State urged to help families of babies sent to US for adoption

Woman from Gloucester seeks brother born in mother-and-baby home in Tipperary


The Irish authorities must help the families of children who were sent to the United States for adoption to trace them, the daughter of one woman held in a mother-and-baby home in Ireland last night declared.

Helen Baker, from Gloucestershire, was one of a small group who gathered tonight outside the Irish Embassy in London to demand an internationally-led investigation into the homes.

Saying that her mother, Margaret Cullen was held in the Sean Ross Abbey home in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, Ms Baker said her mother’s first child, Oliver was “taken away from her” and sent for adoption to the US when he was four and a half years old.

So far, efforts to trace him have failed, since the Irish authorities have refused to give her any information because her mother died three years ago: “But he was my brother,” she told The Irish Times.

Following her time in Roscrea, Ms Baker’s mother, from Rathvilly, Co Carlow, came to Cardiff and married quickly: “She craved stability, so that is why she did that, maybe not well. But she was happy with my step-father.”

Her mother revealed her past when mother and daughter sat by her step-father’s side when he was dying in hospital in 1995.

“We spent a lot of time together then. She had always intended to tell me. I am glad that she did. She told me of the cruelty of the nuns. She had been the eldest of ten. Her family didn’t have any choice. The local priest told her that an example had had to be made of her,” she said.

After her son had been taken from her, her mother had suffered a nervous breakdown and was treated with electric shock therapy in an Irish hospital, Ms Baker went on.

“I believed it caused her huge trauma. She lost part of her memory as a result of the treatment. All I have of my brother is a photograph of him taken by the nuns when he was about three, or so.

“I don’t have him, but he doesn’t know anything about his family, even his medical history. There is a history of heart problems in our family. Three of my mother’s six brothers died from heart attacks.

“I am upset that my mother had to go through all of that. It is unbelievable that people had to suffer in that way and be treated like that. I want to be able to trace my brother,” she added.

Avril Egan, one of the organisers of tonight’s protest, said an inquiry should be led by an international figure and should be properly resourced, unlike past inquiries into the Magdalene Laundries and residential institutions.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Egan complained that the Irish abroad and foreigners seemed to be more angered than were people living in Ireland by the reports that hundreds of babies had been buried in unmarked graves in Tuam.

Meanwhile, Phyllis Morgan, who helps to run the London-based Irish Women Survivors’ Network, thanked Catherine Corless, the Tuam historian who unearthed the story of the deaths of children in the mother-and-baby home there.

“We know in the weeks and months to come there will be many skeletons of babies discovered in other homes. Shame on Ireland and shame on those living in comfortable Ireland who looked the other way,” she said.

Meanwhile, Fiona Cahill told the story of her grandmother, Philomena, who was sent to a Red Cross-run mother-and-baby home in London after she had a daughter, Maria, Fiona’s mother.

Mother and child went to a mother-and-baby home in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, Ms Cahill told last night’s protest: “I know my grandma in her innocence believed them when they said they would help her, that she would work for them and that she could keep her baby.

“I know she desperately, desperately wanted that. Maria was taken from her and sent to another nursery without her consent or knowledge. I know Philomena never signed anything and I know that took a lot of guts,” she went on.

Her mother, Maria was given by the nuns to “a wealthy married couple in Ireland who wanted a perfect little girl to be a big sister for their baby boy”.

“They were willing to pay large donations.”