Aoife Day: opting out of first Holy Communion for her own kind of Special Day

Saturday 14th May 2016 was my 37th birthday (yes, THIRTY-SEVEN), but this day was not about me.

It was all about my daughter, Aoife (8).

It was: “AOIFE DAY.”

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The idea for ‘Aoife Day’ came about when Aoife and I spoke about her not partaking in the First Holy Communion event with her school, and she decided she wanted to have a special kind of day for herself, in her own way. (I write about the background to that decision below).

It turned out to be a beautifully special day for us all: we rather spontaneously made it a significant coming of age kind of day. As I look back on that day, now as she moves into third class in her school, she does seem to have grown up a lot and left what we called “early childhood” ways behind.

It was also very wonderful and fun and totally freeform.

This is what we did on Aoife Day:

We had no real plans until a few days before. Aoife came up with  a list of ideas of what she wanted to do:

  • Get Up Real Early (to make the most of the day)
  • Go to the Heritage Park
  • Get Presents

She wanted the theme of the day to be “Nature-ly” as she put it – that is, she wanted us to do lots of Outside Things.

She basically wore her wellies all day!

She also wore a perfect and adorable fairy dress made out of unspeakably soft fleece, which Colm spotted on Facebook just the week before. He bought it to support a fellow archaeologist and thought maybe it would be suitable for her to wear on Aoife Day. How unbelievably perfect it turned out to be! (The dress was made by Bee Free Kids Clothing).

SO, in photos, this is what Aoife did.

PART 1: A MORNING WALK

We got up Real Early (she was up and bustling about excitedly at 6AM), we had a quick breakfast and went for a walk to the nearby stream. One of those simple things we’d been promising to do for the last two years.

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We brought some light snacks for a makeshift picnic, at the stream, and collected some freshwater in a flask. They spotted tiny invisible fish (I couldn’t see any! I never believe them when they say they can see fish) and they played Pooh Sticks over the bridge.

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Colm showed them an old neighbouring mill ruin and explained how it would have worked, and pointed out tree species and plants and basically nerded about archaeology and nature to them in the way that they know and love.

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Colm carried her back through the long grass to mind her dress – I love this photo so much, because they are wearing the same expression: both refusing to look at the camera, and waiting wearily for me to get out of their way😉

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Here she and her brother Beineán (5) are holding buttercups under their chins (you know that old trick of checking whether the buttercup reflects a yellow glow under the chin? If it does, you like butter. They found out that they both, do, in fact, like butter.)

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On the way back they looked for feathers.  She found two, which she is holding here. (I am holding cow parsley for display in our home).

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We came home from our walk and had our second breakfast – she requested chips. For breakfast. And it being Aoife Day, she got chips for breakfast. (I somehow did not photograph that.)

Before we would leave for the National Heritage Park, for Part 2 of her special day, we had to tend to some farm jobs of course. Aoife fed her three pet lambs, same as every other day.

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PART 2: GO TO THE NATIONAL HERITAGE PARK

If you’ve never been to the Irish National Heritage Park, you should go. We are fortunate to live just 15 minutes away. It’s beautifully thought out and fabulously built – all of the buildings got painstakingly renovated or rebuilt recently, so for all its ancientness, it’s all wonderfully fresh and new. It really brings archaeology to life, and is set in a natural wonderland.  Aoife and Beineán love so much just to run there.

First things, first, Aoife wanted ice-cream. So on Aoife Day, she got ice-cream.

Here she is eating her ice-cream in 8000BC, the Mesolithic:

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Still eating her ice-cream 4000 years later at the Neolithic House:

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Ice-cream was long-since consumed, along with a feed of more chips in the restaurant (it was Aoife Day, after all), by the time the Vikings came:

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And then there was time for another picnic, inside the actual (not replica) Anglo-Norman promontory fort overlooking Slaney Harbour.

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Here they are watching baby moorhens:

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On the raised walkway through the wetlands, she found another feather.

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The Heritage Park offers archery, and we usually scurry them along to the next thing away from it (thinking them too young) but on Aoife Day, she was not missing out. Getting to do archery was a dream come true for her (really, it was one of those things she tended to pester us about). The attendant there was so helpful and encouraging to them both. They loved it, and instead of skipping the Gift Shop like we usually do afterwards, because it was Aoife Day we let them both choose something and Aoife selected her own bow and arrow to take home.

Just look at this cool archer chick on her sunshiney “Aoife Day”.

