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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Tuam and the Legacy that Lives

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My son at the burial ground

It was in early 2012 that Mam called me with news of her findings regarding the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, managed by the Sisters of the Bon Secours from 1925 until it closed in 1961. The whole world knows about it now: the children who died; their number; their whereabouts. My own baby son was about 16 months old on that day. He was asleep in a sling wrapped about me, as I stood in the porch of the old Wexford house I was living in. In silence I listened to what my mother had to say over the phone.

“Are you there?” Mam’s voice queried gently at the other end of the phone when I made no reply. “I’ve upset you now.”  She sounded dismayed.

Still holding the phone to my ear with one hand, I held tightly to my baby with the other. I let the information about hundreds of dead children, and the nature of how their remains were dealt with, seep in. I remember that I opened the front door and stepped into the fresh Spring air to sit on the granite steps outside, rearranging my son in his sling.

I was indeed upset. I had tears springing to the corners of my eyes.

“Oh Mam,” I implored eventually. “I am upset. But not because of you!”

I’m a wimp for this kind of thing; I’ve never even been able to watch a movie without first checking that nobody was going to die or be maltreated.  I turn away from this negativity, I avoid.  But I knew rightaway that it was a finding that had to be told. Mam wrote about it in the Journal of the Old Tuam Society, published later that year, as part of her piece on the Home and the people who were there.

Visiting my parents in Spring 2013, I was sitting with a cup of tea at the kitchen table whilst my son, aged 2 by this time, squabbled with his older sister on the floor near my chair. Beside me, Mam opened her cupboard full of history files and books, and pulled out a plastic sleeve containing a set of A4 pages. She slid it towards me across the table.

“These are the children,” she told me quietly.

“Oh,” I said, lowly. I hadn’t been ready for this, though she’d told me all about it on the phone. She had obtained the list of all of the children who had died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

All the names.

All the associated family addresses.

The ages they were when they died.

And causes of death.

The magnitude of this enormous loss bore down on me, as I read line after line. My shoulders slumped, and slumped again.

“It’s upsetting  you now,” Mam said gently, in echo of what she’d said to me months previous. She moved to take the list away from me.

“No,” I resolved.

I pulled my chair around to the range, opened the door to let the heat out at my legs and, with resignation, I made myself read on. Every page, every line, every child.  With each starkly recorded name, I felt myself think of that child, appreciate him, consider the truth of what she went through.

I knew enough, in spite of all my hand-wringing and avoidance, to know that what has happened has been grim. The testimonies – of inhabitants who survived and of those in the town who know details of what happened – would keep  you awake at night.

796 children are lost but their story lives and demands to be told. A committee came together in Tuam to memorialise the site more appropriately. Fundraising commenced, and I understand that sufficient funds are now in place to commemorate the children with a plaque and to refurbish the area.

Of course the findings were never about a memorial alone, and the situation is not to be consigned to the past. The people who lived still carry  the indignity of what happened to them, sometimes in deeply secretive and corrosive silence. Families of children who died are desperate for the truth of what happened at the Bon Secours facility.

“The Sisters are devastated,” said a Bon Secours sister to Mam when she met her about the news coverage of the findings (she was referring to the media attention).

“The people who come to me are devastated,”  replied Mam.

People who survived the Home and the system that decided their lives have been contacting my mother for years; she listens to every heartbreaking story, and voluntarily helps with the resources necessary to trace lost family.

In a country that supposedly places such a high cultural value on heritage, personal heritages have been either needlessly confused or all-but-erased for individuals who were fostered or adopted from the Tuam and other facilities around the country. There is a strangely enduring bureaucratic discrimination that continues to hamper the search that adopted or fostered people must then embark on to trace birth families (check out the Adoption Rights Alliance website for an insight into the extraordinary challenges that adopted people face).

I manage to explain the situation to my daughter, as best I can. In her beautiful, straightforward, six-years-old world view, there is no problem:

“But Mammy, it doesn’t even matter if the mothers weren’t married! And nobody needs to keep the secrets now.”

“Exactly,” I tell her.

