Call for Protestant mother and baby homes to be investigated

‘I was a slave all my young life. My mother was a slave to prejudice’

A meeting with Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan seeking inclusion of Protestant-run mother and baby homes in the proposed Commission of Investigation was "quite positive", according to one of those at the meeting.

John (who does not want his surname published for family reasons) attended the meeting with members of the Bethany Survivors group.

They sought inclusion of the Bethany Home, the Magdalen Home on Dublin's Leeson Street, the Westbank Orphanage in Greystones, Co Wicklow, and the Ovoca House Orphanage in Wicklow town.

The people who ran those institutions included Protestant evangelicals, members of the Church of Ireland, and of the Plymouth Brethren.


‘I could not walk’

Separately, Adoption Rights Alliance and the Justice for

Magdalenes Research

groups have proposed jointly that the commission should focus on children born out of wedlock in


since 1922, rather than on institutions.

John was born in 1946 at the Magdalen Home on Leeson Street.

A year later he was sent to another Protestant-run home in Baldoyle, Co Dublin. "In 1949 I was found to be badly malnourished with rickets. I could not walk," he said.

Manual labour

He was fostered to a family in


. “I was required to do manual labour from about the age of five or six.

"I worked before I walked five miles to school each morning, to the local Roman Catholic school, with another foster child taken in by the family, though we were brought up Church of Ireland. The natural children of the family went to the Church of Ireland primary school."

He and the other foster child “milked cows, collected sheep, fed poultry and generally worked as free child-labour on the farm. We were slave labour I suppose.

“The family received money for us from public funds. We were isolated from other members of the family.”

When he was 10 he was sent to a farm in Co Tipperary. "The work got heavier and heavier. At the local Church of Ireland school I was often physically abused. I was told I did not deserve to be there and taunted with the fact that I had no parents."

There was kindness. “A small contractor took me under his wing and sometimes brought me into town to be fed. I remember he gave me hints that I might have a sister.”

At 13 he was sent to a Protestant secondary school, his education funded by a Protestant charity.

“I was treated no better. And neither were the seven or so other foster children. I was beaten twice or three times a week.”

During summers he was sent to another Tipperary family. “It was the same old routine of endless work. From bad to worse. I was treated appallingly,” he said.

“My mother sought me out when I was 21. I was told to go to Dublin, to the Wicklow Hotel, and then told, ‘this is your mother, get on with it’.”

At the age of 58 he "found out by accident when applying for a passport that I had a twin sister who was adopted into a family in Northern Ireland. Her existence was kept from me and vice versa.

“Though I made contact, time apart destroyed the possibility of a relationship between us,” he said.

“I was a slave all my young life. My mother was a slave to prejudice: forced to give birth in secret. She kept her twin children secret from all her family for most of her life, and kept her twin children secret from each other. Her family found out about me at at her funeral.”

‘State let me down’

He is 68 now. “ I married Sheila in 1971. We have twin girls and a boy,” he said. “The Irish State and the Church of Ireland were my parents. They let me down, badly.”

He tried to keep contact with the other foster children but most “took to drink and to drugs”.

Above all John wants “access to my mother’s files, that are denied to me.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times