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PART 3 – GET PRESENTS

Well, part 3 was invoked already at the Heritage Park when they were allowed to choose something at the Gift Shop, but this was not to take the place of the thrill and rareness (actually, never-ness) of also going to Ken Black’s massive toy shop to pick out something “just cos”. (How much better can this day get?!) I decided not to be seen to impose any limits on them whilst they were choosing, instead waiting to see if they would focus on something expensive, and as it turned out they both selected toys that were within reason anyway.

She got lego, and he got a transformer.

And they were so happy! Can you tell?

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(IMPROMPTU) PART 4: AOIFE GROWS UP A LITTLE

Back home that evening, Aoife wanted to have supper outside by a campfire. On the spur of the moment, I had the idea for Aoife to pick a special tree somewhere near the house, that would be “her” tree from that day on. She chose this Laurel tree in the back yard, and I hung the pink canopy I found in a charity shop from it, for her to relax in. Colm made the campfire nearby and we had another picnic (with wine for Colm and me) whilst the sun went down.

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To close the day, we decided to make up a little “nature-ly” magic for our wild little fairy girl.

Colm had the spontaneous idea of marking the day as a kind of growing-up milestone where she leaves her first phase of childhood behind and grows into her new phase (from now until she is a teenager). Near the campfire, before it got dark, we brought together some things we’d gathered that day, in a circle: the water from the stream in the morning, the feathers they’d found, a rose quartz stone she’d picked up for her collection (she loves rose quartz and keeps a stash in a fence outside the back door) and we lit a candle in a new candle holder we picked up at the garden centre that week because it was so orange, her favourite colour.

She stood inside the circle and the rest of us held hands, also in circle around her. We walked around her three times, ring-a-ring-a-rosie style: one… two… three!

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After three times round, we decided she could hop out of the circle and into her new phase of life. We gave her an idea of some new responsibilities this meant for her, and I swear her cheeks were beaming pink and rosy when she hopped back out of the circle and into her Daddy’s arms and mine. (Her little brother, who was starting to get a antsy about being left out of all this growing up stuff, was given an honourary title of FireBoy whereby he has responsibility to help gather firewood and, under supervision, he gets to throw the wood into the fire sometimes too. That made him very happy.)

We all beamed, and still bask in the glow of spending an entire day of totally honouring this child in our own simple, freeform way: celebrating her, in her own individuality.

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Opting out of The Communion

Colm and I come from backgrounds steeped in Catholic culture, like most people we know, but as a family we don’t “practise:” we don’t go to Mass. I grew up loving the rituals of going every week, to light candles, to visit family graves, to see and be seen. We did baptise our children, without thinking too much about it. In no way did we have courage or energy to consider not doing it at the time, and the days were significant and memorable in certain ways. (The priest in a Dublin church where our daughter was Christened did – very sweetly and kindly – point out that we ought to be married, and gently encouraged me to prioritise making plans for that.) (We are still unmarried.) 

But now in adulthood, I reject it as an organisation that is more interested in protecting itself than anything or anyone it is supposed to represent. The church’s nigh-on-hostile engagement with the Tuam Babies situation was the final straw for me.

My small daughter already knows in simple, broad terms about how the church treated women throughout the Mother and Baby Home years: she traipsed around the Tuam Babies burial site with us many times, she asked a hundred questions and I answered her as honestly and as simply as I could.

Whether or not I approve of the Catholic Church, my children certainly do live among its cultural framework.  Like the majority of schools in the country, their schooling, by its very design, is flavoured with prayer and holy pictures. As archaeologists and as admirers of beautiful buildings with stories to tell, Colm and I actually happen to visit churches a lot with them. It amuses me that both my children know the story of the pictures “Stations of the Cross” that hang in every Catholic Church, better than I ever did, from the many times they’ve hung around waiting for me and Colm to take photographs. We spend even more time in graveyards, photographing old headstones and researching family history.

Catholic symbolism is everywhere. I grew up so deeply with it I can explain it and discuss it when my children when they ask. I teach them the archaeology of it, and that churches and priests and Mass and Communion bread are important to people. 

One day when she was seven, Aoife and I discussed our church involvement, as I was hanging clothes on the washing line in the back yard.  

I told her my simplest bottom line: “they don’t let women be priests or make any decisions about anything. I just don’t support that.”

I told her I couldn’t, therefore, support the Communion ceremony preparations. She nodded. “I’ll have my own kind of special day.” It would be ‘Aoife Day’. And that was all.