But this is easy for she and I to say; for many, the pain of indignity and grief and the shame  of “illegitimacy”, is palpable, still. The grief of systemically having a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, an entire extended family taken, is breathtaking to consider. This suffering is the experience of vast (as yet, countless) numbers of individuals in this state. Often, it is in secret; for some, it is only now (since the Tuam Mother and Baby Home became highlighted) that they have found the courage and strength to open up to their own children about their experiences.

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My daughter at the Tuam childrens’ burial ground

“Suffer us children that Ireland forgot” wrote Michael Hession, who was born at the Tuam Home.

In Tuam, there were 796 children who never got started and who were denied dignity in death, because somehow, nobody was able to speak up for them.

Last week my parents met with James Reilly, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to make their straightforward plea for the release of all records, for the recognition of all the burial grounds, and for justice for all affected.

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An International Publicity Frenzy and my Mother

No, my mother has not made any retraction in relation to her findings about the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

No, my mother did not “admit” that anything in her findings was “impossible”.

My mother, Catherine Corless, is as consistent as ever in her presentation of her findings; no retractions, no “admitting” to “impossibilities”.

There is the old kettle on the range that inspired the name for this sleepy little blog, splashed in images from my parents kitchen all over media electronic and traditional as my mother’s research made headlines the word over.

There is my mother herself sitting in her kitchen where she answered telephone interviews and hosted journalist after journalist, representing newspaper, radio and TV, from Ireland, the UK, France and the USA. My mother, who does not ordinarily do crowds of people, or even social occasions if she can help it, or any kind of public speaking, graciously handling intense publicity in the poised, articulate way that she did. She shared generously of her time and her work to speak the story of a group of children whose little young lives were compromised before they were even born, and, after death, whose existence was quietly concealed.

"Kitchen Historian" by Philip Boucher-Hayes

“Kitchen Historian” (image by Philip Boucher-Hayes)

These were the children born in seclusion at the Tuam Mother and Babies Home between the years 1925 and 1961, to mothers that a proudly austere Irish community sought to sequester in the interests of religious mores. These were the children who died there. These were the children who were buried in unconsecrated ground,  in some kind of crypt arrangement in an area of the property associated with sewerage (recent extensive documentary evidence of the nature of this area by Izzy Kimikaze here).

After Alison O’Reilly for the Mail on Sunday broke the story nationally on Sunday 25th of May, there began an incremental media interest, which, almost two weeks later, became a total frenzy in which my mother calmly and patiently repeated her findings, consistently, again and again, to speak on behalf of forgotten babies who had nobody else to speak for them. Meanwhile, my Dad and my brothers took leave from work (granted without hesitation by their employers) to field journalists and photographers on phones, in our house and garden, and in the town of Tuam, whilst my sister sorted emails from her Dublin base and at my parent’s house. I tried to keep up with it all online here in Wexford, mostly at night after the kids were in bed, staying up way past my ideal bedtime.

Then, in a profound moment on Tuesday 10th of June 2014, Minister for Children Charlie Flannagan announced that the government had agreed agreed to establish a Commission of Investigation, with statutory powers, to investigate mother and baby homes. In his speech he commended Catherine Corless for her work in researching Tuam and described her as

“an eloquent advocate for the children who died in the home over a forty year period”.

Yes. Yes to that, I thought.

Then this week I notice that I’m getting notifications to my Twitter account about certain commentators suggesting, nay claiming,  that my mother “retracted” findings,  which I know she did not, so I find myself carving out some time to sit down and write this comment on my blog.

The source for claims about “retraction” appears to be this “correction” (which also seems subsequently to be interpreted by certain commentators as an “apology” which certainly seems inaccurate to me) by the Associated Press:

“In addition, in the June 3 story, the AP quoted a researcher who said she believed that most of the remains of children who died there were interred in a disused septic tank; the researcher has since clarified that without excavation and forensic analysis it is impossible to know how many sets of remains the tank contains, if any.”

I can confirm that my mother was not contacted about this “correction” and the words attributed to her were never spoken by her; they appear to be an interpretation of an Irish Times article by journalist Rosita Boland, which, while it clarified some semantics regarding other journalists’ reporting of the story, also included some misrepresentations of my mother’s position.

The headline

“she now says the nature of their burial has been widely misrepresented”

is itself a misrepresentation – this headline seems to be a reference to the use of that emotive word “dump” which word my mother never spoke in relation to the burials; though the article does clarify this,  it is an exaggeration on behalf of the Irish Times to suggest on that basis that “the nature of their burial has been widely misrepresented”.

That article goes on to claim that:

“Corless admits that it now seems impossible to her that more than 200 bodies could have been put in a working sewage tank”

This is false; my mother says she did not “admit” that anything in her findings was “impossible”; she was as consistent in her presentation to Rosita Boland as she was with any other interviewer.

Indeed – the article is accompanied by a video (which, I wish to say, I think is beautiful), in which my mother states, in direct opposition to the way she was represented in the written article:

“I think it’s quite possible”

So, there is a video accompanying that very article which records that my mother said the word “possible” – not “seems impossible”.

In response to “Confusion” about maps

Futhermore, I’ve already tweeted my response to the detail in the article about cited “confusion” about maps, and can outline it in more detail here.

“But there is confusion about what dates these maps relate to. One map Corless shows The Irish Times is dated 1892. It describes the building on the site as “Children’s Home”, but in 1892 the building was a workhouse. It did not become a home until 1925. Corless had not noticed this until her attention was drawn to it”

There was no confusion about maps or their dates associated with my mother.

The “confusion” referred to appears to be that of the journalist’s, not my mother’s. The copy of the map that they were incidentally looking at amongst my mother’s documents was the edit from the IRISH HISTORIC TOWNS ATLAS NO. 20, TUAM – Map 13 captioned “Growth of Tuam, to 1892, by J.A. Claffey” – the caption, shown below, seems to have confused the journalist. The map under the colour-coding edits by J.A. Claffey on the particular map they happened to be looking at amongst Mam’s documents is itself a revised edition of the Ordnance Survey 1905-6 mapping, Scale 1:2500.

photo (18)

Like any practised historical researcher accustomed to looking at old maps, my mother knows instantly what version of Ordnance Survey map she is looking at, and whether it is an illustrated edit. My mother clarified the date of the base map, but this was not printed in the Irish Times published piece; dismayingly, the newspaper seems to have decided to disingenuously portray an angle of “confusion”.*

The cited “confusion” is a further misrepresentation of my mother’s work and the interview she gave that day to the Irish Times.

With further dismay, I notice the Associated Press seperately referencing and again at the Washington Post, that same misrepresentation about maps as “discrepancies in Corless’ maps”:

“But the newspaper spotted discrepancies in Corless’ maps, and found records showing that the actual septic tank remained in use until the late 1930s, which meant it could not have been used as a burial spot.”

“The newspaper” in question here is the Irish Times and the quoted “discrepancies” are false, as I have outlined above.

(Additionally, it was not the newspaper (the Irish Times) that “found records”as quoted above; those records were in my mother’s possession and it was she who presented them that day in her interview with Rosita Boland.)

And then, a lurid dismissal of the findings by Eamonn Fingleton writing at Forbes as a “hoax” – attributed to that mispresentation in the Irish Times:

“Let’s sum up. The accuracy of the facts I reported remains unquestioned (Professor McCormick and Catherine Corless have been quoted accurately, as can be established by checking out the two Irish Times links included above).”

No, Eamonn Fingleton, Catherine Corless has not been “quoted accurately”. And on point of information there, Eamonn Fingleton seems to have given Dr McCormick a promotion to professorship.

Elsewhere, this:

“Specifically, the AP points to an investigation by The Irish Times in Dublin that revealed discrepancies in maps used by Corless “

An “investigation” accredited to the Irish Times? There was no investigation, but for that cross-examination of my mother by an Irish Times journalist, whose article misrepresented my mother, as I have outlined in three ways above. I personally find it dismaying that the Irish Times represents itself here as somehow swiping information from under my mother’s nose as though it had never been considered before, in order to present it in a strange, inconsistent report with no clear bottom-line other than to slate other journalists’ apparent sensationalising of the situation and to seemingly raise doubt about my mother’s work; in between the lines of which, the gravity of the findings were not disputed.

I reiterate that my mother remains as consistent as ever in her presentation of her findings.

