A long, long time ago…but was it really?


I’ve sat for days now reading accounts of the so called Tuam Babies “scandal”. A scandal indeed, when the bodies of 796 infants were revealed to have been improperly disposed of in a Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway. A scandal is what you call an affair, an indiscretion, a minor theft, a jaunt into improper behaviour. The unknown circumstances of the demise and burial of almost 800 children is not a scandal, it is a criminal act and a travesty against everything the Catholic Church purports to stand for. 

One thing that stood out to me in many reports covering this story were the comments and responses that this type of behaviour and its associated misdeeds were long in the past. People calling for a memorial but not an inquiry. Let it lie now, sure doesn’t it represent an Ireland of long ago, when we didn’t know better, or as our very own Minister for Children put it “a time when our children were not as cherished as they should have been.”

Well, Minister, let me tell you as a 30-year-old woman that I witnessed trails of this behaviour and have been in a position where I could not help those who had been deeply and personally affected by it. I have spoken to people who came to search for birth records having been adopted out from Mother and Baby homes who will never know their family, I spoke to siblings of lost children who were told their kin had just died, no explanation needed as it would be too upsetting for them. I have heard stories from families who tried to gain access to parish records only to be denied at the last hurdle by bishops and priests in over-protective parishes. 

Most recently, I remember when I was in school in and around 1999 or perhaps 2000 in Cork. A girl, no more than 16, arrived at our school one day. She was terrified looking and very quiet; a rather marked difference compared to the behaviour of those around her. Within weeks we started to notice that she was pregnant. She kept to herself but we eagerly tried to make her feel welcome and relaxed and comfortable. She had come from a small town outside of the city and the solution to the problem of her being in the family way was to send her to stay in the big smoke until the baby came, then give the child up for adoption and have her return home like nothing had happened. We would sit through maths classes in our Catholic school and sweat together. I, because I am the world’s most hopeless student of numbers and her, because she was stuck in an unfamiliar urban landscape preparing for a hugely traumatic event. Her belly grew and one day she didn’t come back to school. I have no idea what happened. We did not talk about such things. 

I cannot equate any of that to the horrors of the Tuam discovery, but the shame is no less tangible. That was only a few years ago. It feels disingenuous and horrible and false to stand by and hear the Minister say it is a relic of times past. 

The last Magdalene Laundry closed in Ireland in 1996. This is not a shadow on our history, it is a pulsing part of our present. Memorials are fine and serve their place, but without answers and inquiries they mean nothing. To discuss these issues will lessen the shame for the many, many women who still suffer. To try and seal them over with a marble plaque will encase our shame in a sarcophagus that will undoubtedly shatter again in the future. 


Letters to a trainee tempter…

One of my main interests in Ireland was keeping abreast of the news as reported by Catholic newspapers. My, em, “favourite” was a freesheet called Alive!, which is basically a vehicle for the extreme right-wing views of a select group of people but is widely available all over the country and is sometimes pushed through the letterbox of unsuspecting citizens.

Alive! runs a stellar trade in unfounded reporting, badly researched articles, disguising opinion for fact and generally weak news dissemination. One of the things that always fascinated me was a regular feature called Dumbag Writes.

Dumbag is a trainee demon. He is a little horned, red devil, much like the cuddly toy Manchester United mascot, and he poses with his trident, pulling a letter out of his hellish mailbag. It’s not quite clear what the relationship is to the letter writer. Surely the actual devil wouldn’t have time to write individual instructions on letter headed paper, but who knows. The main gist is that a small devil is getting tips from a big devil on how to screw over the heathens of the world.

In the latest letter from Dumbag, he discusses how easy it is to tempt bad humans into seeking instant gratification through such evil, awful attractions as “bargain-hunting to pilled sex, from sun holidays to victory in sport”.

Pilled sex? Does he mean sexual intercourse taking place following the consumption of ecstasy tablets? Because if he does then he’s a very forward thinking demon. I’m a pretty forward thinking twenty-something year old and I still wouldn’t immediately list that in my top four cheap kicks.

Bargain hunting? Surely that’s alright. It’s better than buying something crazy expensive just to show off to your mates. Also, kind of boring. And sun holidays? The sun is grand, sound, it helps loads of things. It certainly does not drag people to hell as far as I know. I’m pretty certain at no point in the bible does it say you must remain milky white and in a cold climate to remain useful to the Lord.

And victory in sport? What the fuck is wrong with winning an egg and spoon race? Or kicking someone’s ass at darts? Or table tennis? There are immediate issues to be raised with a gom like Wayne Rooney making several hundred thousand pounds a second for being an alright footballer and a world-class idiot, but I don’t think you can just say winning at a sport lets the devil get your soul.

So many flaws, Alive! You missed the seven deadly sins by a long shot. I don’t recall there being anything in there about drugged riding or scoring a goal or getting a tan on your face in Torremolinos.