Wednesday 28 January 2015

Mass grave scandal: 'I thought, there but for the grace of God go I'

Published 06/06/2014 | 02:30

J.P. Rodgers  from Williamstown who was born at the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam  pictured at the Babies graveyard in Tuam. Photo: Ray Ryan
J.P. Rodgers from Williamstown who was born at the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam pictured at the Babies graveyard in Tuam. Photo: Ray Ryan
Local historian Catherine Corless who highlighted the plight of over 800 babies buried in a mass grave in Tuam Co Galway. Pictured here at her home this afternoon in Brownsgrove just outside Tuam, Co Galway. Photo: Andy Newman
Two white crosses on two small gates and a simple plaque mark the spot where it is said 800 children are buried close to an area in Tuam. Photo Andy Newman
A statue of Jesus in the grounds of the Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary, which was mother and baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970, as the Government has bowed to national and international pressure over the scandal of the death of 4,000 babies who were buried in unmarked, unconsecrated and mass graves at homes for unmarried mothers. PA
The Sisters of Bon Secours operated the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway
The mother and baby home in Tuam.

A survivor of the Tuam Mothers-and-Babies home has said it was a "miracle" he survived – describing it as akin to a "rabbit colony" with hundreds of children living in an environment with overflowing toilets and little care.

JP Rodgers was born in the home in 1947. Just 13 months after his birth, he was separated from his mother who was moved to the Magdalene Laundry in Galway city while he remained in the home until he was fostered at the age of five.

"It wouldn't be very fond memories I have of it," he said.

Speaking of the large numbers of children growing up in the harshest of conditions, Mr Rodgers, pictured right at the site of the grave, said it was nothing short of a miracle that he survived.

"I can't say for sure but in my mind's eye there were probably about 200 children. The place was just alive with children. I remember being in the playground, standing there alone, maybe not very well as I do remember a period where I was very, very ill. Thankfully I came out of it but I was probably no different from anybody else in the place," he added.

Speaking about the conditions growing up, Mr Rodgers recollects clearly the shed with sinks to wash at and open-air toilets.

"There were two or three of them and more often than not those toilets were full to the brim and that was the reality. I think I was saved by fortune, good luck," he said.

"I suppose where you have 200 children it was like a rabbit colony; I couldn't describe it as anything else because you're talking about the early 1950s, tuberculosis was rampant in Ireland so kids would have been very ill, coughing constantly, malnourished, coming from all classes of society, from broken homes, from unmarried mothers," he said.

Despite experiencing the stark conditions at the home first hand, Mr Rodgers was still shocked to learn of the extent of the deaths there.

"When the news broke I was horrified, I was shocked. It took a while to deal with it because it was like a re-awakening of the ghost of my past and I thought 'there but for the grace of God go I'. Chucked into a septic tank, with no record of who you were, where you came from or your family connections.

"I think it's a wonderful thing the committee have done, they have exposed Ireland's dirty linen yet again," he added.

Irish Independent

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