Planned housing at Bessborough an ‘insult’ to those who died there, hearing told
Site should be ‘handed over to the State’ as permanent memorial, says support group
A detail from the 1950 Ordnance Survey field trace map showing a children’s burial ground at Bessborough.
Allowing a proposed apartment complex to proceed on the grounds of the former mother and baby home in Bessborough in Cork city would amount to a continued demonisation of the women and children who were hidden away in the home, a woman who lost a child to adoption has said.
Mary Slattery, a member of the Know My Own support group for people who experienced adoption, told an An Bord Pleanála oral hearing into a proposed housing development at Bessborough that the project should not be allowed go ahead as it was an insult to all those who died there.
“We suffered a most grievous injustice as single, pregnant women, we were hidden, we were shunted from society,” said Ms Slattery who lost her first born child to adoption and described herself as “a mother living with the impact of that life-changing decision every day”.
Addressing the virtual hearing, Ms Slattery said the plan by developers MWB Two Ltd to build 179 apartments at the site was an insult to the memory of 923 babies and 31 women who died in Bessborough.
The developers have rejected claims that the project will intrude on an area marked on a 1950 Ordnance Survey trace map as a children’s burial ground.
Opening the case for MWB Two Ltd on Wednesday, David Holland SC said the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance was erroneous in its view that there was a children’s burial ground on the site of the proposed apartment blocks.
However, Ms Slattery said: “I see this proposed development of a commercial building, six or seven storeys high, as continuing to demonise us - put scores of building blocks on us, shame us, silence us - under no circumstances should building take place in this location.”
Ms Slattery said that the area identified as a burial ground on the 1950 trace map should form part of a historical preserved heritage site, similar to preserved Famine sites where those who died are remembered.
“It should be handed over to the State - it deserves a meadow of wild flowers, pollinating for the environment, that’s what it deserves, it deserves to be treated with respect so people, like myself, when we go for walks there, we can reflect on the mothers and the babies who lost their lives.”
Thomas Walsh, a founder member of Know My Own, told the hearing that being able to access the area marked on the 1950 Ordnance Map and hold annual commemorative services helped those who had been bereaved to get some closure on their loss.
“It’s for this reason that I believe that there should be no development allowed in this area because it would have the effect of destroying the aforementioned closure that those in Bessborough can get through access to, an use of, the children’s burial ground,” he said.
“There are over 800 babies buried somewhere in Bessborough - are they all buried there - who knows? There are quite a few buried there and it has been the case for 70 years the people who lost babies in Bessborough have accepted the area around the folly was where their babies were buried.”
Another member of Know My Own, Carmel Cantwell said she had visited Bessborough for the last 27 years as her mother had told been told by nuns there that her baby was buried there but not knowing the exact spot where the infant was buried had caused her mother great stress in her life.
“My mother has had some comfort in visiting Bessborough as this was the last place that she saw her baby alive - she has regularly said a prayer for him at the memorial at Bessborough and has enjoyed this space as a place for reflection,” she said.
“When we first visited the graveyard in 1995, there were plats hanging on the inside of the folly, handmade by the others with the names of their deceased babies on them and from this time on, the folly became the unofficial headstone of the babies’ graves.”
She added: “The grounds there have a historical legacy that must be respected and any building here will compound the hurt felt by those mothers, children and extended families, who have a relative buried there - the children’s burial ground must be preserved - anything else would be a travesty.”