Campaign highlights abuse of mixed-race Irish in institutional care

‘I was in a class all of my own, beneath everybody else along with the dogs and the pigs’

A campaign has been launched for recognition of mixed-race survivors of institutional abuse who believe they suffered racism while in State care.

Rosemary Adaser and Evon Brennan of the campaign group Call to Action Mixed Race Irish, have 20 members, but believe there are about 200 Irish people of mixed race who were in institutional care here between the 1950s and 1980s.

Ms Brennan, a London-based singer-songwriter, said they were looking at the "colour-specific nature of abuse". That abuse "has been under the radar all these years" and they want an acknowledgement that "Ireland in the '50s and '60s was a racist country".

They also want to reach out to other mixed-race ex-institution Irish and ask any such survivors to contact them by email: or through the charity One in Four.


Ms Adaser said: “The key point is that if you were mixed race back in the ’50s and ’60s you were 99 per cent sure of being put in an institution.”

Put into State care at the age of three months, she was in homes on the Navan Road, Dublin, and spent 11 years in St Joseph’s, Kilkenny, where her baby son was forcibly taken from her by the nuns when she was 17.

'Performing monkey'
"I have absolutely nothing good to say about it. I was the only black girl there, seen as an oddity, treated as an alien, at best a performing monkey, at worst a savage, a savage to be civilised.

“I was in a class all of my own, beneath everybody else along with the dogs and the pigs on the farm. That’s where I was told I belonged.”

Her father was an African chief educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and her mother worked at the hospital. “They were decent folks,” she said.

In the institutions they also had to contend with stereotyping around sexuality of people of colour. “As young women that was very, very hard.”

Ms Adaser said she had met her mother years later. "She really felt she had broken the code by falling in love with a black man. His family didn't want us because Ghana was coming into independence . . . but her family didn't want us either."

She has a twin brother, now living in China, and was subsequently reunited with her son, who lives in Cork.

Ms Brennan, who never knew her parents, was raised with her twin sister Carol on the Navan Road, in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, and Banada Abbey, Co Sligo. Ballaghaderreen "was the most traumatic, darkest place of memory, where most damage was endured because of my colour".

'The carers wear gloves'
"You are refused to be cared for, to be looked after, to be washed because of your colour. You were left in your own . . . business.

“You weren’t held because of your colour. When you are held the carers wear gloves because you are contamination. You are the colour of excrement. All of this has seeped into one’s core.”

She was told “your mother’s a whore, your father’s a savage, you’re treated as a robot, as an object, as a monkey”.

“We’re part of Ireland’s history,” said Ms Adaser. “ We’d like a footnote, that’s all. A little footnote that there are some mixed-race Irish living in Ireland who are proud to call themselves Irish.

“I would like Irish people to hear our story,” she added. “It’s not about blame . . . we want the Irish State to acknowledge our existence. We’d like it discussed in the Dáil. An apology would be nice, but right now I’d settle for us being heard.”

Now semi-retired, Ms Adaser reflects: "A lot of us fled to England, but we had 20 years of Irish culture, language, history and the Catholic faith.

“And then we go to England but we don’t fit in there either because we’re not African Caribbean, we’re not African.

“I left to go to England, just to get lost in the crowd – not to stick out.

“And a lot of mixed-race people try not to be noticed because to be noticed was very damaging in Ireland.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times