A mother and baby home survivors group has been honoured with this year's Spirit of Mother Jones Award for its efforts to ensure that more than 800 babies who died at a Cork institution are properly remembered and memorialised.
The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance has been honoured with the award by the Spirit of Mother Jones Committee in recognition of its efforts to find out where 859 babies associated with Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Blackrock in Cork are buried.
Jim Nolan, on behalf of the Cork Mother Jones Committee, said the CSSA were worthy winners of the award which is given each year to individuals and groups that the committee feels best embody the fighting spirit of Cork-born, American trade unionist and children's rights activist, Mother Jones.
“We are pleased to announce the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2021 has been awarded to members of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance who have campaigned for the proper memorialisation of the women and children who lie buried in the grounds of Bessborough.
“Specifically, the CSSA, by their determination and bravery prevented the recent plans to construct apartments on sensitive areas of the Bessborough grounds and through their efforts they discovered an Ordnance Survey Map from 1950 which clearly shows the marked Children’s Burial Ground.
"In addition to their actions the members of the Alliance, their experts and their legal team won an oral planning hearing of An Bord Pleanála and convinced the planning inspector of the merits of their argument to protect the children's burial ground.
“Finally, by their continuing campaign to seek the human right in accordance with common Irish tradition for a dignified burial place for those who died, for the preservation of the burial grounds, for the right of access to those grounds and for the creation of an appropriate memorial garden for the mothers and children at Bessborough, they have displayed the courage of their convictions.”
A Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report published in January 2021 found that some 923 babies associated with Bessborough Mother and Baby Home died between 1922 when the home opened and 1998 when it closed.
But the Commission of Investigation found burial records for just 64 of these children with the whereabouts of the remaining 859 remaining a mystery and the CSSA argued strongly at the An Bord Pleanála hearing they believed that these children were buried in the grounds of Bessborough.
Expert witness for the CSSA, cartographer, John Clarkin told the ABP hearing last April that an Ordnance Survey Ireland 1950 field trace map featured a notation for a Children's Burial Ground on the grounds of Bessborough which he believed indicated the site where children had been buried
Mr Nolan noted that the CSSA legal team and its witnesses convinced ABP to refuse permission for the development of the grounds that it would be “premature” to grant permission for the proposed development prior to establishing whether there was a children’s burial within the site.
"This has now created some space to ensure that the proper memorialisation of the women and children who are 'highly likely' to be buried in the grounds," said Mr Nolan who will present the award to Catherine Coffey O'Brien, Ann O Gorman and Maureen Considine of the CSSA on Saturday.
Ms Considine told The Irish Times: “It’s very gratifying to get this award because it’s been a long campaign and it’s nice to have someone highlight the spirit of Mother Jones within us because I know myself, I draw inspiration from the women in our group who survived so much in a similar manner to Mother Jones herself who survived the loss of her children.”
Mother Jones, aka Mary Harris, was born in Cork in 1837 but emigrated to America where she got involved in labour unions and her activism, reflected in her call to workers to, “pray for the dead, fight like hell for the living”, earned her the sobriquet, “the most dangerous woman in America”.
Previous winners of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award include homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry, campaigning solicitor Gareth Pierce, Hillsborough justice campaigners Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts, anti-apartheid activist Mary Manning and children's rights activist Louise O'Keeffe.