Together we all began to feel our way through our decision to opt out. I had no idea what to expect. 

I felt nervous of offending other people, for whom the Communion seems to mean so much: as if our not doing might be perceived as was some kind of repudiation of their values. I mostly said nothing about any of it. 

For her part she had to explain herself a lot throughout the year, and still does in the aftermath, as many people obviously assume that a little girl her age, in a typical country National School, would have little else on her mind other than “The Communion.”

She wasn’t fazed. She told anyone who asked, crystal clear, “I’m not doing that”.

She got some confused silences, and I would hold my breath whilst she simply waited for her response to sink in. Most people didn’t ask any further, not even of me, standing there quavering, in utter contrast to the confident little girl beside me.

I did get some quizzical looks, and was even asked (out of Aoife’s earshot) about my own morality, and about the impact on Aoife’s life as an adult, but was able to reassure that I had no concerns about either.

My daughter took it all completely in her stride. Her school was very accommodating and considerate towards us. Aoife studied an extra maths book whilst the others prepared for Communion, and is now fully opted out of religious education in third class; I prepare some work for her to do at religion time. I will speak with my son, who is now in Senior Infants, about opting out when he is a little older, though he is already familiar with the idea through his big sister.

Our little family trundled on in our own world as usual.

Until “Aoife Day” :) 

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Words from Pennsylvania: Tuam Mother & Baby Home

Mam gets calls and visits all the time, from people directly affected by the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, and also by researchers in various fields  – human rights, social history, and anthropology, for example. Dr James A. Houck, whose research area is Pastoral Counseling, came to her from Neumann University in the United States.

He’s been teaching his students about what happened at Tuam, and told Mam about an essay that one of them, whose name is Emily, wrote about how the story affected her and how its legacy can be understood in terms of her own Psychology studies.

Mam deeply appreciated that a young person, as far away as Pennsylvania, was impacted with such empathy by what happened in the Mother and Baby Homes system, and asked me to post her words here (with permission).

 

“Tuam: Ireland’s Shame” By Emily, in Philadelphia

“My initial reaction to watching the documentary on the 800 babies uncovered from the mass grave was sadness. I was greatly disturbed watching the people gather outside the gates of the institution to hang baby’s shoes and teddy bears on them and hearing the speakers talk about how these women and children must have felt. These homes were supposed to be a safe haven for these girls but instead it made them feel as if they had done something wrong by bringing their child into this world. I have mixed feelings about what went on in these homes, most of it anger and sadness. I felt as if I could really feel the pain those women felt when I was watching the documentary and it moved me to tears. I can’t believe the public could let this go on for so long, and that these women had to suffer because they couldn’t stand up for themselves. They were put in a powerless position where they thought everything happening to them was their fault, but they shouldn’t have been ashamed. They shouldn’t have been abused. These places that were run to help the women even took away their children and mistreated them too, many to the point of death.

The children, supposed products of shame, were treated in the same manner as their mothers and that’s what I truly can’t stand. It’s almost as if the nuns who were supposed to care for them were just passing the shame on to the next generation. The operation these houses had was all about bringing the women in to have her child, sending the women off to work after, and putting the child in an orphanage. That’s sick. A lot of those children who were adopted probably didn’t even know they had a mother. It’s sad to think of the level of mental and emotional abuse that went on in these places, kept secret because of shame. It’s a complete disregard for human rights and it’s shocking that the nuns who are responsible had no morals against what they were doing.

The most emotional part of the documentary was at the end when the film was scrolling through all the recorded names, ages, and causes of death of the children who were at the homes. Reading the ages of the children being lost was heartbreaking, many of them didn’t even live a year, some not even a month, or a week. In my opinion it was not the nun’s job to decide if the lives of those children and mothers were shameful or not. And it absolutely wasn’t their right to improperly bury the children. One life should not be any less valuable than the next, and it’s unfortunate that so many children and mothers had to suffer and die for so long before someone said something.

The people of Ireland didn’t want to bring up the subject of the mistreatment and death of the children at first because they probably didn’t want to accept responsibility for their history. But the popularity of how unjust the situation is only rising, and the history that the people of Tuam were trying to forget is slowly being uncovered again. It’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to talk about what had happened, after all the shame is now for a different reason. Instead of being ashamed for having unwed women giving birth to a child, they are now ashamed for how they treated these women and their children. The history may not be what they want to hear, but it is still history none the less. I hope the recognition of these wrongs and the acknowledgement of the deaths will somehow bring peace to the town and it’s victims.

