Gerry Devaney has finally found some closure on his past
Two days before Covid lockdown in March Gerry Devaney received a call from Tusla. “I had been in contact for months before that. I had this inkling that there was someone out there belonging to me. Tusla said they’d do the best they can and sure enough they did.”
The letter from Tusla confirmed that Gerry had a brother, Patrick, who was born in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in 1941. His mother, Margaret, who was unmarried, was from Mayo originally. She was first pregnant at 16 and Patrick was born at 6.5lb in June, but died of malnutrition that Christmas.
According to the letter Gerry received from Tusla, his brother Patrick was discharged from Galway Hospital on December 23, 1941 and “unfortunately died of Marasmus (malnutrition), at the age of six months, on December 26, 1941.
“Baby Patrick is buried in Bohermore Cemetery Galway....there is no headstone or marking for Patrick,” the letter states.
Gerry says his mother had worked in the Magdalene Laundry in Galway for six months “while they starved my brother”.
She was 22 when he was born in 1946. She had run away to Dublin, where she gave birth to Gerry. Shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with TB and died 18 months later.
Gerry was then moved to St Patrick’s on the Naas road and when he was three or four he went to another school before ending up in St Philomena’s in Stillorgan, Dublin.
At nine, he was fostered out to a farmer in the west of Ireland. “It was a husband and wife and they had one small baby. At the time I thought they were my mother and father and I went to hug them.
“They made it very clear they were not my parents. I was taken out to work. I would class myself as a slave.
“They took you out to abuse you, verbally, physically, whatever way they could.
“You got up at 6am and had to milk the cows, feed the hens. He was a lazy, but well-to-do farmer. When you had that done, you got a bowl of porridge before you had to walk four miles to school.”
Gerry was let go from school at 12, but regrets not staying longer. “I can read but I can’t write that today is Saturday. What kind of education do you call that?”
“I was fortunate, in a way, the farmer took me out of the school. We knew in the school about Artane and knew we didn’t want to go there. But it wasn’t for the best. He used me as a slave.”
“I was glad to be out of the place and not going to another institution. I was nine when the farmer came up. There was eight of us put against the wall and it took him about two hours. I must have been cheeky.
“I was put on a train in Dublin and he drove down and collected me from the train. Why he didn’t bring me in the car is beyond me, but there was a stigma there.
“It was a hard life on the farm, you had to do what you were told and if I didn’t, he beat me. His wife was a nice woman, but he ruled with an iron fist.”
Gerry worked on the farm until he was 15 when he attempted to run away. The incident that made him run away involved taking cattle to the fair.
“We had to walk the cattle maybe seven miles from the farm to the local fairs in the surrounding towns while he drove the car. Whatever he didn’t sell I had to walk home again and he’d be in the pub, enjoying his few drinks.
“This time I stole his money, five pounds. I took it out of his pocket when he fell asleep when he came home from the fair.”
“He had come home drunk and fell into the bed. I went up to his bedroom and got a fiver out of his pocket and I robbed it. He could have had more money, but I was happy to take the fiver.”
The next day Gerry went on his bike to the local town and went into a chemist shop to change the fiver.
Meanwhile, the farmer was going around for a week looking for his fiver. “I had it changed into coins and I hid it under stones on the way to school.
“It was my own bank. But there was a priest and he was good friends with the farmer and he spotted me and told the farmer and they found the money.”
According to Gerry he was “crucified” with all the beatings he got for stealing the fiver. “It was a savage amount of money back then.”
“He cut me up with the brass buckle on the belt.”
A local man, a market trader, came to Gerry’s rescue. “I had left and was on the road and I waved him down. He pulled up for me and saw the blood on me and took me to a doctor. That doctor looked after my cuts.”
Gerry ended up going home with the man who had rescued him and he became part of the Joyce family in Ballymoe.
The farmer had wanted to send Gerry back to St Philomena’s after the theft.
The family, who took him in as one of their own, took him around to the fairs, which Gerry loved.
“I started wheeling and dealing, selling different things and in 1967, when Foot and Mouth Disease happened, I was 20, and I got a job in the Galway dairy.”
He started going from house to house for two years before he went back to selling and set up his own.
“My family bought me a little Mini. I started from there, from the boot of the car, going from market to market and eventually started trading from Eyre Square in 1967.”