If you are feeling strong Rabble published a must read article on the 796 dead children found in a mass grave at the St.Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, Tuam. That's not a misprint, for the 40 years this institution operated at least one child died a fortnight, a death rate that approached 10% of those in the home per year! They ranged from 2 days (Thomas Duffy) to 9 years (Sheila Tuohy) old.
The home operated from 1921 to 1961 and this revelation shows what life was really like, particularly for the poor, in the 'good old days' before feminism, effective contraception and access to abortion. Women with unwanted pregnancies were forced to give birth and the babies were sent to such homes to be killed through neglect unless they were
'lucky' and were fostered out. That is the only explanation for a death rate that suggests that a child placed in the home at birth would only have a 50:50 chance of surviving five years.
This system was ran by the same religious institutions that shamed and punished women who had sex outside of marriage and which campaigned to keep contraception and abortion illegal and inaccessible. They still continue to do so to this day, next time one of them refers to themselves as pro-life remember the deaths behind their empty rhetoric.
From the Rabble article
"An Irish Mail on Sunday front page article on 25th May 2014, recounted a local health board inspection report from April 16/17th 1944 which recorded 271 children and 61 single mothers for a total of 333. The ‘Home’ had capacity for 243.
The report continues listing children as ‘emaciated’, ‘pot-bellied’, ‘fragile’ with ‘flesh hanging loosely on limbs’. 31 children recorded in the ‘Sun room and balcony’ were ‘poor, emaciated and not thriving’."
Book burning, same town, same period
A revealing addition to this story, some 3-4 years after this institution was opened the Archbishop of Tuam (the same town) oversaw the burning of books from the local library that had
1. "Complete frankness in words in dealing with sexual matters"
2. "glorification of the unmarried mother"
3. "glorification of physical passion"
As we struggle to understand how the bodies of 796 children could have ended up in a disused sceptic tank at a church run children's home in Tuam this article, Authoritarianism and the early Irish State, on the first decade during which that home operated provides some much needed context .
"Once in power, Cumann na nGaedhael soon set about trying to implement as policy what were Catholic social values. There was no debate on these issues, they were enforced regardless of their impact. This was to have disastrous consequences particularly for women as, when fused with Cumann na nGaedhael’s authoritarianism, Catholic views of women would see them slowly but surely excluded and denuded of power. Usually this was due to legislative change, but also on some occasions more forceful methods were used when they deemed it neccessary.The Catholic Church had a deeply sexist view of women in society. As the sociologist Tom Inglis (1998) points out, they portrayed women as “fragile, weak beings” and “for women to attain and maintain moral power it was necessary that they retain their virtue and chastity.” In order to enforce these attitudes, the church portrayed sex as unclean and immoral and ultimately, women’s bodies were something to be ashamed of.This helped generate a deep embarrassment and guilt over sex. Where the church had substantial influence they could effectively control women’s knowledge of sex, as the only place they could talk about it was in confession, where they were berated over the topic by their priest. Outside of this, the Catholic point of view on women’s role in society was that they were to rear children, take care of the family and do little else.The Nationalist movement in Ireland had been heavily influenced by these ideas and attitudes, and its formula of an ideal Irish woman was almost identical. Arthur Griffith, who had died in 1922, had stated that in any Irish house, “you will meet the ideal mother, modest, hospitable, religious, absorbed in her children and motherly duties,” clearly reflecting the ethos of the church.In spite of the significant influence of the church, the reality of life in Ireland in 1922 was quite different. Prior to independence, the church had used its not inconsiderable social and cultural weight to enforce these ideas. However, Ireland like many countries across Europe in the period between 1914-23, witnessed great social change, which undermined the church’s control and authority. While women were by no means equal citizens, significant progress had been made.However, after independence, the church did not only have to rely on its moral, social and cultural influence. Now, in unison with the authoritarian Cumann na nGaedhael government, it could use the apparatus of state to enforce its authority over women, particularly when it came to sex."
Words: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter)