Church must account ‘for stolen babies’
Irish Examiner, Saturday, February 09, 2013
Sinéad O’Connor’s response to the published apology by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity concerning the treatment of women in their care:
By Sinéad O’Connor
I am one of the very few who can say with my hand on my heart that the time spent in your institution at High Park in Drumcondra saved my life.
It was named An Grianán, and is named so in The Residential Institutions Redress Act, where An Grianán is listed first, should there be any doubt as to whether or not An Grianán (the house of the rising sun) was a residential institution.
It was the very place indeed which gave the name “Magdalene Laundries” when, sometime after I left in 1984, the land was sold and some builders digging up the ground found many graves, all marked only “Magdalen”.
During the time I spent there, the girls used to say they saw a ghostly white lady crossing the garden. I laughed and mocked them. Until the day I heard about the graves.
Sister Margaret, who was in charge during the time I was there, was the number-one greatest thing that had, up until that time, ever happened to me in my life. She loved me as if I was her own daughter.
Specifically, she loved me because I was rebellious. She knew I had a good heart. Now that I have grown, I think she saw in me the girl that she would like to have been had she not been herself a slave of the theocracy.
The epilogue to the Magdalene story will be how much in fact some of you ladies were as much slaves of the theocracy as the girls were. Your stories have yet to be told.
Sister Margaret bought me my first guitar and saw music would save my life and told me to go for my dreams and to know that God was always with me — she even bought me a parka coat like all the punk rockers had, from a punk rock shop in Dublin called No Romance. The woman was an angel.
However, I must state that while my experience in your institution was good for me, I saw something absolutely appalling happen there to someone else and I felt very sad last night when I saw the wording of the apology you published in response to The McAleese Report on The Magdalene Laundries.
You said: “It is with deep regret that we acknowledge that there are women who did not experience our refuge as a place of protection and care.”
What I saw happen to a girl I loved in your institution deserves a much more specific response. Not least because her experience is not an isolated case. She is one of many girls who had similar experiences in institutions all over the land.
The McAleese report is incorrect when it states that there is no evidence to support that women ever had babies in institutions.
Indeed on the night the report was published, a woman who was born in an institution and taken from her mother, told her story.
In the Irish Times of Feb 6, 2013, there is an interview with a lady named Patricia Burke Brogan. She states she was a novice with the Sisters of Mercy in the Galway laundry. She left because she could not stand to see the women being locked up She states: “When I asked the superior why they weren’t let out she said ‘oh if you let them out they’ll be back here in no time pregnant again’.” Again is the key word here.
In fact, babies were often born in institutions and laundries. And often they were taken from their mothers against their mothers’ will.
I witnessed this happen to my friend in your specific institution. I really feel she deserves something better than your regret that she didn’t experience your refuge as a place of protection and care.
My friend was 17 years old. She was pregnant and we all were with her and she was happy and so were we. My friend is the only woman that I ever met in my life that I could justifiably call a true lady.
She became pregnant whilst under the care of your institution in fact, and went joyously through the pregnancy with us there. I am not the only witness to these events.
She had a baby boy. Black hair, and skin so white he shimmered palest blue, like a little Krishna.
She adored him, she minded him, and loved him and fussed over him and was the best mother I have ever seen in her precise ways of caring for his every possible comfort. He was her lamb. Her Christ. The light of her life. And he was also and remains a little tiny light of mine. Which is why I am writing this letter.
One morning, I woke to hear my friend screaming. And I ran out of my cubicle. I saw her surrounded by nuns. I can’t quite remember how many. They tore my friend’s baby from her arms. She struggled, I tried to help, as did others. Her desperate beggings and pleadings and screams were ignored. She was physically overpowered, as was I and the other girls — and the baby was gone, with no trace of where he went.
Again, I state for the record, I am only one of several witnesses to this event. If there is true regret on your part that your institution was not a place of refuge could you please compose a more suitable response to this particular incident. I am certain that my friend will have been gutted by the composition of the “apology” which flicks a flaccid wrist, frankly, at her experience, as if it isn’t of consequence.
If you are regretful, produce the man who was that baby. And if Enda Kenny means it when he says the State intends to fully support these women for the rest of their lives and is regretful himself, let him produce my friend’s son. And records of all the stolen children and where they went and where their children are now.
Yes, the State should say sorry. But they were the dirty worker for the Church. And the Church thinks it looks like the good guy now with these so- called apologies. No. It doesn’t wash. You need to go back to whomever authority composes these apologies and ask they specifically respond to this case please.
Yes, you can say “the law was, you couldn’t keep your baby if you were unmarried and under 18”. But it is for the police to enforce laws, not the clergy. And police never tore babies from their mothers’ arms. Indeed they never had the power to, when they should have had it, while Irish children were being savaged by clergy and theocracy.
Answer this: Why were the nuns and not the police enforcing the laws of the land? I regret to say I have several friends who were never in an institution, yet had their babies stolen by clergy at hospitals when they went for a shower.
None of my friends that this happened to were given any choice in the matter. Indeed they were not even informed of what was to take place, until after it had taken place.
Enda Kenny, I admire you greatly. I hope you don’t let me down. What do you have to say about the State’s compulsory removal of the children of unmarried mothers under the age of 18? Please explain to me why the police were not the ones enforcing this law.
It is highly important the State acknowledge that it, in plain terms, used to be the Church’s bitch. And apologise for that.
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