Lord Mayor's Diary: Stories of Bessboro and Tuam remind us Ireland was not always so forgiving

Lord Mayor's Diary: Stories of Bessboro and Tuam remind us Ireland was not always so forgiving
Flowers placed at the entrance to Bessboro in Blackrock. Pic: Larry Cummins.

Last week I had the pleasure of launching the Lord Mayor’s Community and Voluntary Awards 2017 which will take place in City Hall this May. 

This is the 13th year of the awards which go some way to recognise the immense contribution volunteerism has in such a positive way on all of us in Cork City. 

There are over 600 organisations and clubs across the city run by volunteers, that’s right 600. During my address, I used the word selfless to describe the people involved, but it is also true to say that people get more out of giving than receiving. Cork simply would not function without the work carried out by the volunteer sector and for that we all are truly grateful.

Ireland is a great place to live for most of us and through the work of many groups, people less able have a better quality of life and as importantly a sense of belonging. 

However the recent reports on Tuam remind us that Ireland was not always so forgiving or welcoming to its own people. I was born in 1970 to a loving family in what would be regarded as a ‘privileged’ area of Blackrock. 

Like a lot of families did the usual stuff attending the local national school, holidays in Ireland and our grandmother lived with us when our grandfather (Da) passed away. Chaotic mealtimes but luckily for us a great time growing up. I was vaguely aware of Bessboro, but at my age then, not really. 

When I went to Dublin to train as a butcher in Superquinn, one of my fellow butchers told me he was born in Bessboro (4-5 years older than me) and was adopted to a Dublin family. He never knew his mother.

That was the first time (1988/89) that I had some idea of what happened in Bessboro, a mile from where I grew up. When I think of my childhood with my two older brothers and older sister, my grandmother and grandaunt plus my parents all together in a happy, chaotic, loving and stable home compared to children and young mothers behind large walls, so close to where I grew up, it’s hard to imagine that it was the same country.

However unpleasant it might be to address what the Irish did to the Irish during those decades that should not stop us from investigating what most be the darkest part of our nation since we became a republic.

I have linked the current nature of volunteerism and the closed nature of our past to show how far we have come to date. We can be very proud of the society we have become and while many social issues are still far below where they need to be, we must recognise that we are going in the right direction while countries around us are going backwards. 

Ireland may be a small country but we can be an example to others. Sometimes you need to go away to recognise how great our country is. 250,000 will march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York with three million people on the streets of New York watching. 

That gives you some indication of the goodwill in the US towards Ireland. I am looking forward to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Cork this Friday. We are expecting over 50,000 people to come into the city to enjoy the day. This week of all weeks makes it great to be Irish but in particular a Corkonian.

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