Monday 16 July 2018

Banished Babies and the price of life in Ireland's Mother and Baby homes

Maternity homes for unmarried mums were transformed to turn babies into cold cash, writes Paul Jude Redmond

The Sacred Heart Nuns also ran Castlepollard and Bessboro Mother and Baby Homes.
The Sacred Heart Nuns also ran Castlepollard and Bessboro Mother and Baby Homes.

In 1955 the Secretary of the Department of Education, TR O Raifeartaigh, visited Daingean Reformatory School in Co Offaly and reported that: "the cows are better fed than the boys".

Students of the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland are not likely to be shocked at his statement. The animals were worth money, the children were not. The same is true of babies - such as myself - who were born in Mother and Baby Homes.

We were worthless in the early years of independence from 1922 until 1945 - until suddenly we were worth more alive than dead.

There are a number of sources revealing the grim outcome for many of babies born in Mother and Baby Homes in these awful early years of the State. From local government reports of the time as well as snippets in books and the ultimate evidence of the registered deaths reveal that many thousands died.

Infant Mortality Rates (IMRs) ran to an average of five times the national average in most of the nine Mother and Baby Homes year after year and, spiked up to eight and 10 times the national average in several years in certain homes.

Everything changed when the Banished Babies trade began in 1945 after World War II ended. It appears that American Air Force officers flying back and forth through Shannon discovered it was easy to obtain an Irish baby just by waving a chequebook around. There was a particular attraction for Americans to adopt Irish babies because racism and segregation was still intrinsic to their society and Irish babies were 100pc guaranteed white - therefore desirable, and consequently valuable.

SURVIVOR: Brian Lockier who was adopted in the US, as a child in Sean Ross Abbey, a home run by the Sacred Heart Nuns. The photos come courtesy of Brian Lockier, a friend of the author
SURVIVOR: Brian Lockier who was adopted in the US, as a child in Sean Ross Abbey, a home run by the Sacred Heart Nuns. The photos come courtesy of Brian Lockier, a friend of the author

The international child trafficking was not the only factor affecting change after 1945. The newly-appointed Chief Medical Officer of Ireland, Doctor James Deeny, visited Bessboro Mother and Baby home in Cork in 1944 to investigate the inhuman mortality rates.

He records in his autobiography that "in the previous year some 180 babies had been born there and [that] considerably more than 100 had died". A mortality rate of over 55pc.

Deeny tried to close down the home but failed. However, his intervention had scared the Sacred Heart nuns - and the resultant battle between Deeny and the Sisters, spurred many of the homes to clean up their practices before he descended on them - as he did on the Regina Coeli hostel for single mothers and their children in Dublin just a few months later.

Ireland was decades behind Europe and America in not having proper legislation to regularise adoption, but the nuns in the Mother and Baby Homes did not want to interrupt the dollars pouring in from America from the lucrative Banished Babies trade.

After extensive consultation with Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and his expert on adoption, Monsignor Cecil Barrett, the Fianna Fail government under de Valera passed the Adoption Act in 1952 that guaranteed Catholic babies would go only to Catholic homes. Adoption grew in popularity in Ireland and it became another source of massive 'donations'.

The pounds and dollars flooded into the Mother and Baby Homes - and also into the adoption agencies, such as Saint Patrick's Guild, that had also jumped on the profitable bandwagon.

The author Mike Milotte, who is the acknowledged expert on the Banished Babies trade, estimated that the nuns and agencies earned some $30m to $50m in today's money from 3,000 to 4,000 Banished Babies alone.

The mortality rates in the homes plummeted during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some of the evidence is anecdotal but women who were in the homes later in the 1950s and 1960s, simply did not see, or hear stories about, babies and children dying by the hundreds - as mothers had during previous decades.

The difference between the mortality rates before and after 1950 is startling.

In Castlepollard where I was born, the mortality rate from 1935 to 1941 averaged 13pc. I was lucky to be born there. In Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary and Bessboro in Cork the average mortality rates for those years was over 31pc.

The sole source of mortality rates after 1950 appears to be from a Freedom of Information request and appeal by myself I applied for a photocopy of my entry in the ledgers of Castlepollard, where I was born in 1964.

Using the layout of the ledgers and with the assistance of a pro bono solicitor, I applied for the total numbered entries in all the ledgers and, I also asked for the totals from the numbered columns listing deaths of mothers and infants as well as stillbirths. The numbers are included here.

Over the past few years, I have been writing the first book to examine the dark history of Ireland's Mother and Baby homes. The publication of The Adoption Machine is the first time these following figures have ever been released.

The Banished Babies trade began in 1945 and adoption was legalised in 1952. The drop in mortality rates in Castlepollard from this point onwards is dramatic. From an average of over 13pc in its opening years to 0.5pc over its final 20 years.

Some $50m and, tens of millions more in 'donations' from domestic adoptions accidentally saved thousands of innocent babies.

When we illegitimate Irish bastards were suddenly worth more than the cows on the farms, we stopped dying by the thousands. Over seven short years, Ireland's ruthless murder machine was transformed in an efficient and invisible Adoption Machine that turned babies into cold hard cash: and plenty of it.

Paul Jude Redmond is the author of The Adoption Machine: The Dark History of Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes, published by Merrion Press

CASTLEPOLLARD INFANT DEATHS 1951-71

Maternity book 10/6/1951 - 2/5/1956:

651 entries, 11 infant deaths

Maternity book 4/5/1956 - 13/11/1961:

650 entries, 1 infant death

Maternity book 15/11/1961 - 24/2/1966:

650 entries, 0 deaths recorded

Maternity book 24/2/1966 - 2/6/1969:

637 entries, 1 infant death

Maternity book 9/6/1969 - 10/1/1971:

309 entries, 3 infant deaths

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News