IT IS THE YOUNG WHO BELIEVE US
This headline was probably the most significant comment made during a Zoom presentation hosted by An Cumann Staire, the history society of NUI, Galway last evening 11th March 2021. The event featured speeches by four former residents of Irish mother and baby homes who all agreed that it was mainly the young who believed their story and who support them. It might seem obvious to state that the young people do not have much knowledge of the past and are therefore vulnerable to believe stories and claims which older people do not believe. Old fogies like me, could see that all the speeches contained significant errors, and some of the claims made were so fanciful, that only the most gullible people could find them credible.
The attendees were nearly all female and at times the host and event co-ordinator, Neasa Gorrell, could be observed fighting back tears as she listened to stories told by the various speakers. The history society Auditor, Grace Carolan also admitted afterwards that see too was actually crying, off screen, during the presentations. When emotion is present, reason is absent, and so on a wintery March night, the current sorry state of the Irish university system was on full display due to the absence of critical thinking skills.
The commission of investigation into mother and baby homes does not believe many of the testimonies supplied to it, and this was the primary grounds for complaint amongst all the speakers present. Aside from former residents, the speaker list included two journalists, both authors of books on Irish institutions, one university PhD student and a representative of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
Alison O’Reilly, the journalist who broke the Tuam story in 2014, continued to make claims which have been disproven along with the university researcher who claimed that children were starved at these homes. Jamie Canavan, a female PhD student researching the topic of fostered children spoke in an American accent on the subject of the wider context of old Irish institutions. She continued to make claims which the commission of investigation have stated categorically are not supported by the evidence. ‘Coercive confinement’ was one of these claims which is no doubt built on the declaration of one of her university mentors, Sarah-Anne Buckley, who wrote that Ireland built ‘a brutal carceral state’ to confine women. However, the reality is that mothers had to apply for admission to mother and baby homes and were never places of incarceration. Canavan went on to posit the full gamut of falsehoods which have been thrown out by the commission of investigation and did so without ever presenting the evidence to show why she thought the commission was in error. Both she and O’Reilly mentioned that ‘marasmus’ on death certificates indicated that illegitimate children died due to hunger. However, the commission, after consulting with medical experts say that it was a general term used by medics for ‘defects in the mucus membrane of the intestine which prevents absorption of food’. Consequently, the commission used the term malabsorption throughout its report to clarify the meaning of marasmus. O’Reilly ignored it completely and went on to state that ‘in terms of children dying in appalling circumstances such as hunger, you know, gastro problems, babies being referred to as congenital idiots all these horrifying terms, nobody reacted’. ‘Idiot’ was at first a medical term which has made its way into popular language as an insult. However, medics were not using it as an insult and the term also appears on many death certificates of legitimate children. Clearly Alison O’Reilly has no education in the area of medical terms nor vintage medicine, nor does it appear do many writers including academic writers who write on the subject.
Caelainn Hogan, author of a book which apparently is based mostly on the testimonies of former residents of Ireland’s intuitions, complained that their stories were contradicted by the commission’s report. The commission stated that the homes were refuges and provided some form of service and that women were not forced in there. Hogan disagrees as it appears out of fear that the allegations made in her book are could be rendered invalid.
Sharon McGuigan, a former resident of a mother and baby home, told how she was made pregnant by a friend of the family when she was only 15 years of age. Her parents would not have the child in their home, and so they arranged for her to stay at the Dunboyne mother and baby home. She recollected that the treatment she received at the home was good but her only complaint was that that she got no emotional support while there. She claimed that her treatment at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles St in Dublin was ‘absolutely terrible’, for no other reason than she was unmarried mother. The hospital was secular in ethos, even though all the hospital’s masters were protestant until the 1990s. She claims to have given birth on her own, alone in her cubicle, to a premature baby girl born on 25 Nov 1985. She stated that the treatment she got from her family was worse than she got any where else. She signed adoption papers but did not know what she was signing. She made contact with her daughter, now 35 years old, who replied that she does not want to meet her. In spite of all of her negative comments about the secular system, she maintains that ‘if it were not for the church and state the parents would not have been able to put their children in there’. ‘I lived with shame from people in the village, they didn’t say anything, but you knew that they were talking behind your back’. I am sure that that is her honest perception and in certain psychological states we can perceive information which may not be realty. Other than her perception we cannot know if people were actually talking about her behind her back.
Grace Tierney development officer with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties also spoke in an American accent. She delivered a speech which claimed that human rights were violated, even human rights which did not exist in the past. The Irish Council for Civil liberties is a one of the strangest organisations on the planet. In a country which had a great deal of civil liberty until the corona virus lockdown, they had nothing to do but to go back into the past and pick a fight with the dead. For me, the council are reminiscent of Monty Python’s Peoples Front of Judea, an organisation run by a committee, which sits around all day, argues endlessly about irrelevant issues and gets stuck in a rut of useless bureaucracy and ineffectual action.
Many young Irish people today speak with American accents which is a manifestation of Irish cultural prejudices and I would contend the strength of the American accent is directly proportional to the severity of cultural prejudice. The old Irish prejudices of self-loathing are abundantly manifest in the entire scandal. A topic I explore in more detail in my forthcoming book.
Two male former residents of mother and baby homes representative of the babies recounted being only vague memories or no memories at all. One man with vague memories said he stayed in bed all day and got no education and when brought to foster parents at four years of age he killed all their Turkeys because he did not know what they were. He had never seen them before. Another man recalled that he had been born at a hospital which was not built at that time. He could not recall any bad treatment while in the Tuam home but had memories of his foster father who he described as a brute. He continued to live with the brute until the age of 33. On one occasion he described how his foster father was going to murder him but for some inexplicable reason he did not carry it out. In recent times he found out he had a sister who was born at the Tuam home who died shortly after. According to him, her death was certified, not by a doctor but by a woman working at the home.
That has been a common falsehood doing the rounds in the media. Bina Rabbite was not certifying the deaths; her name is recorded on the certificates as ‘the informant’. That is the person who brings the doctor signed death certificate to the registrar’s office to have it entered on the register.
A thread running through all the claims of the former residents was the issue of their poor education and that of an almost complete lack of personal awareness.
Terri Harrison said that did not really know she was pregnant and went to England not telling the child’s father. She puts her behaviour down to an unawareness life in general and remarks that she was living in ‘cuckoo land’ at that time. ‘I thought I left the narrow mindedness, all the ‘catlick’ profound hurt and pain, no matter where they go in the world, they bring it with them’. In 1973 while firmly ensconced in cuckoo land, in London, she had an accident and went to hospital where the medics revealed to her that she that she was pregnant. Before you could say boo, a priest and nun showed up in a black car and were let into her bedsit. When she arrived back to the bedsit, they forcibly took her out of her flat. She shouted at them and they shouted back at her and she shouted for help, but no one came to her aid. She was then escorted through security at Heathrow airport with a priest holding on to her tightly. She struggled to get away, but the airport police did not intervene. She was never on a plane before, had a fear of flying and suffered a panic attack. She alleged that the priest thumped her on her back, presumably to force her on to the plane. She asked the air hostess where the plane was going, and she said Cork. Two nuns met her at the airport and brought her to the Bessborough home. She claims to have escaped Bessborough but was found in Dublin and put into the St Patrick’s Home on the Navan road. She says that some nuns were not unkind but were totally indifferent to her, you were just not a person. She alleged that some of the nuns told her she was a whore, dirty, filthy and that nobody wanted her.
Later she said that the noise of the Angelus bells was used by a paedophile ring to cover the noise of screams of the boys while they were being raped. Angelus bells have a duration of one minute, and I am not sure if one minute of sex is long enough to gratify a paedophile.
Terri Harrison certainly appeared overly keen to promote anti-Catholic myths, but her biggest complaint was that despite having gave evidence to the commission of investigation, her story was not deemed to be credible. Nonetheless, the meeting host, Ms Gorrell, was visibly close to tears while she was telling her story. Clearly, she believes Terri over the commission of investigation.
I don’t think it is possible to be forcibly removed from a country through an airport, as all passengers came in close contact with airport security. In 1973, all ports in Britain were subject to tight security due to the Northern Ireland Troubles and the police special branch was also deployed to ports to look for suspicious persons. Any person could easily go up to security personnel or shout loudly to ask for help. In relative terms, flying was extremely expensive in the early 1970s and was only for the wealthy, it would have been far cheaper and much easier to forcibly transport a person by sea. Although getting through seaport security was less of a challenge, it was not entirely without risk.
She claims that after the birth of her son in hospital she was ‘wrapped in tin-foil’ due to bleeding. However, mylar or space blankets were not likely to have been in use in Irish hospitals in the 1970s and are not used in hospital settings today to treat hypovolemic shock.
‘Sunday shoppers’ was the term Terri used to describe people who came to the institution to ‘buy babies’ after mass. However, babies were a hard sell, and even a cursory glance at the history of childcare, shows that unwanted babies were produced in such numbers, that it was difficult to find enough foster parents to care for them. Thus, the need for orphanages and care homes.
I don’t believe that the nuns/women who were in charge of the care of unmarried mothers ever abused her in the way she described. It looks like the commission were also sceptical of her allegations, hence her anger directed at it. Moreover, one would have to have a deep knowledge and understanding of the time to be able to spot errors or mis-recollections. This greater knowledge is in possession of older people and that is why they remain far more sceptical than young people.
Galway university claims to be able teach its students ‘critical thinking skills’ but time and again, this claim is rendered bogus, as there was no evidence that any of the students or academics involved, had subjected witness testimony to critical evaluation. Furthermore, there is evidence that group think is present and that the quality control mechanisms to prevent this and other maladies like confirmation bias are completely dysfunctional.
Irish academia has left the job of critical thinking entirely to the commission of investigation. ‘The Commission has no doubt that the witnesses recounted their experiences as honestly as possible. However, the Commission does have concerns about the contamination of some evidence. A number of witnesses gave evidence that was clearly incorrect. This contamination probably occurred because of meetings with other residents and inaccurate media coverage.’
It would seem that the campaign currently run by NUI, Galway to repudiate the findings of the commission is imperative in order to save academia from one of its greatest embarrassments.
A typical meeting of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties