A little under a year ago, a diligent and dedicated historian uncovered shocking information that had occurred for decades at a well-known mother and baby home in Tuam. We all have that one place that we recall as children. It could be a home, a school, or a neighborhood. It is that place where we learned to refer to it with questionable eyes and looks.
In Tuam, that place was the Bon Secours Home. Catherine Corless was urged to look into the home based on her own observations. As she grew up, she noticed the difference in the youngsters who had been born there and how they were not like the rest. It seems to have always made her wonder. This goes to show that if it rubbed her the wrong way, chances are that many more people noticed, yet none of them acted on that instinct.
I can appreciate the moments when I was goaded by others as a child to think my neighborhood, parent’s position or financial status had anything to do with individual merit. As an adult, I know this notion is ridiculous. Yet, it seems that despite this realization in myself, many people still have looked the other way. In this case, so many innocent children died and I find it hard to believe no one could have intervened sooner. This, in fact, seems to be the primary fault with the home’s operation.
A brief history of the building shows it was a place that shared occurrences like executions and as housing for the poor and homeless. In the 1920’s, a group of nuns took over the building which in my mind was mistake number one. I have nothing against nuns, however, when they are put in charge of something, then that something will begin to take on their beliefs. This is why it is so important to separate church and state in matters that govern society.
Hearing the story of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home provides an example of missing leadership. It was a place chosen for unwed and pregnant women to have their babies. Already, they have received the message that there is no where in civilization for them supposedly based on their life choices. (and perhaps, it was just that one choice.) Knowing that they had very few resources remaining, it is a discouraging tidbit when their now one glimmer of hope revolves on submitting to authoritarian leadership and surrendering to work as some sort of penance for a mistake.
Understood that getting pregnant is not always by choice. It seems shaming those who do get pregnant and their offspring, however, was hardly the way to bring reform. And how so many babies died from preventable injury or condition, as well as, instances involving dishonesty on the side of the nuns negates any positive contribution they put into the matter.
I imagine that these downtrodden women knew that they had messed up. However, penalizing them with bartered work and eventually discarding their children because they were the result of a passing or forced union appears heartless. I’m no nun, but it seems they gleamed right past forgiveness of sins and clemency to the needy.
Were these children made worthless or undeserving because they were poor, born to unwed mothers or to make a societal statement? In truth, we may never know, but it seems they all got the message clearly and not just them. The nearly eight hundred children who were buried in a tasteless and inhumane fashion were all but forgotten. Those who escaped the home seemed to feel the branding of the association for life. One might wonder if there ever would come a day where they would feel good enough despite their complete lack of responsibility in earning the label.
This was a National issue, one that should not have been appointed to religious leaders or groups. The fact that there were many unwed, impoverished and destitute women in Ireland did not cry out for a moral intervention. Rather, it seemed that there was something lacking elsewhere. Why education, stipends for the needy and community resources weren’t fostered is truly tragic.
Perhaps, the biggest lesson we can learn from this is that these women did not need help due to failing to understand something that the nuns knew more about. Putting this group in charge to mentor such women was cataclysmic. It would have been far better to have used people who could really speak from experience. This is where government should have been doing more, but obviously weren’t. When they stepped aside, perhaps the message they sent was that they were too busy to be concerned with this matter. Eventually, this was perceived as not worth their time which was why so many children died unnecessarily and why many people now are left shaking their heads in disbelief.
Images courtesy of Morguefile.com.