'We thought we were the only ones ... we were wrong'
One of the bereaved parents emerged for a bit of air. She was shaken. The stories which were unfolding behind closed doors were tragic and heartbreaking, Sharon McCarthy explained.
And there were so many more of them than she and her husband Thomas expected to hear.
"We thought we were the only ones, but we couldn't have been more wrong. And some of them are worse than our own," she said.
The McCarthys had arrived to the Killeshin Hotel, almost opposite Portlaoise Hospital, where their first child Katelyn was born, but whose fate was to become one of several infant deaths associated with the hospital.
Until RTÉ's 'Prime Time' investigation into the maternity unit in Portlaoise, Sharon had no idea that Katelyn, who died in 2006, was 'Baby X' - one of three baby deaths investigated by the HSE.
She returned to Portlaoise yesterday to meet Minister Leo Varadkar, along with other bereaved families, to tell her story and seek assurances that no other parent would have to go through the same grief. "We were seven years left in the dark and it was very hard, we thought we had done something wrong until we started getting answers and then it hit us like a bombshell," said Sharon.
The sit-down with Mr Varadkar was scheduled to last for two hours, but it went on for far longer. There were many sad stories to be recounted, of tiny lives lost, of dreams dashed, of pain and incomprehension which has haunted people,
More than 80 families turned up - the stories weren't just about infant death, but about other adverse outcomes from Portlaoise.
Another mother, Natasha Molyneaux (26), from Tullamore, Co Offaly, was 19 when she gave birth to her first son, Nathan in 2008. Tragically, he died six days later, having been rushed to the Coombe Hospital suffering from oxygen deprivation.
Yet Natasha could see a positive side to events. Two months ago she brought her young son to the hospital. "I saw the changes in how I was spoken to as a parent. Years ago when I had my little lad I didn't get spoken to as a mammy," she said.
Natasha wanted assurances from the Health Minister on the status of the hospital. "I want to know changes are being made. The information in the Hiqa report was shocking and this can't happen anymore," she said.
Shauna Keyes, whose son Joshua had died in 2009 of oxygen deprivation an hour after he was born by emergency C-section, also met the minister. But in a remarkable leap of faith, she returned to the hospital last December to give birth to her daughter. "Everything went fine," she explained.
"We're hoping for reassurance that the hospital is going to be safe at this point. I, for one, have been advocating for the hospital, and the last thing I need is to be let down."
The talking went on until long past darkness fell. Earlier, as he arrived at the hospital to meet with management, staff and patients to discuss the fallout from the damning Hiqa report, Mr Varadkar said it was a different hospital now.
Thomas McCarthy summed up the importance of learning the truth behind the tragedies. "I'd be non-stop at my daughter's graveside grieving and crying why, and blaming ourselves...We were left in the darkness for the last few years, now everything is coming out and it's a load off me".
Sharon nodded. "All we need is closure. And a safe hospital".