Wednesday 22 January 2020

'This is their history and we need to give it back' - why a former St Patrick's Guild nurse is appealing for belongings of adopted babies

For over 40 years, Cathy Garton (63) held on to photographs and wristbands of the babies she cared for in Temple Hill, Dublin. Photo taken on Christmas Eve, 1975. photo@ Cathy Garton
For over 40 years, Cathy Garton (63) held on to photographs and wristbands of the babies she cared for in Temple Hill, Dublin. Photo taken on Christmas Eve, 1975. photo@ Cathy Garton
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

"The first thing that hit me was the colours on the wall. There was a company called Berger, and they were bringing out all these colours of paint- like lilac and bright orange. I'd never seen colours like it.

"My father was a smoker, so everything in our house was cream. And then there was the smell of talcum powder. The colours and the smell, they were the first things to hit you when you entered Temple Hill."

Cathy Garton (63) trained as a nurse at Temple Hill, the infant hospital at St. Patrick's Guild adoption home in Blackrock, Dublin from 1974 until 1976. As a young 18-year-old with babysitting experience, the position was ideal for a young Cathy.

The women were trained in everything from infant care and diseases to anatomy and child psychology, Cathy says.

"We had to sit exams alongside caring for the babies," she told Independent.ie.

Cathy fondly recalls her time at Temple Hill. So much so, that she held on to every identity wristband and photograph she had of the children she looked after, and now Cathy is appealing for other nurses that did the same to come forward.

The former nurse started the Temple Hill Nurses campaign this year, after an encounter with child agency Tusla, who now look after the records for the adoption home.

"When a social worker came out to me around three and a half years ago, they were young and had just been given paper work- they hadn't met anyone that actually worked there. I gave them all my information and showed them what I had.

"They had no photos or plans of the hospital, so I gave them all the wristbands and photographs I had. I kept three photographs of children I had for the longest time, and they meant a lot to me."

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Cathy pictured in her nurse's uniform in June 1976 at temple Hill, Dublin. Photo: Cathy Garton

Last November, Cathy says she received a call from Tusla. They wanted to meet in person and find out more about her experience at Temple Hill.

"When I got up there my contact said to me, before we start, I want you to know that all the bands and photographs have been given back to the children they belonged to."

The wristbands, Cathy explained, were removed when they became too tight for the young babies and replaced as they got older. The photographs she took during night shifts, to remember the children she cared for.

And in January of this year Cathy says she met one of the children, now a grown adult, in person. He was one of the children she had cared for the longest and was able to present him the three photographs she held on to.

"When I met him, I was able to give him these photographs of him at six months, eleven months, and one of the two of us from Christmas 1975.

"He'd never seen a photo of himself before the age of three, and there was his first Christmas in one photo. It was just as emotional for me as it was for him."

The experience pushed Cathy to appeal for other wristbands to be returned. She set up the Facebook page alongside her friend Muireann O'Hora.

"I knew I had something so myself and Muireann set up the page. It was slow at the start. One or two people got the impression that I was glory hunting.

"But it's not about me, it's not about you, it's about the children. I've met these children, this is their history and we need to give it back to them.

"We need to let them know they were loved, they were cuddled and sang to. We absolutely loved them."

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Temple Hill at St. Patrick's Guild closed in the 1980s. Photo: Adoption Rights Alliance. http://www.adoptionrightsalliance.com/ info@adoptionrightsalliance.com

In recent months, controversies have emerged surrounding illegal adoptions that took place in St. Patrick's Guild. According to Tusla, an estimate of at least 126 births were incorrectly registered between 1946 and 1969- but Cathy says they knew nothing about it at the time.

"Everyone talks about how of a sad place it must have been, but it absolutely was not. We didn’t know we were supposed to be sad, we loved these children to pieces. 

"At the time we understood the mothers had a bad run of luck, we had a chance to give the children a new life that they couldn’t give them. We were loving these children with the knowledge of them being adopted to a better home.

"It is very upsetting to hear now. How could we have not seen this? When those girls came to visit their babies, they came in smiling but they all left crying hysterically. The majority of these mothers had no choice with priests knocking on their doors. 

"These women were so brave. I can't imagine my life without any of my children and grandchildren. I had a husband that stood by me- I was lucky, but there were so many that weren't."

Since the appeal has launched, Cathy claims that parcels with wristbands and photographs have been arriving on her doorstep multiple times a week.

"There are thousands of children in Ireland that are adopted, and we as the nurses can't help them all. But I've had parcels of post coming in every second day- you can see the way these things were kept.

"All wrapped up, some in biscuit tins. We tell people to attach a cover letter if they want, so it will go with the items if the child wants to meet the nurse.

"People kept them all these years because they loved them. You can't but be moved."

Anyone with information on the belongings is encouraged to contact the Temple Hill Nurses Facebook page.: https://www.facebook.com/Temple-Hill-Nurses-859539830890236/

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