Woman recalls pain of losing child at Bessborough home

‘Liveline’ caller says babies taken from girls and sold to highest bidder at Cork facility

A woman who was sent to a mother and baby home in Bessborough, Cork, has described how she and other residents were "sitting ducks for the people who wanted our babies".

Her child died there in 1960 after a short illness. Those running the institution had decided to change her son’s name from William to Gerard, one more appealing to a Catholic family, his mother suspected.

In a tearful recounting of her story on RTÉ's Liveline programme, the woman named "Bridget" described the horror of her time at Bessborough and said she wanted to speak for those who had no voice.

“We knew that our babies would be taken away and given away or sold to the highest bidder. I know my little boy would have gone to America; he was blond and blue eyed,” she said.

“The whole of my life has been a terrible, terrible ordeal because this was a little boy. He could [have] been saved. He was a fighter. He could be a beautiful healthy little boy.”

Crusade of Rescue

Now in her 70s, Bridget had moved to London as a pregnant 16-year-old. When she confessed her "sin" of pregnancy to a priest, he made arrangements to spirit her back to the State with the assistance of the Crusade of Rescue organisation.

Frightened by her situation, the young woman boarded a ship for Cork and ended up at the Bessborough home “like thousands of other girls”.

“Straight away you could feel the horror of it. My clothes were taken, everything my handbag, coat, everything personal that belonged to you was taken,” she said.

She was given shoes and a uniform. She said the idea they could leave at any time was a lie; there were bars on the windows and doors.

“I will die with the pain,” she said of the experience.

“And to hear people deny that this happened. Well I can assure them, I was there. It happened to me; it happened to my baby. How dare they deny when they haven’t been there?”

Much later, with the encouragement of her daughter, she returned to the home to ask about where her son had been buried.

She was shown to the “angel’s plot” and the person showing her tapped on the ground to mark the spot but later admitted she did not know where they were buried.

Now with the investigation at Tuam, she said, there was hope women's stories would be believed.

Last week an excavation of the site of a former mother and baby home in Co Galway found remains of a “significant” number of babies and infants.

Local research records 796 infants and children as having died in the home run by the Bon Secours Sisters between 1925 and 1961.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times