This subject is relevant to several of the psychology themes covered this semester. One of the most prominent connections deals with the subject of trauma and how people deal with traumatic events. The discovery of the mass grave in Tuam would be a very traumatic event for the modern day people living in Ireland and it would have been even more traumatic for those who were experiencing the abuse and neglect during that time.

What I’ve learned from class is that there is a theory behind trauma and it is that trauma can be relieved by the individual talking about it. Often times what happens is the abused or traumatized person or people will hold onto their feelings and emotions, which is bad for them. This repression of what happened makes the person think they are moving on by forgetting what happened, but the truth is the issue has to be addressed for the trauma to go away. The same can be sad for the victims, family members, and residents of Tuam. The people there have repressed and refused to address what had happened to those women and children all those years ago, and in doing so they have not really gotten over the events that plague their mind. Repression doesn’t work for emotional memories such as what happened in Tuam. In finding a voice about the situation, it can hopefully help ease the town’s conscious about the discovery of the children’s graves.

Another point in the story that can relate to something covered in psychology class is the the cognitive distortion of fairness. Fairness and doing what one believes is right had a lot to do with what went wrong in Tuam. There are actually several cognitive distortions that can be related and applied to the events that occurred there. The distorted thinking of “being right” is a huge factor in what happened inside the mother and baby homes. The nuns who ran the facilities were so focused thinking they were doing the best thing for the mother and her child that they went so far as to deny them the basic human rights. They couldn’t see that what they were doing was wrong, because in their mind the mother’s sin of having a child with no husband was greater than how they were treating them. They were blind to how immoral their actions were because in their mind, they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Many of the mothers of the children also probably suffered from the cognitive distortion of “emotional reasoning”. These women were shunned and abused, and the emotions they felt from being treated this way must have made them feel extremely guilty even though they truly had nothing to be guilty about. After being emotionally abused for so long, they probably began to think that the guilt and shame they felt was their own fault, which is terribly sad. The cognitive distortion “fallacy of fairness” applies greatly to what happened in Tuam as well. The nuns running these homes saw their rules and regulations as fair. They thought putting these women to work for no pay was a fair exchange for them allowing them to have their child in their home. They also thought it was fair to separate the mother and child since the child was a product of shame, and to malnourished and mistreat the child since he/she was not worthy of the same life a child with two parents had. Their warped views of what was fair treatment and what wasn’t created an ongoing chain of events that was hard for many single mothers and their children to escape at the time. The women must have felt powerless to the system at the time.

Memory and how people remember what happened the events in Tuam can also relate to Psychology class. The kinds of episodic memories being retained by these women and children would have haunted them the rest of their lives. In thinking about what happened to them day after day they would have practically permanently engraved their negative experiences into their memories. The trauma attached to those memories might be repressed, but it could easily be brought back with a trigger.

It is extremely sad what happened to so many single mothers and their children in Tuam Ireland, and what’s even more sad is that many people today are still prejudiced against single mothers and young mothers. Hopefully someday people will be able to understand and learn from the past and see that being a single mother is nothing to feel guilty about, nor should it be a sign that they or their children are any less of a person because if it.

Works Cited

Howard, M. (2014, June 19). Tuam Ireland’s Shame Documentary. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlZAWtQ-rTs

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The Vegan Sheep Farmer

 

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With the first lamb of 2016

OK, I am not totally vegan. I am aspirational vegan. I don’t eat meat, and I avoid dairy and eggs: as time goes by it feels more and more natural to me to live without any kind of food from animals, and maybe some day I will eat strictly vegan food and will describe myself as simply vegan.

Like Moby does. (I love Moby!)

I don’t eat meat because I lost the taste for it. I can barely tolerate it cooking now.  This occurred in recent years: almost as soon as I got seriously into yoga, here in Wexford. Prior to that I always wanted to be vegetarian: my sister and my mother both are, because they don’t want to eat animals. I also did not want to eat animals, but I was too lazy to learn about vegetarian cooking and had never been exposed to great vegetarian food until I met my yoga teacher.

Suddenly I was craving delicious food like spinach, and aubergines, and asparagus. I didn’t “have” to eat meat anymore to feel like I was having a taste-rich dinner. Hurrah!

Exactly at the time that I was getting into yoga and vegetarian food and not wanting to eat animals anymore, Colm was building up a sheep farm. Suddenly my home was a place where we raised animals for the meat factory.

