Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Nuns forced me to change my baby's name so he'd be easier to sell' - Woman relives mother and baby home horror

'Straightaway you could feel the horror of it' - Emotional Bridget tells Liveline about her stay at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home

Bessborough mother and baby home in Co Cork
Bessborough mother and baby home in Co Cork
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

A woman has told of how nuns at a mother and baby home forced her to change her baby son's name "so he would be easier to sell".

Bridget, who rang RTE Radio One's Liveline today, told of how her son William was born in 1961 in Bessborough, Cork and died just six weeks later. Bridget, aged in her seventies and who now lives in England, described how she sensed something was wrong the moment she arrived at the mother and baby home.

She also described how nuns were "delighted" when they saw she gave birth to a baby boy, as he would "be easier to sell" and insisted that he be given the Catholic name of Gerard for the same reason.

She said she believes her baby would have survived if he received the medical attention he needed at the time.

Bridget was working in Ireland when she fell pregnant aged 17. She joined a work agency to get a travel fare to the UK where she continued to work until the summer before her due date.

"They paid my fare so I went to London and was working away, but I had it in the back of my mind, 'what am I going to do?'," an emotional Bridget told Liveline.

"I went to the confession box and told the priest, I told the priest, I confessed. At that time it was the most terrible sin.

"The priest gave me an address and it was for the Catholic Crusade of Rescue and they arranged for me to go to back to Ireland.

"I was told I had to go back to Ireland to have my baby," she continued.

"Now I realise of course I needn't have. If I knew how things worked I could have stayed here and had my baby, and still have my baby."

Bridget described how she had nobody to turn to and had planned to have her baby on the Underground in London before she decided to approach a priest.

"I had plans to have my baby on the Underground because there was nowhere. I am sure I'm not the only Irish girl [who would have been in that situation]. It was out of desperation and fear, complete fear.

"We were just sitting ducks for the people who wanted our babies."

Bridget said she arrived at the home in Cork just two month before she gave birth to her "beautiful baby boy" in late October of 1961.

"I got to Cork Harbour and a car was waiting with a man and I was taken to Bessborough," she said.

"I was doing everything I was told to do.

"I arrived in Bessborough not knowing what was ahead. Straightaway you could feel the horror of it.

"My clothes were taken," she continued.

"Everything was taken. My handbag, my coat, everything personal.

"I was given shoes and a uniform, all the girls wore the same.

"I went there in August and my baby was born in October, late October.

"Of course they were delighted he was a boy, a boy was easier to get rid of.

"It's taken 58 years for me to tell you this. It happened to me, it happened to my baby. How dare they deny it," she added.

Bridget wanted to name her baby boy William after her father and his father, but the nuns insisted she put the name Gerard on the birth certificate as he would be "easier to sell".

The baby weighed 7lb 11oz and was healthy until he fell ill three days later.

"At the same time I became ill myself," Bridget continued.

"Nineteen days in Bessborough and I was longing to be rescued, longing to be saved.

"Bessborough knew that my baby was desperately ill. They knew I was ill. I was dragging my foot around for weeks.

"He was brought into St Finbarr's Hospital after 19 days, he lived for 19 more days.

"The whole of my life has been a terrible ordeal.

"This little boy could have been saved. He really was a fighter. He could have been a beautiful healthy boy.

"He could have been saved so easily.

"He was just left there to die. He was brought to me for half an hour in the evening.

"I named him William, that was with a battle Joe, it was an English Protestant name, they said they would call him Gerard and on his birth certificate he is called Gerard.

"Miraculously, on his death certificate his name is William.

"Gerard would be of no further use. Gerard would have been easier to sell than William. Gerard was a name that could be easily sold to a Catholic family.

"But William got back his rightful name. William was the name of my father and grandfather.

"The name William was precious to me."

In a coincidence, Bridget's daughter Carmel moved to Cork from England almost 20 years ago with her husband and bought a house which faces onto the Angel's Plot at Bessborough.

Bridget said she regularly visited her daughter's house and looked out over the graveyard, not knowing where her baby was buried.

"I broke down and I couldn't keep it in anymore," she said.

"I told Carmel that my baby was buried in Bessborough, she was brilliant. She encouraged me to go back and ask where my baby was buried.

"There I was told he was buried in the Angel's Plot.

"The person took me down and showed me where. She tapped the ground where my baby was buried.

"But the same person admitted later on she didn't know where the babies were buried.

"So now I'm totally confused."

Bridget thanked her children for their understanding and support.

"My children have been wonderful. It's taken me years to come out and they've been wonderful.

"Hopefully I will live to see the outcome of Tuam.

"If that was done [DNA testing on babies' remains] I would die happy."

Bridget said she thinks and prays about her son everyday.

"I think about him everyday. I pray and mention his name everyday.

"Because he needn't have died," she said.

"He was a lovely, beautiful, healthy baby."

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