‘Would my mother’s life have been different if she’d had white children?’
The Mixed Race Irish group is calling for the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation to confront the racism endured by children born to Irish mothers
“We were all called racist names”: Colin Brennan, at home in Drogheda, Co Louth. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times
Colin Brennan was born in Liverpool in 1959, to Pauline Brennan from Wicklow. She had a baby already, Darrell, who was about a year old. Her relationship with their father, from Somalia, broke down, and she later married another man, with whom she had their younger brother, Paul. When the marriage broke down she returned to Ireland with her three boys. The family was taken in at the Regina Ceoli home for mothers and children, in Dublin, run by the Legion of Mary. Colin was four, Darrell was six and Paul was a baby.
“I remember hearing the words ‘nigger lover’ before I knew what it meant,” says Colin Brennan, who now lives in Drogheda. “I remember her being attacked by a gang of women in the hostel. I remember the police being called, her being arrested and us all crying. She was a tough woman, but she looked after us well, on her own.”
One of the head nuns, he says, had his mother assessed as an alcoholic; shortly afterwards, a court ordered that the brothers be taken into care. They were sent to the Sisters of Charity orphanage in Drogheda. “It was pleasant. We had our own room and were well fed. Darrell and me were very protective of Paul. We were a team and looked out for each other.” Their mother visited them, but on one occasion, Brennan says, “she looked dreadful, not her usual self, and not long after this we were told she had died.” He was about nine.
The three boys were sent to separate foster homes – the beginning, he says, of huge suffering for them all. He believes Darrel was sexually abused. He himself, he says, was with a good family but was traumatised by the losses he had endured.
He dropped out of school by 13, became involved in criminality and was sent to prison. He later emigrated and worked as a cook. He was never able to maintain a relationship and has had mental-health problems.
Both of his brothers have died, one by suicide and one in a fight outside a nightclub. “It’s too late to hear their stories,” Brennan says. “We were all called racist names, but most of those people were just stupid. The people who treated our mother like muck, and screwed up her children, were well educated and in positions of power, and knew what they were doing. To this day I wonder, if our mother, being white, had had white children, how different her life would have been.”