Wednesday 18 October 2017

Ireland's tragic saga must end

A red rose comes into bloom on the site of the Mother and Babies home grave in Tuam, Co Galway. Photo Andy Newman
A red rose comes into bloom on the site of the Mother and Babies home grave in Tuam, Co Galway. Photo Andy Newman


In a State apology to the women of the Magdalene laundries in 2013, Enda Kenny said that just as the State had accepted its direct involvement, society too had its responsibility to bear. He believed that he spoke for all when he said that we had put away these women "because for too many years we put away our conscience". People, he said, swapped personal scruples for a solid public apparatus that kept them in tune and in step with a sense of what was 'proper behaviour' or the 'appropriate view' according to a moral code that was fostered at the time, particularly in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. "We lived with the damaging idea that what was desirable and acceptable in the eyes of the Church and the State was the same and interchangeable," he said.

The recent discovery of a significant number of remains at what was a mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, and the grim expectation that further finds will follow at other such homes around the country, is the latest unfolding in the same story which was not unknown then, but was deeply hidden, buried if you like, in the secret chambers of the nation's often cruel and twisted heart. We are reminded of a scene from Tom Murphy's extraordinary play Bailegangaire. "Another story," protests Mary when Dolly plans to explain away an "illegitimate" child: "Oh the saga will go on."

The saga is ongoing until the full truth is known, if never quite fully reconciled. In that sense, Murphy's play is a profound part of the national narrative, in the words of Mommo, which has become a litany of "misfortunes", of "fields haunted by infants", which made for grim if unspoken news then and it does now, with an essential difference in this so-called modern Ireland, which is that it must be spoken of loudly, and then louder still.

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