A forthright piece in the Irish Independent on the death rate in the Tuam mother and baby home.
It didn’t just happen. It wasn’t just bad management. It took years of organisation, strategies of intimidation and control. And, let’s face it, it took a citizenry steeped in fear and reverence.
A population that was deferential. People who did what they were told. People who didn’t dare ask questions.
Not, of course, that dumping the bodies of almost 800 kids near a septic tank was the object of the exercise – that was just a byproduct. Just some human waste that had to be tucked away in a suitable place.
It was about sex and power. It was about the right of the Church to do whatever it thought necessary to preserve its domain. It stemmed from a hierarchy of old men who were obsessed with sex.
The Church was very conscious of its need to dominate. Never to serve – to dominate.
As it still is. Domination is what it does.
Under the leadership of the legendary Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, between 1940 and 1965 the Church built no fewer than 34 churches in Dublin.
These weren’t pretty little places of spiritual reflection – they were massive structures that physically and psychologically dominated their surroundings.
These buildings did not say, ‘Come in here for solace’ – as any church of any faith might say. They said, ‘We are your masters.’
Regular expulsions for trivial matters sharpened the edge of guilt and fear in the awed people on whom the Confraternities thrived.
The Church was in that period at the height of its power. It could do whatever it wanted. When you have a docile citizenry; an obedient political regime; academics who know which backsides to kiss; and a politically appointed judiciary, you can shape a society in your own image.
Which is what the bishops did.
What was the consequence? Fear, obsession with purity, loathing, sadism.
In short, the “mother and baby” homes didn’t just pop up because someone thought them a good idea. They were a product of a puritanical, shaming, abusive hierarchy of power.
The bishops’ Ireland was a pious country in which unapproved sex didn’t happen. The women who got pregnant outside marriage, and who by their existence undermined the image of piety, had to be hidden away.
And the children born of unapproved activities weren’t real children. The word used was “illegitimate”. They were children, but they were not legitimate children. So they were usually taken away from their mothers and hidden away.
And there they failed to thrive, and many of them died. God’s work.