Annie Donoghue, early 40’s. No burial record.
Mary Curran, 23 years. Died in 1960. No burial record.
Mary Joyce-Costello from Connemara. Died in 1946. No burial record.
Margaret Henry from Mayo, 24 years. Died in 1940. No burial record.
Brigid O’Reilley, 32 years. Died in 1947. No burial record.
Annie Roughneen from Mayo, 42 years. No burial record.
Annie Reilly, 39 years. Died in 1948, buried in Loughrea.
Mary Hickey, 36 years. Died in 1961, buried in Loughrea (unconfirmed).
Kathleen Tully, 29years from Dunmore. Buried in Dunmore.
Mary Anne Rock, 42 years. Died in 1941, buried in Ballina.
These are the names of ten women who died in the Tuam mother and baby home. Four buried by their families. SIX women’s bodies are still unaccounted for, with a possibility that they may have been buried at the site in Tuam – along with the 796 babies.
This is what I found out on Sunday evening. I was decompressing about the referendum with my friend- where Ireland repealed the eighth amendment. We spoke about women and how, although a powerful result for the women of Ireland last Saturday, it felt bittersweet.
An encouraging move forward but a reminder of all of the devastating trauma the women of our country have gone through. For me, thinking of the women of Tuam – from my home town- it made my stomach turn, my eyes tear and my heart ache. I did not know about these women in Tuam until Sunday evening and now I feel them all around me.
It has been through the tireless work and stories which local historian Catherine Corless has unearthed that we know about these women and these babies. Catherine has investigated and continues to investigate and share through her own research and through speaking with survivors and families of those who were forced into the Tuam home.
When I heard about these poor, beautiful women with their lives ahead of them – I had to find out their names, their stories – something! Something to keep their memory alive. Something to remind the world of these women and their lives , before their spirits and their hearts were broken and they were buried – bodies heavy with shame and trauma at the hands of the church.
For me I see these women as women – as souls and people with lives behind and ahead of them. With families, with friends – with new beautiful babies who were then ripped from their arms – and their wombs- to be shunned and in the words of Catherine “treated like cattle” where they were kept for a year to feed the babies with their breast milk, until they were no longer needed by the nuns who ran the home.
I couldn’t get these women out of my head, or my heart all day when I heard this. I decided I would dedicate yesterday to these women and their memories. Dedicate the day to somehow offering them the respect and dignity they never received in the final year of their lives – and even in their burial, they did not receive that and they remain unaccounted for – missing. Where are they? Where are these women’s bodies?
So on Tuesday, May 29th I started with a visit to Catherine Corless at her home. I was so kindly given the names of all the women whose memories have slipped from the minds of the people.
I took the women and their memories with me in my car and drove to Castle Hackett, Tuam’s nearby woodland. I could feel them with me, squeezed into my car – laughing amongst each other as we women do. Excited about the glorious weather and getting out of town. I imagined them discussing life, families, men- their worries, concerns, hopes and dreams. I imagined them consoling each other, supporting each other and hugging each other through tears and laughter.
As women do.
As I do – with my friends, my two sisters, my mother. As my own mother and her sisters (my aunts) and cousins did when growing up here in Tuam. I imagine how different things could have been had one of them found themselves pregnant *out of wedlock*.
I imagine the fear and terror among these women when something so natural as being with child – was apparent to them and how the warped belief system imposed on our society shaped the rest of their lives. I imagine how they must have felt – finding out they were pregnant; perhaps scared, worried but maybe excitement, joy and thinking about their future and what they would do from here.
I imagine them telling their families. I imagine their families calling the local priest or head of the church. I imagine these women being told they were sinners, they have wronged and brought shame on their families and themselves. I imagine these women being carried or forced from their home, eyes and face red with tears , throats hoarse from crying and begging, stomachs sore from horror, disbelief. Hearts aching for their lives and futures – ripped from them, their children ripped from their arms.
I imagine their hopelessness, their hearts breaking each day in these homes. With no love, no support, no affection, no post pregnancy and birth care. No babies to hold in their arms, no mothers to hug them when they fear they are feeding their child wrong or worried about leaving their child alone or trying to comfort them when they cry.
I see them giving up, with nothing left to live for, with their spirits stomped on and their hearts beaten. Their bodies broken and their intuitive, compassionate caring selves – shattered.
They say ‘a mother knows best’ – I see them, these women, these mothers – knowing, knowing what is best and feeling this every second of every day, with no chance or no hope to act upon this. Sitting with this knowing, this love that only a mother knows and feeling as this love is forced and transformed into aching, pain, trauma, disgust and heart wrenching tears.
This is what they did to these women.
So yesterday, I carried these women with me. We walked through Knockma woods (Castle Hackett). I picked wild flowers which I would leave at the site of the mother and baby home – perhaps where some of these women’s bodies lie. I sat in the park in Tuam and arranged ten small bouquets of flowers for these women as I sat with the sun shining on me, thinking of how these simple joys were taken from each of these women.
I wrote and attached the names of each of these women to a bouquet and I carried them with me to the grounds where the bodies of the children lay, hidden in a corner with no sign that they are even there- underground, under a playground and in the remainder of a sewage tank.
One of the bouquets fell from my hands and landed on the ground as I walked across the site, I wondered – Are you here? Is your body laying buried here?
I lit two candles and burnt incense.
I placed each bouquet next to each other and I let each of these women know that they are not forgotten.
I will not forget them.
We will not forget them.