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

coffinstender

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.

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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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Birth story of my son Beineán

I wrote these words especially for my beautiful boy Beineán, so he would always know the story of how he came to be born into this world, if he wanted to. I share them now for anyone who likes to read birth stories as much as I do.

I dedicate this to Colette and to Colm.

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BLUE

Four years ago on the 28th of November a massive cold snap brought snow and ice and my son Beineán. At twelve minutes past four in the darkening afternoon, he was born in our home on Saint Jarlath’s Road in Cabra.

He was blue.

He was moving but for his first minute he didn’t breathe. My midwife Colette worked rapidly to assist him. Colm watched at the bedside. I knew he was suddenly badly afraid, but I felt deeply serene. The massive rush of prickling energy I was experiencing through my entire body, in the wake of giving birth, meant that I couldn’t even speak.

“Don’t move” Colette said to me. And I didn’t; I only turned my head to see him, looking over my shoulder from where I was positioned on hands and knees, which is how I had given birth to him.

Maybe it seems strange to say now, but I almost couldn’t understand why Colm had fear.  Just wait, I wanted to say to him. I felt sort of other-wordly, the intensity and pain of labour suddenly vanquished. Afterwards Colm would say that it was like I was suspended in some kind of hormonal high; to me, it was like being more pristinely awake than I had ever felt in my whole life. I had this supreme confidence that our baby was perfectly fine.

I looked at Colm and tried to tell him with my eyes: All we have to do is wait. 

But Colm wasn’t looking at me. He was staring at our son. Willing him to breathe. Willing my midwife to do her thing.

I don’t even really know what Colette did to get him breathing.  At the time I was just focussing on my own breath: keeping it steady. It was cooling and expansive after the enormity of giving birth. The umbilical cord was still connecting our boy to me; though it was the that same cord that had wrapped his neck one-time-round and made him blue, through it my body was still sustaining him.

And Colette had done it.

4:13 PM. He breathed.

I think Colette said,

“Hello, baby.”

His blue colour was already turning to purple-pink. He gurgled quietly, opened his eyes, and looked around. Colette picked him up and placed him in my arms. He was wiry and strong and sturdy, and he had deep sparkling blue eyes and long dark eyelashes just like his Daddy and his big sister.

And I held him with deep gratitude: to Colette; to all of us; to the process of childbirth.

Colm cut the cord, and Colette tended to me. I had yet to deliver the placenta.

Wordlessly then, Colm lifted him from my arms. He sat on the edge of the bed by the window, snow falling thickly against the outside of the glass now. Lifting his T-shirt over our new baby, he cradled him skin-to-skin against his chest. Still he didn’t speak, but gazed down at the tiny face which was scrunching and un-scrunching inside his shirt collar. They sat like that in silence, for I-don’t-know-how-long.

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At our bedroom window overlooking snow-laden Cabra

LABOUR

The nights leading up to the birth, I was restless yet couldn’t move. The Saturday evening, I was strewn on the stairs in the dark trying to find a comfortable position. I went to bed, and at midnight I woke to find that the waters had broken, or were beginning to. I rolled my sleeping almost-3-year-old daughter Aoife away from me and went downstairs to tell Colm, who was still up watching television. (When I told him, he immediately thought I meant the pipes had broken; a cold snap was issuing in outside, and we’d had experience of the pipes freezing the previous Winter.) Nervous excitement set in and I texted the midwife, who told me to see if I could get some sleep and keep in touch. I went back to bed, and my daughter settled herself back to sleep half-sitting up against my back, which is how she slept at that time. Mild contractions were setting in but I managed to sleep. At 6AM I came downstairs and tried to sleep through the contractions on the couch, with our little dog Molly curled up at the back of my legs.

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With Aoife a few days before birth

Before 8AM I arose and went to wake my sister Alicia, who was charged with taking care of our daughter throughout the birth. The baby’s due date wasn’t for another four days, but fortunately she had cancelled her plans to attend a birthday party in Limerick that weekend, just in case. I looked around her bedroom door and told her cheerfully, “it’s baby day!” Colette rang and said she’d be over at 11. I rang my mother in Galway to tell her what was happening. I recall that Mam took a moment to process the information and then she said that she and Dad would get on the road to be with us. Colm phoned his parents in Wexford to let them know, and got baby clothes out of the wardrobe before leaving to stock up on food. I knew all of the grandparents were anxious about our decision to have this baby at home.

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The night before labour began

Contractions – or “surges” – were still manageable when Colette arrived. I had set up the ironing-board up because I felt I needed something to lean over during the surges. Colm came back, and he and Colette brought me upstairs to our bedroom. They settled me on a chair with the curtains drawn.  I felt like being on my feet but they were worried I’d get tired. The contractions were beginning to get very uncomfortable, but I was coping. They set up the hypnobirthing tape. It seemed like I had a long way to go still, so Colette popped home for lunch – she had asked me if I’d rather she stay and though I’d said, no, I was fine yet, I realised when she’d left that I felt  uneasy without her. She came back pretty quickly in case of getting stuck in the snow, which was beginning to pile up quickly outside.

I stayed in the chair, or walked in the room, or swayed my way through the surges.  I felt myself drawing more and more inwards, as I concentrated intensely on breathing and let all sense of time and space fall away. At one point I spotted my sister and my toddler standing on the landing to peak at me. I couldn’t speak at that stage so I just nodded back, and tried to smile. Aoife laughed aloud at the sight of me – hanging by my arms from a tall set of drawers, swaying from side to side. With her long labour, I’d been able to ride the waves of surges, all of them, with gigantic breaths, in, out.  That time, inspired by the antenatal classes at the Rotunda Hospital where I’d had Aoife, I’d felt able to greet contractions as “friends”, repeatedly visualising a warm mist settling every muscle from the top of my head to my toes, again and again and again.

But these surges were rawer, even more hardcore, and they were happening stronger and faster, and I didn’t feel “on top” of them as I had with Aoife. By 3PM, they had taken charge.  I moved to the bathroom, to sit on the toilet or cling to the sink during surges. I felt despondency setting in. I began to wail in despair and Colette came into the bathroom to give me a pep-talk.

I felt out of control. I should have recognised it from all the birth stories I’d read, that this was transition.

TRANSITION

Rippling Surges  … Raw, long, close together … Anguish … Hang over  sink … Tippy-toes … Whimpering …..Won’t  hear…… No speak…. No listen….. Go away everyone …. Anger…. Beyond control…..Strip clothes….. Shower …. . Crouch on hands and knees …… Water on my back ….. Marginal relief …….Remedies on a spoon ….. No to food …. No to water …… Go away everyone ……. Rocking side to side ……. All meaning lost ….. . Body in possession …….. Surrender

BIRTH

Colm held the shower-head over me as I crouched in the bath, spraying my back with warm water. He told me later, recalling the birth of our daughter, that he’d recognised from the way that I seemed to insist on positioning myself in the bath  – on hands and knees –  and from the sounds I was making, that birth was imminent. They got me out of the shower, and brought me to the bedroom and onto the bed, which had been covered with protective sheets and towels. It was about 3:45PM. Colette asked if I wanted gas and air. I barely managed to gasp out the word “YES” and Colm went to get the bag with the equipment.  Even the thought of gas and air relaxed me suddenly.

By now I was only marginally aware of the others in the room. In fact I was barely aware of the room itself. I felt wide-eyed and electric and could perceive almost nothing beyond what I can only describe as a ‘fog’ around me – like a kind of trance.

Colette suggested checking me, but my body wouldn’t lie down on the bed. I immediately vomited when I tried to make it. (I remember that the hardest thing about labour at the hospital with my daughter, other than the sheer length of it, was being encouraged to lie down on my back with a trace machine hooked up to me). I think my body wanted to push now. I found myself turning onto all-fours, and at that moment felt a connection with my grandmother Kathleen whom I knew, from talking to my mother, had likely given birth this way too; at home, for four of her five births.  Colette checked the baby’s heart rate.

Colm came back with the gas and air.

“Baby is coming!” Colette announced suddenly.

No time for gas and air now. Colette got ready. The pain fell away. Just like that, I was pushing my baby out. Colette continued to check the baby’s heart rate quickly.  I pushed with all my might, my voice ringing out heavy with the effort. I thought I was howling, and that the whole avenue of St Jarlath’s Road outside could hear me, and could hardly believe it when my sister told me later that they’d heard nothing downstairs.

“This baby will be blue,” Colette declared then, in a matter-of-fact way, as she worked fast to unwind the cord. I remember feeling surprised to hear that, but didn’t let it distract me from the business of pushing him out. During my pregnancy, because of a case of this experience once before in Colm’s family, I had read lots of birth stories about the cord getting wound, about babies being born blue; I even had spoken to Colette about what she would do if it happened to us. She had told me that she would have the necessary equipment and would know what to do. Right now I felt a deep trust in her, which in turn supported the calm I was experiencing in the midst of the rawness of what was happening.

It was all happening so fast all of a sudden.

It took five or six pushes. And he was here.

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Beineán an hour old in our living room with my mother Catherine

CABRA’S NEWEST RESIDENCE

Once the intensity of the birth had settled, and Colette had tidied up and settled me comfortably, Aoife and Alicia came upstairs to meet Cabra’a newest resident. Colm was still sitting by the window, holding our new and as yet nameless baby. I felt eager to feed him, so Colm brought him to me then and helped me place him to my breast. He latched fine. A new nursing journey had begun. Alicia took our first family photo, he and I still wrapped only in towels and blankets.

FIrst family photo

FIrst family photo

My parents arrived from Galway about an hour after the birth, reaching us just ahead of a blizzard. Colm took the new baby downstairs to meet them. We still hadn’t dressed him or even put a nappy on him yet. I had a shower, and Colette came into the bathroom to confirm the baby’s weight, muttering the numbers to herself in her native French as she converted from kilos to pounds for me. I could hardly believe his size. He weighed 8 and a half pounds, so much bigger than Aoife who had been 6 pounds and 15 ounces at birth. Colette checked to see if I needed any repair stitches, but I didn’t. Alicia made me the best tea with toast that I’d had since the tea and toast I’d had after Aoife’s birth at Dublin’s Rotunda hospital.  For some reason I then insisted she stay to watch Colette inspect the placenta in its stainless steel bowl. She observed silently and respectfully before going back to entertaining Aoife.

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With his sister & grandmother

I went downstairs to greet to my parents, and only then, standing in the doorway between our kitchen and living room, did Colm and I confer about the baby’s name.

Beineán.

(It’s pronouced ben-awn). (Both Colm and Alicia tell me that I insisted on his name here). I had loved this name since first I heard of it via a friend of a friend. I also loved that it had an association with my homeplace, Tuam in county Galway – the town of Tuam has its patron in the fifth century Saint Jarlath, which name is quite popular there, and of course we happened to live on a road in Dublin named for that man – but not many people know of Saint Jarlath’s teacher, saint Beineán (associated with Kilbannon early monastic site, outside of Tuam). It’s an unusual name, and in choosing it and its spelling we challenged ourselves with the task with getting our families and friends used to it.

SNOWEY BABYMOON

Outside on the day that Beineán was born, Ireland was brought to a standstill for the second time in 2010 due to blizzards, snow and ice. Our house was so cosy we didn’t even notice the cold outside. After the big freeze of the previous Winter, we’d got in a new boiler, new back door and added insulation. My parents booked into a small North Circular Road hotel for a couple of days, and as it turned out, were snowed in at Dublin for the entire week as the roads in Dublin became impassable. Like most other schools in Dublin that week, the Tallaght school my sister teaches at was shut due to snow, so she was home with us that first week too. It meant that we had plenty of helping hands to take care of the house, entertain my daughter and bring food.

Colm had become a stay-at-home Dad to Aoife some weeks previously when the archaeological consulantancy company he worked for had closed down. This meant that throughout my maternity leave from the National Museum of Ireland, we could all be at home together – first in Cabra, then later in the Wexford countryside where we still live now since my contract at the Museum concluded too.

Colm’s parents and his almost 90-year-old grandmother Julia got from dangerously icy Wexford as soon as they could manage, a few days after the birth. (When they got stuck in the snow just five miles from home on their return journey, Colm’s Granny offered to get out and help push the car). Our Dublin-based family – Colm’s brother and sister and their families, and my cousin – managed their way through the snow and ice to visit us the next day. My brothers and other family and friends would have to wait until our travels for Christmas, which was still very cold and snowey, some weeks later.

Beineán one week old with Aoife

Beineán one week old with Aoife

Colette journeyed through heavy snow and ice for two weeks following the birth, to take care of the baby and me. (I regret that many of the photos we took around the time of his birth are lost, because my hard-drive broke and because my sister’s phone was stolen, meaning I have no photograph to share of her with Beineán). She made sure I was getting loads of rest and that I stayed upstairs and in bed with the baby as much as possible to let my body recover and to ensure breastfeeding established itself. I had breastfed my daughter for 30 months, with incredible difficulty at the start. This time I knew what to do, and I had support, from Colm, from my family, from Colette, and from a whole online and real-life community of other breastfeeding mothers that I’d built up since my daughter was born. I had a whole new nursing experience to look forward to with my son.

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Beineán & me a few days after he was born

Aoife was bemused by her baby brother at first, and then proud of him, and when she’d had enough of waiting for her turn to cuddle in my lap, she came to me purposefully and commanded me firmly to “put that baby down.” She did bristle at him absorbing my attentions, but when I wasn’t feeding him he was invariably in Colm’s arms.

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Beineán at two weeks, Aoife soon to turn three years old

It would be months and months before Colm and I could speak sort of openly about that first minute. We introduced our son to the world without telling anybody else that he had been blue, not for years, not really till now, as I write this blog post. Firstly, we weren’t really able to speak of it ourselves, to agree a shared version of events – how could we, if he had been so shocked and I so serene?

Secondly, we’d already been in the practice of keeping our decision to homebirth to ourselves. Most people were unsupportive of the very idea, so we had kept negative attitudes at bay simply by not talking about it beyond amongst the two of us and Colette. In the lead-up to the birth and all the way throughout, I felt strong, capable, trusting of my body and myself and the process. I had the support of Colm, who believed unquestioningly in me and in the process; and the support of my experienced, trusted and capable midwife, who knew what to do.

For those first two weeks of our Cabra babymoon, the rooms of the house glowed white from the snow outside. All that time, I did not go outside the door, not even to the front yard. It gave all the more reason for me and my new baby not to leave the house, but stay in and snuggle and get to know this brand new little person in our lives.

First morning. Beineán not a day old with Colm & Aoife

First morning. Beineán 16 hours old with Colm & Aoife

Beineán is now our busy, articulate, forthright little boy. 

Colm still soothes him to sleep in his arms every night. 

My wonderful midwife Colette Donnelly is a homebirth midwife based in Dublin.

NOTE: This post was initially published privately and has been made public on 29th November 2014

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