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'Where is she?': Survivor of Tuam home discovers he has a second sister with no burial record

Peter Mulryan is going public with his search for information about a second sister, Bridget, who passed through St Gerard’s in Dublin.

A SURVIVOR OF Tuam mother and baby home has criticised the fact he is unable to access records related to his older sister, who spent time in another institution as a baby.

Peter Mulryan, a member of the Tuam Home Survivors Network, has previously shared his search for information about his younger sister Marian, who was also born in Tuam.

Peter found out about Marian’s existence in 2014 – she was listed as one of the 796 children who died in the Tuam institution, the deaths of whom were uncovered by Catherine Corless.

Five years later, somewhat by chance, he learned he also had an older sister. He has not shared this information publicly, until today.

Speaking to The Journal, Peter said he needed time to process this information and also feared that the public may judge his mother for having three children outside marriage.

The 78-year-old believes he and his siblings may all have the same father but has been unable to confirm this to date.

Peter said he was initially “absolutely shocked” to discover he had a second sister, but needs to find out what happened to her: “I want to know where she is.”

Peter was boarded out as a child, a precursor to fostering, and was physically and emotionally abused. As an adult he found his mother, Delia, who spent over 40 years in a Magdalene laundry. She never told him that he had two sisters.

In recent years he received some documents from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, about Delia and Marian.

In one batch of documents he received three years ago, there was a reference to Delia spending time in St Gerard’s – an institution for unmarried mothers and their children which operated in Dublin in the 1920s and 1930s.

This was the first time Peter had heard any mention of his mother passing through St Gerard’s.

Peter’s wife Kathleen explained:

A friend of ours, a retired solicitor, was helping us look for information from Tusla. We got some files and there was a document about his mother spending time in a mother and baby home in Dublin. Peter had never heard about this before.

In the batch of records there was also a document referring to a Bridget Mulryan. Initially, Peter and Kathleen thought this file was also about his mother – she went by the name Delia but her official name was Bridget.

However, her address on this particular document was incorrect. After making some inquiries, they discovered that Delia had given birth to a baby girl, Bridget, in Dublin in the 1930s.

“The file had an incorrect address for his mother – she came from Corrandulla in Galway, but she was down as being from Gort. Then they figured out it was his sister, not his mother,” Kathleen told us, adding: “it was a pure accident we found out about her”.

With the help of an employee from the Civil Register Office in Galway (where births, deaths and marriages are registered), the Mulryans received a copy of Bridget’s birth and death certificates from the General Register Office.

bm bc Bridget's birth cert Peter and Kathleen Mulryan Peter and Kathleen Mulryan

bm dc Bridget's death cert Peter and Kathleen Mulryan Peter and Kathleen Mulryan

Bridget was born in Holles Street Hospital in Dublin on 29 October 1936 before being transferred to St Gerard’s. She was born healthy but, according to her death certificate, died less than a month later, on 20 November 1936. The reason for her death is listed as ‘debility’. This term, meaning physical weakness, was commonly used as the cause of death for children at the time.

They have not been able to locate a burial record for Bridget to date. Peter has also never found a burial record for his younger sister Marian. She may be buried at the site of the former mother and baby institution in Tuam, but he believes she may have been incorrectly registered as dead and that she might have actually been illegally adopted to the US.

Commission of Investigation

Peter had hoped that the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes would shed light on practices in St Gerard’s.

However, in its final report in January 2021, the Commission said it was unable to access files related to St Gerard’s as they were part of a wider body of records related to St Patrick’s Guild – an organisation that oversaw both legal and illegal adoptions.

The report stated that these records “were handed over to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in 2017 but are not yet fully processed”.

“To date it has not been possible to extract the St Gerard’s files from the overall SPG files. As a result, the Commission has not had access to the St Gerard’s files,” the document added.

The Mulryans wrote to Tusla – which has now been responsible for these records for five years – on 24 April 2022 seeking more information about Bridget. They said they did not receive a reply – even to acknowledge receipt of their letter.

Tusla contacted the Mulryans via email this afternoon – three days after The Journal contacted the agency about the issue – to say that they would be in touch via post shortly.

Kathleen described the delay in getting records as “crazy”. “You’d swear you just have to lift the phone or write a letter, it’s not that simple. We’ve been waiting for months for even an acknowledgement,” she said.

‘Distress and upset’

When asked about the delay in replying to the Mulryans, a spokesperson for Tusla told The Journal that the agency will “generally” acknowledge all requests for information under Freedom of Information (FOI) and subject access requests (SARs) “within 72 hours”.

The spokesperson added that “where there is a delay in processing, the request applicants are advised of this”.

In all our work, we set a high professional standard that we strive to achieve. We know that our staff are committed to this work, and they are particularly focused on, and committed to upholding our core values and behaviours of trust, respect, kindness, and empowerment in our dealings with everyone.

“Equally, we understand and deeply regret the distress and upset that any delay in the release of information to them may cause.”

The spokesperson said that Tusla has received “an unprecedented volume of applications” of SAR and FOI requests, following the introduction of data protection legislation in 2018 and the commencement of GDPR rules, and since the publication of the Commission’s final report in 2021.

“To deal with this backlog, we have put significant additional resources in place, including the implementation of a Central Processing Team to speed up the processing of FOI and SARs in the Agency.”

The spokesperson did not clarify if Tusla has since processed all the records it received related to St Gerard’s in 2017, but said that all records it has about that institution and St Patrick’s Guild “are available and can currently be accessed by eligible persons” who submit FOI or SAR requests.

Prior to accepting requests under the Birth Information and Tracing Act 2022 from October onwards, the spokesperson said that Tusla is aiming to “have new and easier processes for people to obtain information, particularly their identity”.

“We have been working at pace to prepare for implementation of the second phase of the Act in early October, relating to information and tracing,” they added.

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