'Fallen' women never really had a chance...

Cork Institute of Technology investigates Mother and Baby Homes and adoption scandals, in the first of a series of events, putting the spotlight on abuses, past and present in Ireland. COLETTE SHERIDAN spoke to some of those involved
'Fallen' women never really had a chance...

UPCOMING EVENT: Professor Margaret Linehan said the conference is aimed at keeping the recent past alive, for their young students, but also members of the public are welcome to attend the event, on February 13 at 7pm. Picture posed by model

TO ensure that our relatively recent shameful history regarding single mothers and the enforced adoption of their children is not forgotten, CIT’s School of Humanities is holding a conference investigating mother and baby homes and adoption practices on February 13.

The conference will be addressed by a panel of experts. It’s the first in a number of events that will put the spotlight on abuses in this country, both past and present.

Professor Margaret Linehan says the conference is the brainchild of Brian McMahon, a lecturer at CIT’s School of Humanities.

“Our students of 18, 19 and 20 really know nothing of the recent past,” says Margaret.

“It’s like the dark ages to them so we decided to highlight issues around single mothers.

“Our panel includes Mike Milotte who wrote a really powerful book 20 years ago called Banished Babies. Also, we’ll have Conall O Fátharta from the Irish Examiner who has done a lot of work in this area.

“There will be Liam O’Mahony, an addiction counsellor and psychotherapist. He focuses on adoptees and the difficulties they have. He has a really powerful message. From his work over the years, he says that people who are adopted are either addicted to power, or something bad like drink or drugs. He is going to speak about his experience of working with adoptees... It’s important that Liam will be there on the night as there could be emotional stuff unearthed.”

The conference is open to the public and in particular, Margaret says they are targeting fourth year social care students.

“We want to put an educational slant on it, to keep the recent past alive. It’s in memory of the people affected, the women that suffered. There’s hardly any mention of the fathers. Some of the women concerned are quite old now and some are dead. There are some very sad stories.”

Margaret says that in his book, Mike Milotte writes about “rich Americans flying in, spending loads of money, picking babies of their choice, the falsification of passports which involved the department of foreign affairs. Archbishop McQuaid was also involved.

“He also writes that the ‘fallen’ women would never have any chance. They were kept in mother and baby homes, working and unpaid. Babies’ names were changed. So it was very difficult to trace them. The nuns and the church were making loads of money selling these babies. It went on for years until the 1970s. There was collusion between the church and politicians. It took some mothers 30 years to find their children.”

A second event is organised for February 27 where Noelle Brown, who was born in Bessborough, will perform excerpts from her own woman show about her journey to unearth her past and her identity.

CIT’s School of Humanities will also host events on Magdalene laundries, industrial schools and the current system of direct provision, over the coming months.

“Direct provision is shocking and there is very little talk about it. Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, from Trinity College, will attend the event. He has a term, the ‘architecture of containment’ which is about secrecy and shame. That is still going on today with direct provision. We want to bring in some people from direct provision to talk (about their experiences.)”

CIT’s investigation of mother and baby homes and adoption practices takes place at CIT’s Rory Gallagher lecture theatre on February 13 at 7pm. The event is free but tickets are required. https://events.cit.ie.


Professor Eoin O’Sullivan is a Professor in Social Policy at Trinity College. He is the foremost expert in Ireland in the area of Industrial Schools, and was the consultant to the RTÉ documentary series States of Fear.

Eoin is the author of the books Suffer the Little Children and Coercive Confinement in Ireland.

Mike Milotte has been writing about adoption malpractice in Ireland since the 1990s. His book Banished Babies, highlighted an international ‘baby market’ where Ireland was a supplier of babies. His research highlighted the infrastructure that was in place with respect to the export of babies to the USA and other countries. He also highlighted a parallel ‘black market’ that existed in Ireland, whereby documents were falsified to facilitate illegal adoptions. Mike is of the view that almost all adoptions in Ireland were non-consensual i.e. forced.

Liam O’Mahony is an accredited Psychotherapist and Addiction Counsellor with over nine years of experience working with adults and adolescents. He is associated with the Centre for Self-Leadership Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), a member of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) and Addiction Counsellors of Ireland (ACI). He is a graduate of University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology, with a particular expertise in areas such as Trauma and Addiction.

Mary Slattery is a mother, who lost her first born to a forced, secretive and closed adoption system through St Anne’s Adoption Society Cork. Mary has been a member of the ‘Know my Own’ group since 2013. She is passionate about the injustice of the forced adoption system. Mary addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on the heads of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2015.

