Following revelations that “significant quantities” of human remains, perhaps as many as 800 babies, were discovered at a site in Tuam excavated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, Fine Gael councillor Mary Howard and independent councillor Ann Norton have called for public recognition of the County Clare Mother and Baby Home in Kilrush.
Cllr Howard explained that the Kilrush home, which was operated by the Sisters of Mercy, had been established in 1922 by Clare County Council to receive, “unmarried, pregnant women from all over the county who were sent there to have their babies”. Following closure of the home, pregnant women from Clare were sent to Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, another site where high mortality rates have been recorded.
Cllr Howard said excavation at the Tuam site has opened old wounds and she welcomed the fact that Kilrush has come under the remit of the Government’s Commission of Investigation. Stating that 321 women were admitted to the Kilrush facility and 180 children born there, Cllr Howard said she often wondered what happened to the pregnancies of the other 141 women.
Local historian, Paddy Waldron found that the home closed in 1926 at which point it housed 145 women, in his view it is unsafe to infer death rates from these numbers.
Recalling a motion that she tabled two years ago calling on the local authority to issue an apology for setting up a Mother and Baby Home in the county, Cllr Howard said the local authority and the church had a responsibility for this at that time. “The Mother and Baby Home in Kilrush has never been publicly acknowledged, no memorial was put there and no apology has been issued. That is a shame,” said Cllr Howard as she called on the council to acknowledge and remember the women and their babies and also to apologise for how they were treated by Irish society.
Cllr Howard believes a truth and reconciliation forum should be set up in the county involving Clare County Council, the church and other relevant parties. If this happened, she believes more stories would emerge. “These girls didn’t get pregnant on their own, these babies had fathers, but it was the “fallen girls” who were put into these homes. The Irish Government even put out a diktat to the UK that if any Irish girl arrived they should be sent back into these homes.”
Contributing to the motion, Cllr Ann Norton said Clare County Council should erect a plaque to the memory “of these mothers and babies from our own county”. She added, “It was horrific the way society treated young girls when they got pregnant. Their babies were taken from them and sent to other countries. It must have been heartbreaking and very distressing”. Also, she said, the number of babies who died during that time and were buried in unidentified mass graves should never be forgotten. “It is something that we as a country should be ashamed of.”
Adding his support, Cllr Johnny Flynn acknowledged that Fianna Fáil councillor Pat Daly had offered a public apology for what happened in this home when he was mayor of the county. “It was a very sad and a very cruel period in our history,” he said.
Clare County Council CEO Pat Dowling said he shared the same concerns as those expressed by councillors. He suggested that the issue of erecting a plaque should be referred to the recently formed Memorials Committee for consideration. Cllr Mary Howard welcomed the response from the chief executive and said it is important to deal with this issue quickly.