Mother and Baby Homes should be preserved, says survivor

Bessborough housing project planning appeal urged to listen to the voices of women

Bessborough Centre, Blackrock, Cork. Survivours of the mother and baby home say it should be preserved.

Bessborough Centre, Blackrock, Cork. Survivours of the mother and baby home say it should be preserved.

 

Mother and Baby Homes, such as Bessborough in Cork, should be preserved as memorials to what happened to women in Ireland in the same way that former concentration camps in Poland are preserved to commemorate those who died in such places, a woman has told a planning hearing.

Terri Harrison told the An Bord Pleanala (ABP) oral hearing into an application by developer MWB Two Ltd to build 179 apartments on the grounds of Bessborough mother and baby home in Blackrock that people can visit concentration camps in Poland today to learn what people suffered there.

Ms Harrison said that such camps in Poland and elsewhere were not sold but preserved and what happened in them was not hidden or dismissed and Ireland needed to adopt a similar approach to remembering and commemorating what happened in Mother and Baby Homes like Bessborough.

And she urged ABP Senior Inspector Karen Kenny and others attending the oral hearing virtually that they should listen to the voices of former residents so they can appreciate what sort of place it was before making any decision on the project.

Lifetime of hurt

“With all due respect to those of us who have endured a lifetime of hurt and pain and our ‘Living Bereavement’, I wish to convey to all attending this hearing how many of us females, associated with many of the institutions across this country, actually feel about the decision you are about to make.

“We are the living witnesses of the atrocities and inhumane treatment bestowed upon us all by a religious organisation that was given permission and paid for by the Irish State to provide a ‘duty of care’,” she told the second day of the virtual ABP oral hearing.

Ms Harrison spoke of her own experience when, as an 18-year-old in 1973, she was taken from the UK and sent to Bessborough, where she “lost her sense of identity” when she was “imprisoned” in the mother and baby home.

She said the sale of former mother and baby homes in Dublin for commercial development was hugely traumatic for those who were held there and those attending the ABP hearing should try to imagine the impact such a move has on survivors.

“We are the invisible and the forgotten – how can generations come to view our real history if there is nowhere for them to go?” said Ms Harrison, as she asked people to try and imagine what it felt like to have a door lock behind them upon entering a cell or dormitory in Bessborough.

“We are faced with yet another form of abuse – by allowing the crimes and inhumane treatment of all the young girls, who found themselves at the mercy of their captives, be erased. We did not count then, we do not count now – our dying community will be gone.

“All those lying in the grounds all over this country, owned by such like religious orders, will never rest in peace – not until the very last soul is recognised as being a person, a human, a target – I will never allow any of them to become invisible again.”

Opposition

Another woman, whose mother lost a baby in Bessborough in the 1960s, also spoke about her opposition to the proposed development, saying she feared it would impact on the ability of her mother and others to commemorate the babies that they lost in Bessborough.

“We don’t know where my baby brother is buried and to think that this development would be allowed be built near the burial ground and quite near to the Folly, because that’s where we congregate to have our commemoration every year, is wrong.

“My mum says she wants to have somewhere to go where she can have a bit of peace in her heart for where she thinks her baby could be and that’s we have to think he is buried – the ideal situation is to have somewhere with space rather than somewhere with properties overlooking you.

“There will be playgrounds for children in the development, I would imagine, lots of roads, lots of noise – I would just ask people to take that into consideration – I just want to say that on my mum’s behalf,” said the woman, who asked the media not to identify her in any reports.