Plea to include children ‘boarded out’ in mother and baby inquiry

Man alleges abuse in foster home in 1940s

Eddie McEntee, who says he  was abused in foster care in Kildare in the 1940s. He is applying to mother and baby inquiry to have fostered children in  the 1930s and 1940s and up to 1952 to be included in the terms of reference of mother and baby inquiry. Photograph:  Joanne O’Brien

Eddie McEntee, who says he was abused in foster care in Kildare in the 1940s. He is applying to mother and baby inquiry to have fostered children in the 1930s and 1940s and up to 1952 to be included in the terms of reference of mother and baby inquiry. Photograph: Joanne O’Brien

Mon, Jun 30, 2014, 01:01

A call has been made for the terms of the forthcoming inquiry into mother and baby homes to be extended to include people who were in foster care over 60 years ago.

Eddie McEntee (73), a Kildare man who has lived most of his life in England, says he endured daily neglect as well as physical and emotional abuse between the ages of four and 10, first in Kildare County Home and then in foster care. Today is the deadline for applications to be included within the terms of the inquiry, which are being drawn up by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Mr McEntee was born in Naas, Co Kildare, in January 1941. He had two older sisters and an older brother. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recommended the children be taken into care after their mother applied for a warrant in 1943 to have her husband arrested on charges of desertion and neglect of the family.

“My brothers and sisters were put in Goldenbridge and Artane but because I was so young I was put with the nuns in the county home,” says Mr McEntee, who now lives in Camberwell, London.

He says he was physically and mentally abused during his three years here, particularly by an older boy in charge of him. In 1947 he was “boarded out” by Kildare County Council to a family in Moone where he stayed until he was 10.He says he was daily beaten, starved, humiliated, excluded from family meals, made to work on the farm and he says he survived two attempts by the parents to drown him.

“I wasn’t allowed to have friends or play and had to do the work of a grown man seven days a week. I was never given meat and just got fat from the meat. If I got sick I was beaten. They had a ration book for me and got money from the welfare to buy me food, but they ate my rations. I was so hungry at school I begged and stole some of the other children’s lunch. The teachers saw this and told the family and so I was beaten. I stole food from a neighbour’s window and she told the family and I was beaten. One of my many jobs was to feed the pigs and often I was so hungry I would sit down with them and eat the swill with them. Sometimes I slept with the pigs too.”

He says he was removed from the family after a neighbour reported saving him from the father’s attempt to drown him in a water barrel. He remembers the family being inspected by a woman who came annually but she never spoke to him.

He was again “boarded out” to live with and elderly brother and sister, in Donandea, Co Kildare. Again he was put to work on the farm but, he says, “they were lovely and those were the happiest years of my childhood”. His mother successfully applied to get him back when he was 13 and he moved to England when he was 16.

He remains scarred by what happened. His account of his time “boarded out” was made to The Irish Times in writing, because he says it too painful to speak about. He has been through years of counselling and from 2004 has corresponded with Kildare County Council, the former South Western Area Health Board, the Departments of Health and Education and he has engaged solicitors, hoping to make someone accountable for what he says happened to him.

In correspondence seen by The Irish Times, none denies his account but all variously say the alleged abuse happened so long ago as to be statute barred.

Mr McEntee’s older siblings were compensated by the Institutional Redress Board but as he was not in an institution, his case could not be heard. “It doesn’t seem fair they were heard when the abuse I suffered was just as bad, worse even. I was on my own in that family. It’s wrong.”

Dr Sarah-Ann Buckley of NUI Galway says many families in poverty took in children like Eddie because they came with a monthly payment from the local authority and they were seen as cheap labour.

The “boarding-out” system, particularly pre-1953, remains under-researched, partly because records are scant and dispersed among local authorities. It is also clear, she adds, that foster families were meant to be inspected annually but many were not.

Dr Lindsey Earner-Byrne of UCD has said the “boarding-out” system was a product of the same thinking that gave rise to mother and baby homes and merits inclusion in an inquiry.