Sunday 17 December 2017

Families saw these homes as a solution to their shame and stigma

The State and Church colluded to get rid of an embarrassment to Catholic Ireland

The mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway
The mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway

Diarmaid Ferriter

In a letter to the Catholic Bishop of Waterford, Dr Bernard Hackett, in 1924, the minister at the Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH), Seamus Burke, sought the bishop's support for establishing a home for unmarried mothers. He wanted such women removed from the county homes, both for their own benefit and in the interests of what he called "the respectable poor who are compelled to seek its shelter, so that there should be no undesirable associations connected with it".

Many of the Irish workhouses inherited as a result of British rule had been redesignated as county homes after the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, but there was also in the 1920s a preoccupation with singling out unmarried mothers as belonging to a special class who needed to be placed elsewhere.

Although the majority of unmarried mothers continued to be institutionalised in the county homes, from this period onwards, communities of nuns established and staffed homes specifically targeted at these women, including Bessboro in Cork, Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Pelletstown in Dublin and Tuam in Co Galway.

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