential minefield of emotional issues between the rights of mothers who gave up their children for adoption maybe forty years or more ago, and children place for adoption then who want their questions answered now.

To date, much of the publicity has surrounded the issue of children finding their mothers. The need for such an identity, for explanations, to find if mothers are still alive, the need to know why, has become an undeniable demand from children of this country who need to flesh out their identity. Above all, they are seeking explanations for what happened forty or fifty years ago.

But what of the mothers? For instance, they may have just such emotional need for the child placed for adoption so many years ago, but what of the impact of a son or daughter of decades previously walking into a life that has been built since – maybe a life with a husband and family who know nothing of what happened all those years ago.

It was one of the difficulties into which I ran personally some years ago when I began to research the Children’s Home in Tuam. My links to it were unusual. I spent the first seven years of life there and felt somewhat better qualified than most to, possibly, look at life there in the late ‘forties and early ‘fifties when Ireland was a very much different place.

My mother died shortly after I was born and because of the close proximity of The Children’s Home to my family home, and because rearing a sickly infant would be well nigh impossible for a widower who already had four young children, I was reared at The Home, though regularly spending some time at home as well. Perhaps the best explanation may be that I found a ‘mother’ there in The Home and ended up with two homes – my natural one where my family lived and my father worked, my mother figure lives, and I had dozens of sisters and brothers, the other children who were in The Home at the time.

It is important to understand the ‘culture’ of the time. The children there were in most cases orphans to all intents and purposes – perhaps the family had been struck by tragedy, but in the vast majority of cases they were the children of unmarried mothers who had become pregnant and had come into The Home for about a year.

At the end of that year, the mother usually left and the child was either put up for adoption or possibly for ‘boarding out’ a few years later to families who acted as guardians. Children could be lucky in either – but many of them would say today that they had to be extraordinarily lucky in boarding out not to become, essentially, unpaid slaves to families.

One has to be careful of any impressions gained in childhood, though memories of The Children’s Home can be extraordinarily vivid – long passageways dominated by the smell and shine of ‘Cardinal’ red polish on the floors, long lines of potties, of the inexplicably large numbers of young women, and of the mysterious business of the arrival and departure of the same young women, and apparently endless numbers of babies and toddlers.

Some of the women, like my surrogate mother (Mary) stayed on for life – possibly because they were brilliant nurses for newborn babies that were in lines in cots. They had to be brilliant nurses, for the infants were then potential victims for diseases which we now regard as just a nuisance, likes measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, the mumps. Today, that wonderful woman would probably be described as ‘institutionalised’. Probably she was.

There were searing and emotional partings. One of the people to whom I spoke is now a woman in her sixties and who was somewhat older than many of the youngsters in The home at the time.

She was better equipped to judge the devastation of parting a mother and child. I was a spoiled brat with a family down the road and an adoring ‘mother’ in The Home.

She put it this way: “What were the young women to do? Many weren’t wanted at home, they were ostracised by society … in those days a young woman could not become pregnant and stay at home. It was as simple as that. I saw the devastation when they were parted from their children … they nursed the child and looked after it for a year and then they went one way and the child stayed to be adopted, or to be boarded-out a few years later. I don’t know if many of them ever recovered from the heart-breaking parting. For instance, I was boarded-out myself. That was the way Ireland was at the time … but I will never forget the parting of some of the mothers and their children. It was heart-rending.”

From these remarks it is possible to gauge just some of the potential emotion which could be released forty or fifty years later for mother and child once involved in such a parting.

To understand the decision of the mother and the time, it is necessary to remember the particular conditions of the time – the mother was often a mere child herself of seventeen or eighteen; given the social conditions and the sexual taboos of the time, many of them would not even have understood the concept of pregnancy, not to mind motherhood. Such a pregnancy in the ‘thirties, ‘forties and ‘fifties involved a perceived shame for a family who very often wanted to hide away the ‘fallen daughter’; unmarried mothers were ostracised from a society which was Jansenistic in its approach to sexuality and ‘sins of the flesh’ were tailed against by the church. (Interestingly, those who paid for the ‘sins’ were the women).

This was the atmosphere against which the teenage mothers made their decision to ‘give up’ their babies – though some of those I have spoken to in research work in the past few years have, happily, been reunited with their birth mothers and mothers have found their children.

What may be forgotten is that at least some of these girls of the forties and fifties may have since built up a life for themselves where their families may know little or nothing of the history from that time.

The women involved can never forget – but time may at least have dulled the pain of the parking. In my research work – and remember some of the children of the era were mu ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ from that unusual setting in The Home – it is quite clear that there is at least concern on the part of some on the opening up of old memories.