Meanwhile, commentators the world over continue to engage with the details surrounding the situation at Tuam and all of the Mother and Baby Homes whilst we all await news of the Terms of Reference according to which the investigation will operate. I expect continued unsilencing of the very raw and difficult truths of what happened to the children and mothers of Irish Mother and Baby Homes and I wish for this to take place as accurately and as sensitively as possible in what most certainly is and will be  an unprecedented pressure of publicity and media interest on anyone associated.

And meanwhile, don’t forget that the little committee established in Tuam to commemorate the children who died continue to collect funds.

Adrienne Corless, Wexford

“Kitchen Historian” image added 03 July 2014

*UPDATE 23rd July 2014

My mother was contacted three times by the Irish Times – twice by Eoin McVey and once by Rosita Boland – inquiring whether she would like to make a complaint about the misrepresentations as outlined in this post. I can report that she has decided that she does not wish to make a complaint because, as she responded to the Irish Times, whilst she is greatly dismayed at the confused and negative impact that the Irish Times piece – among others – has had on the Tuam Mother and Babies Home campaign, she does not wish for any spotlight drawn personally on her. My ordinarily very private, retiring and self-professed-reclusive mother has already put herself on a public stage to a degree that has been astonishing and even alarming to those close to her for the sake of a cause she feels very strongly about, and I support her decision.

Rosita Boland wrote to me by courier at my address 4th of July (copy of letter can be seen here). She thereafter sent me a short audio clip at my request.

Rosita Boland’s letter to me stated

“Your mother did in fact say to me on June 5th that it “seemed impossible” that 204 bodies of the children registered as having died between 1925 and 1937, could have been put in a working sewage tank. However, you maintain in your blog that “this is false.”  

Regarding the sewage tank being in use or not, my mother’s position regarding whether or not the sewage tank was still working in those years is that this is not clear (it may not have been, meaning children registered as having died between 1925 and 1937 may indeed be in that same former sewage area).  The audio clip does not refer to this section of the interview.  My mother never did claim at any stage that any children who died would have been “put in a working sewage tank”. In this way, I maintain that for Rosita Boland to write “Corless admits that it now seems impossible” (my emphasis) is false because it suggests new information as a result of the Irish Times interview, which is not the case.

If the Irish Times article wished to downplay the widely-reported and unsavoury aspect of the sewage tank, they could have highlighted – simply – that at no stage did my mother’s findings suggest that it was a working sewage tank. As my mother is already quoted in the Connacht Tribune, in one of the first-ever interviews she gave about this sad situation, the entire aspect of the sewage tank “is not nice to think about”.

In connection – once again – with the “confusion” about maps: the short audio clip records my mother saying the words “that must be a mistake” – meaning the date on the map’s caption of 1892 must be a mistake as my mother knew full well that the map represented – the base map as I have explained in this blog post – could not itself be dated 1892 – just before the clip ends.  The audio clip does not reassure me that my mother was misrepresented in relation to “confusion”. Furthermore, though she did know that the map could not of course be dated 1892, if my mother did not immediately recognise what the caption on the map related to and if she did not make this perfectly plain to the journalist in a way the journalist could also understand, I have painstakingly outlined the clarifications in this blog post, in a way that I hope that anyone can now understand. My mother also tells me here today that she went on at that point of the interview to back up her findings relating to the sewage tank to the journalist (using Tuam Herald archival material 1900-1918 containing the minutes of the meetings of the Home Assistance Committee); perhaps the journalist has that conversation recorded also. 

Despite this, and despite my painstaking clarifications above, the position of confusion about maps is still, to date, clearly maintained by the Irish Times journalist and features editor. 

While I found the article by the Irish Times journalist jarring and discomfiting to read, even notwithstanding my personal connection to the story, and I found its headline and tagline (which apparently were not written by the journalist) misleading, I do not accept the charge that “public accusations” – mine or others – about a single newspaper article will damage a journalistic reputation in this instance. I have read many wonderfully-written and interesting articles by this journalist before and after the report on the interview in question here; I simply do not number that article among them.

To date, I have received no correspondence from any other media publications referenced in my blog post above. 

 

 

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