So it is Colm who is the true sheep farmer. As I’ve written before, (see my blog post about The Raddle and the Ram) the sheep farm started off just with four sheep. It was supposed to be a hobby (I thought). Colm was an archaeologist, remember! I still don’t know where his sheep-farming dreams (and skills, mind) came from. The four sheep became forty sheep and all now have lambs (well, except for one: except for Fairy the sheep. More about her another time).

I now live on a proper, sizeable sheep farm.

At first I ignored it. Even when it got busy, I didn’t hesitate about leaving Colm behind and hightailing to Galway to see my family. “Nothing to do with me, I’m not a sheep farmer, I don’t want anything to do with this!”  

But as anyone who knows sheep-farming can tell you, lambing time is a very tiring, intense, and sensitive time. Colm was up to his eyes, supervising healthy new lambs and taking care of delicate arrivals. With a lot of care and vigilance, delicate baby lambs can pull through fine. Without it, they can die.

Last year I realised that if I was around and on board, I could be of help to Colm and to the health of the lambs and their mothers. Colm would go to bed after midnight and set his alarm to get up during the night, so I offered to do the 6AM check throughout the three-week lambing period. From then on throughout the day, somebody, Colm, or me, or the kids, would check the shed every half hour, or any time we went outside.

It became addictive to keep hopping out to the shed just to take a look. This Easter, I didn’t go on my travels to Galway, because it was lambing season. I stayed, and got stuck in.

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I would find myself wandering out to the sheep shed to be awestruck at a birth happening right before my eyes. I learned to watch for signs that a mother was about to “yean” (give birth, or “lamb”.) I fetched Colm, and watched with him, as he hung back to see if he thought the mother needed assistance, and I held my breath as he stepped in to pull out an unresponsive lamb, only to get it breathing by splashing cold water on its nose, or swinging it carefully to get its lungs working. I began to get the water ready for him ahead of time, and to fetch a basin of clean water and dettol if he needed to assist.

I gasped in delight as I got to carry newborn sticky, yellow, hardy, bleating lambs from the lambing shed to clean pens, the mother trotting fussily alongside. We set down minutes-old new lives onto the straw, their strong legs splaying awkwardly underneath them until they learned how to stand up properly on them, nudging their mothers undersides for the teat.

And I would fuss too, as good as any sheep, over pets who became our charges for hand-rearing.

I cried and cried when lambs died. (I notice I cry a lot on this blog.) A fox took one, a mother sat on one of her triplets, and we lost some weaklings, including two pets (Arabella and Andy.)

I cried more when Colm sold one of our pets to another farmer one day while I was away in Dublin. That farmer’s sheep had lost her lambs, and he hoped to get her to adopt our pet. (Colm had intended to sell two of the pets to him, but he kept one back when I freaked out over the phone).

I came back to the farm and sat with the then-remaining pets (Alfie and Aideen), my head in my hands in the corner of their pen. My eight-year-old daughter looked in over the gate and chided me:

“Mammy, don’t be so upset. Jim Bob needed Amelia more than we did, or his sheep would’ve gotten sick without a lamb to feed!”

She was right. A mother sheep can get mastitis if her lamb dies. It happened one of ours last year. I allowed myself to grieve the little pet we’d nursed to good health, and dried my eyes and got out of the pen to follow my no-nonsense child back into the house.

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Three of the pets

My children don’t seem to get so attached as I do: though we were all very upset when Andy died. He was a little darling pet with clubbed feet and couldn’t feed from his mother. He had these woolly long locks on the side of his face which my daughter said made him look Victorian. He had been fine, so fine, but Colm found him unconscious one day when it rained. We massaged him, and warmed him with hot water bottles and the hairdryer, and he came round and bleated and cried out but he never got  well. He died that night.

“You can’t mind them, you just can’t mind them,” my mother lamented to me on the phone when I told her about Andy. Lambs will always die, every year, without warning, she reminded me, remembering to me the casualties we’d had when I was growing up. My sister wrote a poem about the loss of her pet lamb when she was nine.

Oh yes, I grew up with sheep farming. That’s also why I was so sure  that I didn’t want to be a sheep farmer.

It is so rewarding when they survive though. And it is so utterly miraculous to watch them being born! It is joyous to walk among them as the sprock in the field, and it is hilarious to watch them grow into marauding adolescent sheep who travel the field in packs. It is infuriating to have them escape their boundaries to get into our garden and eat our vintage rose bush.

