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Redacted Lives: The second episode of our new documentary series is out now

High Walls explores how and why so many unmarried mothers and their children were incarcerated in Ireland.

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THE SECOND EPISODE of Redacted Lives, a new six-part documentary series by The Journal about mother and baby homes, is out now.

The series will follow the experiences of mothers who ended up in institutions because they became pregnant outside marriage, as well as people born into the system.

Tens of thousands of pregnant women and girls were sent to mother and baby homes in Ireland throughout the 20th century. Their children were usually adopted or sent to industrial schools – often without their mother’s consent.

Mother and baby homes existed in many countries but the proportion of unmarried mothers sent to institutions here is believed to have been the highest in the world.

Many women have tried to find their children over the years, but to no avail. Adopted people also struggled to find their parents, or information about their early life.

These people were silenced for decades – and when the State finally said it would investigate the system via a Commission of Investigation, many of their stories were dismissed and disregarded.

Redacted Lives gives those women and their children the chance to tell the real story of mother and baby homes, and how the State continues to deny survivors access to information, proper redress and ownership of their true identities.

Finally, they get to speak in their own words, in their own voices.

High Walls

Episode two – High Walls – is being released today. This episode explores how and why so many unmarried mothers and their children were incarcerated in Ireland.

Throughout the 20th century, the Catholic Church exerted huge control over almost every aspect of people’s lives in this country.

Becoming pregnant outside marriage was viewed as one of the most shameful things a person could do.

Women and girls who found themselves in this situation were hidden away. Many of their children were, in turn, sent to industrial schools.

In this episode, Monica recalls how women like her were treated like “dirt” because they got pregnant outside marriage.

[We] had brought a stain on the Government of Ireland, on the Catholic Church of Ireland, on the nuns of Ireland, on the parents of Ireland, on the brothers and sisters, the whole of Ireland.

“And all we’d done was we got pregnant. That’s all we’d done, nothing else.”

But how did this system of incarceration come to exist? And why was it allowed to flourish for so long?

As Catriona Crowe, former Head of Special Projects at the National Archives, explains in High Walls, Ireland was “an overwhelmingly Catholic country”.

“A lot of the population absolutely believed in the Catholic Church as the arbiter of moral value in society… If your daughter got pregnant outside marriage it was likely her name would be read off the altar in the local church.

“And there was a huge network of congregations and parish priests and bishops, all combining together to support and encourage the mother and baby homes to be the place of so-called refuge for women and girls who were pregnant outside marriage.

“No attention was paid, for example, to rape cases or any of that – that wasn’t considered to be important. We have evidence of girls as young as 13 having been raped and becoming pregnant, that was not seen as significant.

“It’s a very dark period in Irish modern history. And it’s precisely, in a way, I think, why people get tired of all of this, because there is a sense of consciousness of a kind of guilt in people who look back at it, many of whom knew.

“Every town had a tall building with high walls around it, or many did… People knew what was going on and they still did nothing, or very few did anything about it.”

The series was created by the award-winning team of News Correspondent Órla Ryan, who has written extensively about mother and baby homes, producer Nicky Ryan, from the critically-acclaimed Stardust podcast, and executive producer Sinéad O’Carroll.

New episodes of Redacted Lives will be released every Thursday. Subscribe to the series wherever you get your podcasts.

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If you passed through a mother and baby home or another institution and want to share your story, you can contact us in confidence by emailing redactedlives@thejournal.ie.

Redacted Lives is presented by Órla Ryan and produced by Nicky Ryan. Daragh Brophy and Christine Bohan were production supervisors. Sineád O’Carroll is the executive producer.

Taz Kelleher is our sound engineer, and design is by Lorcan O’Reilly.

With thanks to Laura Byrne, Susan Daly, Adrian Acosta and Jonathan McCrea.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in these episodes, you can contact the Samaritans by calling 116 123.

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