Women reunite 28 years after fleeing mother and baby home

Bessborough home: Pregnant pair out posting letters in 1989 when they decided to flee

Catherine Coffey O’Brien was seven months pregnant in 1989 when she fled the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home with her friend Angela (not her real name), who was six months pregnant. File photograph: iStockPhoto

Catherine Coffey O’Brien was seven months pregnant in 1989 when she fled the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home with her friend Angela (not her real name), who was six months pregnant. File photograph: iStockPhoto

 

Two women who ran away from a mother and baby home in Cork while heavily pregnant are to reunite later this week for the first time in close on three decades.

Catherine Coffey O’Brien was seven months pregnant in 1989 when she fled the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home with her friend Angela (not her real name), who was six months pregnant.

We managed to get a guy to stop at Patrick’s Bridge and we told him we were running away from the home. He was ‘bricking it’

Catherine says the pair were out posting letters for the nuns when they made the decision to flee.

“We were posting cards to America for the nuns when we decided to thumb a lift. We managed to get a guy to stop at Patrick’s Bridge and we told him we were running away from the home. He was ‘bricking it’.

“We got to Kerry and we walked up to Angela’s mum and dad, and her dad went yellow. Her mum said, ‘Darling Angela, you are back from England’.

“I thought they wouldn’t send her back after all the neighbours saw her pregnant, but they did. I remember walking away from Angela and she was just quivering.”

By coincidence, the father of Catherine’s child was from Kerry. The baby’s paternal grandmother allowed Catherine to stay with her. She subsequently had her baby boy in Kerry General Hospital.

‘Bright articulate boy’

Catherine says it was hard to adjust to life outside Bessborough. “I am proud now with how I got on with my life. My son is a bright articulate boy. I am not a victim. I am a survivor. I don’t really know where I got the courage from.”

I remember being in the yard one day and one of the girls said all the dead babies were below us

Ms Coffey O’Brien says for generations of Irish people, places like Bessborough Mother and Baby Home were spoken of in hushed tones.

She was horrified by the recent reports on the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway, and says it is time for Bessborough to be excavated.

“They [the church] banked on shame. They banked on silence. I remember being in the yard one day and one of the girls said all the dead babies were below us. But there were no markings on the graves. There should be [an excavation]. It is time for us to get closure and to be able to move on with our lives.”

Angela was just 18 years old in 1989 when she was “dragged” in to Bessborough. She says she never had any intention of giving up her baby.

“When Catherine and I got to Kerry, I was sent back to Bessborough. I had my son in St Finbarr’s Hospital. We weren’t told of any support for single mums. We were just cocooned.

“I had to leave my son in Bessborough - and that tore me apart. After a month I finally persuaded my parents to let me take him home. But there was no support. I was quickly put out into a flat on my own.”

Very proud

Angela says her son is very proud that she managed to make it on her own.

She was “shell shocked” by the harrowing details which have emerged from Tuam.

“It was bad enough that people were treated despicably. I never had any suspicion of anything like this [at Bessborough]. I didn’t experience mistreatment. I never hid being in Bessborough from anybody. My son is my pride and joy.”

Catherine and Angela are very much looking forward to meeting up this Friday in Cork city centre. Their sons will be with them.

The pair were reunited by a researcher at Cork’s 96FM.