The content of this article may be distressing for some readers. Reader discretion is advised
“After 5 years…this is a disgrace. To blame society, to blame families and to absolve the church, the state of any responsibility.”
“It’s not a national conversation though is it, around what the hell did we do to the women in the 20th century, what did we allow?”
This is the reaction of Annette McKay speaking to SIN after the recent announcement of the Mother and Baby Home Redress Scheme on the 11th of October.
The Government will put 800 million euro worth of funding into the scheme in an attempt to redress 34,000 victims. €5,000 will be given to women who spent up to 3 months in an institution and €10,000 will be given to those who spent up to 6 months in an institution. €1,500 will also be given to women who worked while in the institutions.
People who receive redress under the scheme will also have to sign a waiver to ensure that they will not take future legal action against the State on this issue. The proposals will be debated in the Dáil in the coming weeks.
McKay 68, is the daughter of deceased Tuam Mother and Baby Home victim Maggie O’ Connor. Maggie was from Bohermore in Galway where she lived until her mother passed away in 1936 and her father enlisted in the British army.
Because of the absence of her parents Maggie and her siblings were sent to an industrial school.
“So mum and the other children were sentenced to an industrial school, Lenaboy Castle in Taylor’s Hill in Galway and it was a dreadful place, one of the worst.”
Maggie could have left the school at 16 but she remained to ensure that her sisters were looked after and fed.
“She was raped by the caretaker in Lenaboy when she was 17 and so when it was found out that she was pregnant she was moved to Tuam mother and baby home.”
McKay’s sister, Mary Margaret was born in Tuam in December 1942 and died in June 1943 at six months old of whooping cough and heart failure, according to the nuns.
The day Maggie was told about her babies’ death she was sent away to St Anne’s Industrial School.
Her mental health suffered greatly as a result.
“I knew about the Industrial School because she was so traumatised and damaged so when we were children the breakdowns and the suicide attempts were all linked to Lenaboy.”
Maggie stayed in Galway until she was 23. She then went to Belfast where she met Annette McKay’s father and they had 3 children.
“Her life was very rackety. Obviously such damage to her mental health and her physical health by all of the abuse she had really suffered from when she was 11 until when she was 18.”
When Maggie was in her fifties she went back to Galway and ended up in hospital for three weeks.
“You’re teenagers so you don’t think about these things but obviously she was suffering from some form of PTSD because she was in this world where people didn’t talk about what happened to her.”
“Her own sisters didn’t talk about what happened to her.”
“It wasn’t until later that I used to walk the streets of Galway and I used to cry because I used to think, she never walked these streets in peace. She never felt at home here. She’s never been accepted.”
“She must have thought ‘are people staring at me?’ Are they thinking oh there’s that Maggie O’ Connor one, the one with the baby in Tuam?”
Annette says the redress scheme is inadequate, “a mealy mouth apology and a few bob.”
“There’s been endless commissions, forums, reports… [they] never refer to the wider picture which is actually this was Ireland’s shame and Ireland’s stigma.”
McKay says there needs to be a proper human rights process where the women affected are at the centre. She says women were seen as “sinful” and “shameful” and they had to “atone for their sins.”
According to the Mother and Baby Home report published in 2021, 9,000 babies died in the 18 institutions investigated, which is 1 in 7 of all children born. There were around 56,000 mothers admitted into the institutions investigated up until they closed in 1998 and the Commission found that “most had no money and nowhere to go.”
“They set up camps to incarcerate women and anybody who understands psychology will tell you that when you put people in charge of a powerless group they will abuse that power.”
“The damage they inflicted annihilated their identity.”
“Those women were denied education, they were denied any rights, and they were denied a chance to have their own money.”
“They were seen as the perpetrators, you brought shame on your family. Never mind that they were the victims of rape, or incest, or abuse, or family violence. That one poor girl had to carry absolutely everything. No mention of the men. No mention of the religious institutions who took money to look after them and abuse them in those places.”