They fill our days with raw delights and raw challenges.

For now they have only just begun to roam a bit more independently from their mothers. Soon they will be teenager sheep, and then towards the end of the Summer they will be quite grown, almost indistinguishable from their mothers but for their junior fleeces, and Colm and his brother will begin to single them out for the factory.

This is the part that my parents and me skipped out of our consciousness when I was growing up. When lambs were being sold, we were told they were being sold to “another farmer”  – usually in Donegal, for some reason. Even now if I speak to my parents about this, they say they didn’t like to think about the truth of where the sheep went to. My mother is vegetarian herself, after all. I think they convinced themselves, not just us, that the sheep went to Donegal.

Colm has no moral quandary: he is what I would describe as a responsible meat-eater. Mostly the meat that is cooked in our house is beef (and some days we all actually eat vegetarian cooking anyway), and he does not divorce his awareness from the animals that this meat comes from (we can get quality local beef from Staffords Butcher Shop and Wilton Mills Farm Foods in Enniscorthy). No sheep meat in this house so far: the factory that will buy our sheep will sell their meat to France.

With his own sheep, Colm is proud that they have a  very good life and are very well taken care of until it is time for them to be called in from the field for good. He genuinely enjoys his time working with them up until this end.

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Lambs on the Hill

The sheep have been given a purpose in coming to life here, and I do not deny that their presence is so fulfilling in our lives.

But I stop short at even attempting to consider that age-old ethical question of farming: that if we weren’t raising them for the meat-eaters, they would never have been born.

I can’t easily reconcile that.

On the day that they are grown enough to leave us,  I will climb up on the wheel of the trailer to look in at them, herded together, seemingly clueless about their destiny. All I can do is say farewell and thanks to them for having known them, and Colm will know not to try and reassure me, but will instead join me in a moment of solemnity and gratitude.

I’ll think of their births, their play on the hillside, the challenges and the joy they brought us, and don’t mind me if I cry.

I wonder what would Moby say?

We post farming photographs on our farming Instagram account @The_Hill_Farm

 

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Considering the Burial ground – Tuam Babies

Whenever I visit my parents in my homeplace near Tuam, I catch up with Mam’s ongoing work to research the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. I’ve seen the multiple and varied representations of the burial ground that have been published in the media over the past year, and here I try to outline what I know of the ground myself.

The site today alongside 1905/6 OS map revision

The site today alongside 1905/6 OS map revision

Above ground, there seems to be little evidence as to what lies beneath. If you visit the site – and you should, to get a sense of it alongside the maps and images here – you’ll find a walled-off corner of the open space at the back of houses in the residential estate, built here after the Home was demolished. It has two gates leading into it. Galway County Council put the wall and the little gates there, knowing what the space was, but nothing else.

At the Burial Ground

At the Burial Ground

It was locals who got a plaque put up at one of the gates. They knew enough to know that there were burials here, and that there were children, and it was with this in mind that they genuinely, lovingly preserved this corner the way they did. The plaque anonymously reads:

“In loving memory of those buried here”

The wall is arbitrary. I quake at this, because there is evidence that a significant section of the rough-surface laneway that curves around the wide open space at the back of the houses also lies over burials.

This is obvious on a 1971/72 Galway County Council planning map: the full area of the “burial ground”, as it was demarcated on the map, is clearly shown.

1971/2 Council Archival Map showing full extent of burial ground

1971/2 Council Archival Map showing full extent of burial ground

The walled-off green plot with its plaque corresponds with a squarish projection of this. And the alignment (east-west) of the access laneway corresponds exactly with the longitudinal section. It seems that they walled off the squared end of the plot only.

It was around here that Mary Moriarty, and separately, Frannie Hopkins and Barry Sweeney fell in. (Philip Boucher-Hayes gives an insightful outline of their accounts here and here.) The ground was already known for being unsteady, as sometime earlier, Mary’s niece had also fallen down through some kind of cavity in the ground here. Mam spoke to her recently, and heard she’d been clearing a spot of brambles to make a ‘kitchen’ to play in.  She pulled up a root, and to her terror, the ground fell in.

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Both sites marked out in red by me, as it is today

I personally heard Mary give her own account. She had gone to the site to investigate the source of tiny skulls brought to her attention by children playing in the area. The area was not demarcated as a burial ground at this time: it was an overgrown wilderness, as you can see from the contemporary aerial photograph.

