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Republic of Shame: 'One woman came in wearing two corsets to hide her pregnancy'

A new book seeks to highlight how much this period in Irish history still impacts on people today.
Sep 14th 2019, 6:00 PM 28,653 37

CAELAINN HOGAN GREW UP just a stone’s throw from Ireland’s biggest holding centre for adoptions.

“These institutions were places that you walked by every day and you didn’t know the history, didn’t know what happened behind the walls.”

Hogan has friends whose mothers were adopted from mother and baby homes and through her work as a journalist has met people who were born the same year as her – in 1988 – in the Bessborough home in Cork.

With her new book, Republic of Shame, she wants to highlight how much this period in Irish history still impacts on people today.

“Talking to people my own age who were affected by this really impressed on me how recent this is, it’s not the past,” she told TheJournal.ie.

“In the book, there are quite a few women who use pseudonyms, there is still fear of speaking out. A lot of women still feel the stigma, but that is starting to change.

These stories are so important, the lived experience of women who were sent to these institutions. A lot of these women haven’t told their children or their families that they were in institutions.

In the course of her research, Hogan said it became clear how much State bodies knew what was going on in these homes.

“There were concerns raised about the deaths in these institutions in the very first years they were running and it just seems that nothing was done to prevent these deaths – nothing effective – because the deaths continued,” she said.

“I spoke to social workers who visited the institutions and it wasn’t a secret, they were very aware of the various institutions. It was just what was done.

It does make you think, what are we accepting today that future generations will say ‘how did we let that happen?’

As well as interviewing women who had spent time in the homes, Hogan spoke to members of the religious orders that ran them.

A midwife at St Patrick’s institution told her stories of women writing letters to their family pretending to be in foreign countries working.

One woman that came in had been wearing two corsets to hide her pregnancy because she lived at home.

She said it was important for her to speak to people from the religious orders because there has been a “pervasive silence” from them about the treatment of unmarried mothers in the homes. 

“The religious sisters, they often told me that the families had sent these women to the institutions or they’d ask me where the fathers were, but I also think they did feel that they didn’t speak up at the time and did look back on this with some shame.”

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Michelle Hennessy

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