Mother and baby homes report is the story of us as a nation

Helen Shaw: This was not about a few rogue bad apples. This was systemic in Irish society

A lantern at the site of the Tuam mother and baby home.  Photograph: Andy Newman

A lantern at the site of the Tuam mother and baby home. Photograph: Andy Newman

In pre-Covid-19 days I was standing at the bus stop on the Navan Road one morning, waiting for the No 37, when an older, agitated woman kept asking me when the bus was coming. Her eyesight was bad, she said, and she couldn’t read the digital display. I asked her if she was all right. “I spent too long around here when I was a young one,” she said, gesturing toward a housing estate. I knew what she meant. The estate of fine houses is the old site of the Pelletstown/Navan Road mother and baby home. “The memories are bad,” she said, reaching out and gripping my hand. She’d been born there and stayed there. She was physically upset now, shaking. A public health eye appointment had brought her back to Ashtown but she just wanted to get away. “I don’t think about them days much, but this is bringing it all back.”

In the wake of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, many of us have been brought back into our very recent past and a dark, national story of institutional cruelty and abuse. Another jigsaw piece in the horror puzzle, from children’s homes to Magdalene laundries, has been fitted into place. Another apology and another crude calculation of compensation. Another incomplete excavation of the harsh making of modern Ireland.

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