Site of former Mother & Baby Home, aerial shot 1970s

Site of former Mother & Baby Home, aerial shot 1970s

This is it zoomed in to focus on the “burial ground” (compare with the maps above).

Mother & Baby Home burial site aerial shot, 1970s

Mother & Baby Home burial site aerial shot, 1970s

From this photograph – and of course from the archival map –  it is obvious that whoever devised the building plans for the new use of the area as a residential estate made sure to avoid development of the burial ground.

Full extent of Burial Ground at rear of Mother & Baby Home

Full extent of Burial Ground area at rear of Mother & Baby Home

Gardaí came to see the site in the 1970s when Frannie Hopkins and Barry Sweeney fell in. The area was quietly covered over, and the boys were told not to play there again.

When Mary fell through the ground, she saw swaddled bundles – she called them ‘parcel-eens‘: little parcels of babies, their swaddles now in rags. They they seemed to be laid in rows.  It must have been a frightening, disturbing experience. Mary went and fetched her neighbour Julia Devaney, whom Mary knew had been raised in and lived much of her adult life in the Home.

I feel like I know Julia, though I never met her; she died in 1985. Julia was born in 1916 and had arrived at the Home with the Bon Secours in 1925. For most of her life she effectively worked as a long-term, unpaid servant at the Home. She gave an amazingly detailed testimonial about her experience of the Home to a forward-thinking neighbour of hers in Tuam.  I have read the transcriptions and from her story I form an impression of Julia as a resolute, resilient, philosophical woman.

Julia wasn’t surprised about what Mary saw. She remembered that this was the space used to bury babies from the Home, and indeed told Mary that she herself had been instructed to bring them there.

“Many a little one I put in there,” is what she told Mary.

She’d had to enter the makeshift burial chamber by a passage that lead down steps from the back of the Home building.

I imagine her, acting out her orders to walk through this dark gloomy underworld. The thought feels macabre.

Well, it was macabre. Her trek to this spot was through an elaborate, disused red brick Victorian sewerage system.

I can’t help but wonder about another anecdote I’ve heard, about witnesses who saw burials take place above ground. There were houses overlooking the grounds of the Mother and Baby Home, and locals could see when burials took place.

“Get down on your knees and say the rosary,” a mother would instruct her children, standing by the upstairs window in her own house.  “There is another one dead in there tonight.”

It would happen at evening time, dusk.

I imagine the underground chambers reconstituted somehow for oft-occurring death. When my mother told me, reading off contemporary newspaper entries, that the women (the Bon Secours nuns) charged with running the Home tendered in advance for coffins, I all but gasped.

CHILDREN’S HOME, TUAM

CONTRACT FOR COFFINS

The Commissioner acting for the Committee invites Tenders for the Supply of Coffins, Plainand Mounted, in Three Sizes, to the Children’s Home, Tuam, for One Year, from 1st April 1932.

Plain Coffins must be one inch thick, W.D., stained, in large, medium, and small sizes. Mounted Coffins must be of similar make and sizes, but Mounted with Electro-brassed Grips, Breastplate and Crucifix.

Tenders must be lodged with the undersigned before 4 o’clock, p.m., on Monday, 8th February, 1932.

By order,

J.J. Hanafin, Secretary, Secretary’s Office. 22nd January, 1932

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It feels like deathly efficient forward-planning.

Mary saw no coffins.  Mam spoke to two men whose fathers won the tenders for providing coffins, a Mr Fahy and a Mr Dwyer. They were local carpenters, and they did make coffins for the Home, but certainly not in the quantities that we know would have been required. According to Mam, the coffins provided were simple boxes, lined with a white sheet.

I wonder if the coffins were used for older children, and the swaddles for infants.

And I make a guess. Did they inter the infants in the underground tunnel system, and secretively, in fading light, bury older children in the longer strip of ground – the area that is not even afforded a boundary wall now, but which is treated as a laneway?

When information about the extended area became known last year, media reports claimed it was a ‘second’ graveyardBut on the archival map drawing, the two sections are both part of the same demarcation for burial ground. The long section is not now enclosed, and it has since transmogrified into a laneway, shown in the photo above. The gated entrance to the much smaller section, the enclosed area we’ve been hearing all about since last June, is visible in the background.

Information sourced (see article by Conal O Faharta) regarding  infant mortality, falsified death certificates and child trafficking at  the Tuam and at Bessborough Mother and Baby Homes was so shocking, that already in 2012, before any of Mam’s research made headlines, the HSE made recommendation that “a fully fledged, fully resourced forensic investigation and State inquiry”  be launched.

