Criminal investigation into Tuam deaths ‘not realistic’, says former resident

Writer recalls being ‘terrified most of the time’ as a child in mother and baby home

JP Rodgers at the site of the mother and baby home in Tuam where he lived until he was six. Photograph: Ray Ryan

JP Rodgers at the site of the mother and baby home in Tuam where he lived until he was six. Photograph: Ray Ryan

 

A former resident of Tuam’s mother and baby home has said a criminal investigation into the deaths of almost 800 children at the home is “not realistic”.

The writer JP Rodgers, who spent some of his childhood at the home, called for “common sense” to prevail at this stage. He also said that both local residents and survivors should be consulted about the future of the infants’ bodies found there during a recent excavation by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.

“I do realise some people may feel aggrieved, and they are entitled to their views, but a criminal investigation into these deaths is pie in the sky,” Mr Rodgers said. “Common sense has to prevail. Any survivors of that time in the Bon Secours order would be very elderly and not in a position to be interviewed on this.”

Over the weekend, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said it was “difficult to see” why gardaí “would not be involved”, referring to “the way in which children’s bodies were literally discarded”. He was commenting on confirmation that test excavations by the commission had found “significant” quantities of human remains.

The remains, radiocarbon-dated to the time the mother and baby home ran, from 1925 to 1961, were found in two large structures under the site of the former institution. One appeared to be a decommissioned sewage containment system or septic tank, and the second structure, divided into 20 chambers, may have been related to sewage treatment, but there was no evidence it had been used as such.

Galway County Council has reiterated that any involvement of gardaí would be a decision of the north Galway coroner. The coroner’s office said it was making no comment.

Mr Rodgers said he was “shocked” at the commission’s report on Friday, but was not sure that exhumation was the best course of action.

Tribute

When research by local historian Catherine Corless became public in 2014, Mr Rodgers said he had visited Tuam to pay tribute to the residents in the estate built on the site of the home.

“These people maintained what was known as a children’s graveyard,” he said. “Several families there cut the grass, laid flowers, and paid respect to those children, and their views should be respected now, as well as those of survivors. At the moment, there is no united view.”

Mr Rodgers’s mother, Bridie, had already spent much of her life in institutions when she was sent to the Tuam home.

“She was picked up in Dublin for begging as a two-and-a-half year-old, charged with begging, and sent to an industrial school in Clifden, Co Galway,” he says.

She became pregnant after an assault while working as a domestic servant, and spent one year in the Tuam home with her son after his birth in 1947, before she was transferred to the Magdalen laundry in Galway.

She subsequently escaped from the laundry, went to England, and was aged 34 when her son met her again for the first time.

“I was one of the lucky ones as [at six years old] I was fostered out to a farming family in Williamstown, ” Mr Rodgers said. “My mother told me how she screamed when we were forcibly separated, but of course I have no memory of that.”

Of his time in the Tuam home, he said: “I was terrified most of the time. It was survival of the fittest, and I remember we all got sick, and I was ill for months.”

Mr Rodgers, who has worked in construction and has family in both England and north America, returns to the west of Ireland frequently. His two books on his experiences, For the Love of My Mother and Eggshells and Broken Dreams , are available on Kindle.