Terri Harrison was marched home from Britain by the Catholic Crusaders in 1973, because she was single and pregnant. Back in Ireland, she escaped from Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, only to be brought to St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road. In St Patrick’s, she was denied pain relief in labour and medical care after giving birth to Niall, before nuns took him away, never to be seen again.

Conall O’Fátharta is a Senior News Reporter with the Irish Examiner. His special area of interest has been the treatment of women and children in Ireland.

His journalism has been instrumental in highlighting church and state collusion. According to Conall, unmarried, and vulnerable women, and children, were treated in a ‘sprawling network of interlinking institutions, private agencies and state authorities’. Rather than separate ‘scandals’ there is one big scandal.

Mary Slattery who will share her story at the upcoming CIT Investigates Mother and Baby Homes and Adoption Scandals.
Mary Slattery who will share her story at the upcoming CIT Investigates Mother and Baby Homes and Adoption Scandals.

I had my baby for just two or three days...

SINGLE mother Mary Slattery, from West Cork, lost her first born baby, a daughter, born in 1979, to a forced secretive adoption through St Anne’s Adoption Society in Cork.

“I was just twenty. I was the product of my Catholic school education and the society of the time,” she says. “When I discovered I was pregnant, the first place of call was CURA which helps women in crisis pregnancies.

“I was obviously in crisis. It was a time when single girls of my age were not meant to be sexually active and were certainly not meant to be pregnant. CURA put me in contact with St Anne’s Adoption Society.

“Once I had the sense of being pregnant, I pressed the denial button. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t leave home until late in my pregnancy. My family was supportive of whatever decision I took so the pressure wasn’t with them. It was very much from society. I was very mindful of the illegitimacy act. That law wasn’t changed until 1987.”

Mary says she was treated “reasonably well” by the family she lived with in Dublin.

“I was really naive. I was very much indoctrinated by the church. Everything to do with sex was taboo. One of the questions I was asked by the matron (a nun) of the hospital I was in, was whether there was alcohol involved.”

The birth of Mary’s daughter “was reasonably straightforward. I held my daughter and stroked her.”

At the time, Mary had the sense that she was doing the right thing in putting her daughter up for adoption.

“What nonsense,” she says now, reflecting on the stigma attached to single mothers that she had internalised.

“I had a real sense of being almost inferior compared to married couples. There was the sense that if you became pregnant, it was a way of atoning for your sins. And there were married couples with infertility. It was not about what was best for me.

“After I gave birth, a social worker came to Dublin to bring my daughter to Cork where she was fostered for a number of weeks. She was then placed with her adoptive family. I had her for maybe two or three days.”

Mary says that it took a while, about two months, before her emotions came to the fore.

“I don’t think I got depressed but I certainly went into a very numbing place and horrendous grief, especially at night time.”

Mary returned for a while to the town she was brought up in.

“Home was a welcoming place. It wasn’t a shaming place. But I certainly put on a mask on the outside as if all was well. However, inside I’d say I certainly had gone into shock and I buried my emotions.”

Working in social care, Mary studied the subject at the then Cork Regional College. She went on to study at diploma level at UCC in her late 20s, focusing on mental health. She never married. She had a second child, a son, whom she brought up. He is now in his early thirties.

“Holding onto my baby and bringing him up resolved a massive amount for me,” says Mary.

She doesn’t want to talk about the paternity of her children.

“Bringing a child up as a single mother was difficult and it still is,” she says.

When Mary finally met up with her daughter, there was more resolution.

“It was coming up to her 21st birthday. I updated the records regarding my new address. It transpired my daughter was three years on the waiting list of the adoption society, looking for me. The immediate few years of the relationship (between us) were very strong and intense. Now, it’s at a more distant place. That comes with the territory.”

Mary joined ‘Know My Own’, a Cork-based support group for people who experienced adoption.

“It helped me to get a sense of what it’s like to be an adopted person. It really broadened my understanding.”

Looking back, Mary wants an acknowledgement of “wrong doing on the part of the church and State. I know the State has apologised for the Magdalene laundries. I’m unsure if the church has. There’s the wrongs done through forced adoptions by the adoption societies.”

Mary and women in similar circumstances “suffered grevious loss. At twenty, I was left with a massive burden of grief. There couldn’t be any public acknowledgement of our loss. I didn’t know what my daughter looked like growing up”.

Mary says she has got “great solace from the Australian adoption policy of 2013. Forced adoptions were investigated there. It was very much open and transparent.

“Here, with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, it’s very much in private and it’s going on for years. We have no idea whether they’re addressing the issue of consent (to place a child for adoption). My fear is that they’ll avoid the consent issue because you’d be looking at liability and redress.”

Mary hopes that the CIT event will educate people about what forced adoption is about.

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