A state inquiry is underway by now, and a full forensic investigation is the only way to definitively explain the exact nature of and extent of burial.

For further reading see:

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Seminar: “Investigating Tuam Babies: a Question of Human Rights”

Mam will be speaking at a public seminar at National University of Ireland on Monday next, 10th of November, 5PM:

“Investigating Tuam Mother and Babies Home: a Question of Human Rights”

Venue: NUIG MRI Annex MRA201

Because she feels so strongly about clear incidences of injustice that have been highlighted as part of her findings at Tuam, Mam is stepping well outside of her comfort zone to speak at this event. She has so far politely declined all requests to speak publicly, unless it was at the burial ground in Tuam or in the comfort of her kitchen with just a couple of people (in this way she doesn’t count TV or live radio as public speaking). This is an enormous step for her to take. Please support it!

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Judging the Past

In a recent Tuam Herald Viewpoint article 9th October 2014 headlined “The harsh facts of life in 1946 put modern controversies in a different perspective”, Joe Coy claimed that “we cannot judge the actions of the past by today’s standards” and that “any assessment of those years has to take into account the grinding poverty and lack of resources of the time”.

This was Mam’s response, published in a letter to the editor of the Tuam Herald 16th October 2014.

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The Dismaying PR of the Bon Secours

I recently gained a dismaying insight into the style of PR that the Sisters of the Bon Secours are engaging in with regard to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.  An email written by Ms Terry Prone of the Communications Clinic, representing the Sisters, came to my attention, and is now widely available online – the full transcipt is available here, and you can see it in the image below. It was written in reply to Saskia Weber, who contacted the Sisters in relation to a documentary she is making for French TV about the Tuam babies and all of the mother and baby Homes in Ireland.

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Email by Terry Prone for Bon Secours

On Tuesday 20th October last, I wrote personally to the Sisters, through their website contact form, to convey my dismay. When my message was sent, a notification popped up on my laptop screen to let me know that I would receive a response shortly.

I await this.

I share what I wrote here:

To whom it concerns

I write to you to convey my great personal dismay regarding an email that I have seen, as written by Ms Terry Prone of the Communications Clinic on behalf of the Sisters of Bon Secours in relation to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home children’s burial ground. The correspondence features an extraordinary falsehood and transmits a dismayingly unprofessional and offensive tone regarding deaths that occurred, and the nature of their final interment, at the facility that the Sisters of the Bon Secours had responsibility for:

  •        The statement by Ms Prone that there is no mass grave or no evidence that it exists ( “if you come here, you’ll find no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried)” is of course totally false – indeed, the Bon Secours organisation is otherwise known to be familiar with it. Why is there PR denial of this highly sensitive space on behalf of the Bon Secours?
  •       The detail in Ms Prone’s email about famine burials is ill-informed and misleading; infant remains – referred to so shockingly by Ms Prone as “a few bones” – were of course disturbed at the section of ground where children’s burials were interred, and unrelated famine burials are located in an another area. Why is this highly sensitive space dismissed – and in such offensive tones – by Ms Prone?
  •      The extremely unprofessional reference by Ms Prone to “a local police force casting their eyes to heaven” sets a dismissive and even mocking tone to what is an extraordinarily painful situation for many people. Exactly to what – and to whom – is this offensive statement attributed?

I trust you are aware that there are many who suffer now whether due to their direct experience of the Tuam facility themselves, or because they are desperate for information about a child who died there? There are deeply upsetting testimonies on the public record, and many more that are known to my mother (Catherine Corless) who receives, with compassion, hospitality and sensitivity, this suffering in her own kitchen and over the phone as those impacted by the Tuam Mother and Baby Home seek support. What support is provided by the Sisters of the Bon Secours? Does not the beautiful mission of the Bon Secours – “the alleviation of suffering” through the “warmth and hospitality, simplicity and courage” of your work – apply to individuals who have an association with the Tuam Mother and Baby Home?

Rather than provide you with offensive, deflective communications as I have seen in the email by Ms Prone, which compounds the difficulty of those affected, I would have expected that PR guidance would have provided your group with professional support to reach out publicly to all affected, in line with your own mission.  Given its responsibility for the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, and its mission of “good help”, are not the Sisters of the Bon Secours in a significant position to be of particular assistance?

Yours sincerely,

Adrienne Corless

 

 

 

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