Concern now in drafting legislation and methods of children making contact with birth mothers and vice versa, has to be for the two distinct groupings.

A birth mother from the era might just dread the knock on the door and opening it to be greeted by “hello … I think you may be my mother”. In some cases, children also will not want a whole era reopened. Equally, it has to be said that parties on both sides may dearly wish to contact the other.

I felt it was important to write this piece so that the plight of the birth mothers might be taken note of. They too have undergone pain – the pain of parting from a child because they were unmarried mothers in an era when society saw them as sinners, and outcasts. It was a society that preferred to have them and their children inside the walls of institutions like The Children’s Home … fallen women and ‘Home Babies’.

Today, they are determined to have the rights once denied to them.

CITY TRIBUNE

Council to consider new pedestrian ‘plaza’ for Galway City

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Councillors will be asked next month to consider a sweeping overhaul of traffic flow in the city centre as the local authority seeks to create a more pedestrian-friendly core in the wake of Covid-19.

Currently under proposal in City Hall are major alterations to traffic flow which will allow for restricted car access to Middle Street – creating additional outdoor seating space for businesses in the area struggling to cope amid social distancing requirements.

Senior Engineer at City Hall, Uinsinn Finn, said they are currently considering three different proposals to alter traffic flow on Merchants Road, Augustine Street and Flood Street to reduce the need for car access to Middle Street, while still maintaining access for residents.

“We already pedestrianised Cross Street and we will be maintaining that, and there will be a proposal for Middle Street and Augustine Street.

“Businesses in the area are very much in favour of pedestrianisation – one business has objections but the others are supportive. Another consideration is that there are residents there with parking spaces and we are trying to encourage people to live in the city centre,” said Mr Finn.

The Latin Quarter business group submitted proposals for the temporary pedestrianisation of Middle Street and Abbeygate Street Lower but Mr Finn said the proposals the Council were considering were more in the line of creating adequate space for pedestrians while still allowing residents vehicular access.

This would involve creating a circuit for car traffic moving through Merchants Road around onto Augustine Street and exiting at Flood Street.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the full details, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Residents want laneway closed following pipe bomb scare

Francis Farragher

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Residents in part of Knocknacarra are calling for the closure of a laneway and for more Community Gardaí to be put on the beat following the discovery of a ‘viable’ pipe-bomb type device in the area last weekend.

Up to 13 homes in the Cimín Mór and Manor Court estates had to be evacuated on Friday evening last when the incendiary device was discovered by Gardaí concealed in an unlit laneway, leading to the emergency services being notified.

An Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit was called to the scene and removed the device – according to local residents and councillors, the Gardaí have confirmed that the device was viable.

Gardaí have declined to comment on the detail of the case but have confirmed that the matter is being ‘actively and vigorously investigated’.

Chairman of the Cimín Mór Residents’ Association, Pat McCarthy, told the Galway City Tribune that the discovery of the viable device on the narrow laneway that links their estate to Manor Court was extremely frightening for all concerned.

“For the best part of the past 20 years, we have been seeking action to be taken on this laneway which has been used for dumping and unsociable behaviour on a repeated basis.

“But what happened last Friday evening was really the last straw for us. This could have resulted in serious injury to innocent people and what is also of concern to us is how close this was to the two schools in the area,” said Mr McCarthy.

He said that over the coming days, the residents’ association would be petitioning all residents in the three estates concerned – the other two being Manor Court and Garraí Dhónaill – for action to be taken on the laneway.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the full details, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway designer’s necklace is fit for a princess!

Denise McNamara

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Kate Middleton wearing the necklace designed by Aisling O'Brien

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A Galway jewellery designer is the latest to experience the ‘Kate effect’ after fans tracked down the woman who created a necklace for the Duchess of Cambridge which she has worn several times since it was gifted to her during her trip to the city last March.

Aisling O’Brien’s website crashed on Wednesday night when orders poured in for the piece from around the world. The necklace costs €109 with initials, while the earrings retail for €49.

“I’d never sold more than two things outside of Ireland before. I only had three of Kate’s necklaces in stock – and now I have orders for at least 50. I’ll have to start recruiting some elves,” laughs Aisling, who only set up her website during lockdown.

The 14-carat gold necklace and earrings set was designed by Aisling specially for Kate after examining her style – “understated, elegant, simplicity” is how the Tuam native describes it.

She was contacted about the commission by physiotherapist Thérèse Tully, who wanted to give the future queen a gift as she was using her room to change at Árus Bóthar na Trá beside Pearse Stadium when the royal couple were meeting with GAA teams.

(Photo: Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton wearing the necklace)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the full details, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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