Lost Children of Ireland

As a person with a proud Irish Catholic heritage, I read this New York Times article and shudder.


I knew about the Magdalen laundries from the 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, which portrayed the miserable lives of the young women consigned to the Magdalen homes — imprisoned there, really, often for life — for being “fallen”. That included unwed mothers, girls thought to be too sexually forward, or simply poor girls with no one to care for them. They did hard labor in the laundries under highly abusive conditions, while their babies were given to mostly American couples in return for large contributions to the church. The last Magdalen home didn’t close until 1996. I also saw the film Philomena, about Philomena Lee, whose struggle to find the son taken from her in one of these homes ended in the cemetery of the place where she’d been imprisoned. When the young man died of AIDS in the United States, he asked to be taken back there and buried, in case his mother ever came to find him. Heartbreaking. The two, searching for each other,  never crossed paths while both were alive —  even though the remaining old nuns at the home could have helped them do so. Who can explain such a final act of cruelty?

This latest article is about a mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway, run by the Bon Secours Sisters on behalf of a Catholic Church deeply enmeshed with the secular power of the Irish government.

What, then, of Patrick Derrane, who died at five months in 1925, and Mary Carty, at five months in 1960, and all those in between, children said to have been “born on the other side of the blanket”? The Bridgets and Noras and Michaels and Johns, and so many Marys, so many Patricks, their surnames the common language of Ireland.”

What then…

The Sisters threw the bodies of these babies into a septic pit, without even a grave marker to show the presence of tiny skulls and bones. The New York Times article is about the brave Irish woman who uncovered the story and demanded a voice for these lost souls and their bereft mothers.

There are Bon Secours Sisters today; here in the U.S. they run hospitals. Honestly, I don’t know how a worldwide religious order atones for something like this. If I were a Bon Secours Sister I wouldn’t show my face in public, at least not until any survivors of their miserable mother and baby homes are tracked down and compensated with every last dollar that might be under this religious order’s control. When their money runs out the Church of Ireland can pony up, and then the Vatican.

The pedophilia crisis gets much higher visibility, but really, this story is every bit dreadful. I’m not much a believer in heaven and hell, but if they exist, there has to be a special place in hell for these nuns who starved babies to death and then threw them in a pit with human waste.

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