Who could have imagined? That despite the grip of the Modh Coinníollach on our psyche, it was the Briathar Saor would do for us in the end.
Because what 'happened by itself' to the girls and women incarcerated, terrorised, dehumanised, tortured in labour, their children separated from them, starved, stolen, trafficked, 'happened by itself' all over again, when the State, reported 'what was done to them' instead of 'what it did to them'. It took 2,865 pages to find that society - that helpful amalgam of everybody-and-nobody - was at fault. According to survivors, the finding belongs in 1921 more than 2021.
Officially then, it was society that committed 796 tiny bodies to a cesspit. Society defenestrated the woman in Bessborough, society forged mothers' signatures, sliced them in an episiotomy, repaired them without anaesthetic; ripped babies from their breast, leaving them bursting with milk and madness. Mothers know it, feel it: the basalt and bullets of engorgement, veins like magma.
It was society who gifted and sold these mothers' flesh and blood, the 'evidence of their sin', to women who were 'proper mothers', their maternal suitability signified by a gold ring, a wad of money, a Formica kitchen with a Papal blessing. It was society that was cute, calculating, cynical enough to concoct a Commission of Investigation into Tuam to ensure no forensic inquests, no liability or culpability by the Church-cum-State.
Overall, the report and the apology prove how the church's failure to 'listen with the ear of the heart' extends also to the State. The commission's 'consideration' that women do not have a case for financial redress if they entered the homes after 1973 and the introduction of the Unmarried Mother's Allowance, exposes an eye as 'gimlet' as a canon lawyer's.
The women's dismay at the report, their adult children's grief at being denied their birth certs, suggest all that separates the State of the mother and baby homes and the State of the report and the apology, is time. That today, poor mothers are taking their lives, afraid the State will take their children, listed as the 'problem' when it can't find a solution for their children, locked away in prison and in Direct Provision, suggests they are right. When it comes to poor women, the State's response is as was: hostile.
I believed for a long time that 'we the people' facilitated much of the historic wrong: gave up our daughters, disowned our grandchildren. But in examining the circumstances of my grandmother and her siblings being "sentenced" to institutions, I saw their social 'crime' was poverty: their widowed Catholic grandmother too poor to take them, their Protestant uncle not 'allowed'. If people were poor they were powerless, caught in the vice of church and State, institutions the same and interchangeable.
Of course, society scapegoated by the State was itself a victim: reeling from post-Famine and post-colonial trauma, with its pathological attachment to respectability, conformity, compliance; a destitute economy, weirdness about sexuality, intimacy, desire; governments that saw public welfare as a favour to be bestowed, not a right to be upheld; the diminution of certain groups facilitating their incarceration, dehumanisation. But above all, it reeled from abject poverty, more-abject Catholicism; seminaries packed with second sons and afterthoughts, raw boys incarcerated themselves, infantilised, terrorised, deconstructed over seven years, then unleashed omnipotent, omni-clueless on subservient populations.
In February 1948, Pope Pius XII got antsy about Communism and the way it might look at him, telling our ambassador it was to Ireland he would come in any possible "period of persecution".And no wonder. Weeks before in Italy, there'd been noises off about Ireland shifting to the Left in the first inter-party government. Taoiseach John A Costello, at the behest of minister Seán MacBride, telegrammed the Vatican reassuring the Pope of his desire to "repose at the feet of Your Holiness". The taoiseach's secretary general was having none of it. Maurice Moynihan opposed that we, a sovereign State, would 'repose at the feet' of anyone, anywhere, asking: what would we do in future? Telegram the Pope every time we changed the government?
Remarkable that a man so lacking the necessary deference rose to the top of the civil service, when being suitable and competent meant first being compliant. Such compliance spreading like pustular lesions across swathes of TDs, ministers, cabinets, civil servants, councillors, inspectors, social workers who remained incurious and indifferent to what was happening to the mothers deposited and dismantled behind high walls and public opprobrium. Their babies dying by imperial measurement: pounds, ounces, inches, in emaciation beyond the physical. Missing the kisses and cuddles a mother lavishes on her infant, they faded through 'skin hunger'.
In theory, John A Costello's "Christian principles" should have brought mercy, comfort, love thy neighbour. In practice, it reinforced the State's grovelling to Rome, gave us a lexicon of the lost, the bizarre proper nouns of Sex Before Marriage, Unmarried Mothers, Girls in Trouble, Birth Mother. That last, the egregious attempt to confine a woman's motherhood to the discrete act of birth itself. Denying her not only her child, but her right to the possession, the recognition of her motherhood, throughout her lifetime and beyond, and her child's documentary right to know who they are.
The report's 'lack of evidence' of baby-sale and trafficking appears to be at odds with the unflinching journalism of Conall Ó Fátharta and documents held by campaigners. An adoptee friend spoke last week of 'the look' her lovely adoptive mother would get when the adoption guild rang looking for yet another 'donation'. She was the guild gift that kept on giving? "No," she says. "The nuns sold me by instalments."
How the incarcerated mothers stayed sane in the church-State psychosis, inflicting this galactic wound on them, and therefore on us, and our psychic inheritance, is a mystery. On Tuesday, a secret Unmarried Mother told me of her blazing guilt, shame about the secret son she 'handed up' when she was 18. On Wednesday, this unsecret married mother told her unsecret sons what the church-State did to her in 1977. Her boys held her, spoke the word absent from the decades, incarcerations, governments, inspections, reports, considerations: love.
Nasa sent the music of Bach into space. Ireland sent the howl of the mothers when their babies were taken. The sound is interstellar.