By Dublin Singer - Songwriter Ciara Sidine
24/02/2018 - I'm just back from a wee tour of Galway and Sligo, playing the intimate setting of The Black Gate Cultural Centre on Thursday and Moy River B&B Folk Club on Friday - with Conor Brady. From the energetic hum of Galway city to the purple-hazed expanse of the Ox Mountains, it was two enjoyable days of music, connection with new audiences and venues, and joy to play with the talent that is Conor Brady. We’re excited for our upcoming tour of Holland, in April.
Heading out of Galway on Friday morning, we stopped off in Tuam to visit the site of the Bons Secours Mother & Baby Home where it is believed the remains of almost 800 babies and young children are buried, in unconsecrated ground. The previous night we had the pleasure again of meeting members of the Tuam Home Survivors Network, and got to hear more of their campaign. Like everyone else, we’ve been touched by the unfolding story of the ‘Tuam babies’, and wanted to pay our respects at the site of their burial.
It was a bitterly cold morning as we grappled with finding the exact spot of the old site, finally and gratefully directed by Catherine Corless, the local historian who first uncovered the evidence of its mass grave. You are led there by a narrow laneway, within a housing estate that gives away no sense of what lies behind it, yet chimes bleakly with the deadened atmosphere of abandonment that awaits. At its end, you are greeted with an empty, semi-derelict children’s playground, a sad expanse with grassy verges, and metal benches where it’s hard to imagine a person would take rest, even on on a sunny day. A ghostly emptiness overhangs.
An old stone wall that boundaries the site is an imposing physical reminder of the confinement of the thousands of women and girls who served their time here over four decades, as they awaited the birth of their babies: children that society did not want upon the terms they entered the world.
The Tuam site has an air of a place that time forgot. As you walk around, eerily confronted by as much as a mound of grass - what lies beneath it? - you attempt to take in what this site represents. You fall short. How can we possibly know the circumstances, the details, the truth, behind the deaths and burials that took place here between 1922 and 1961, when the Bons Secours order of nuns ran the home? For now, what lies beneath can only be guessed at.
Families with questions must wait, as they have been waiting now for years, to discover - if they ever will - whether their lost loved ones are buried here.
For Peter Mulryan, whose sister is one of the names for which the death certificate shows no burial place, he holds out to know the truth of her life - and death. He wrestles with questions. Perhaps Marian Bridget Mulryan, whom he did not know had existed up until three years ago, did not die from convulsions at nine months’ of age, as a death certificate states. Could she instead have been trafficked to America and adopted there - in which case she is likely still alive?
The evidence shows that it is more than probable that some deaths were faked for this purpose. Peter is being thwarted in obtaining his sister's full records. That, it seems, is how things go here in Ireland for those seeking justice for past wrong-doings on the part of state and religious.
To the right of the main site is a small grotto, stark relief in a dark place. Locals constructed it after human remains were first found at the site many years back - understood to be those of babies buried in unconsecrated ground, born still or who died before being baptised. Small mementoes of babyhood and love - cuddly toys, fresh flowers - poignantly bring to life a feeling that is otherwise devoid here: honour.
Since it has been uncovered that many more remains are buried here, The Tuam Survivors’ Network are fighting to know the truth. I hope their day comes. It is the right thing for the living, and the dead.
RIP Tuam babies. We’ll never forget. ‘Not for one minute of an hour/my finest flower/did I ever let you go.’
Ciara wrote 'Finest Flower' as a tribute to all the mothers who died and those who survived incarceration in Ireland’s mother and baby homes and Magdalene Laundries, whose babies were taken from them against their will, to those weighed down by the actions of a Catholic church more intent on self-preservation than truth.