Happy Scribe Logo


Proofread by 0 readers

Hello and welcome to The Stand with Ayman Dontae. This podcast is brought to you in association with Tesco Finest because Tesco believe that define this conversation should be accompanied by the finest food. Tesco are exceptionally supportive sponsors and we're very grateful to them for enabling us to do our podcast. Now, today, we're going to talk to a writer who has just had a very important new book published. The book's title is Republic of Shame Stories from Ireland's Institutions for Fallen Women.


The author is Caitlyn Hogan and she joins me now. Caitlyn, thank you very much for agreeing to do to stand with us today.


Your book is has been very well received, a glowing review in the Sunday Times by a very influential journalist, Justin McCarthy.


It is a book of journalism. It's your own research, and it's into a story that most of us have heard about.


But a few of us really know what it's about. It's about children of women who are deemed to have been fallen by the Catholic Church in Irish institutions. Why did you want to write a book about this subject?


Well, I started reporting this two years ago, and I think like many people, I was aware of the institutions and I knew some things about the matter laundries, but I didn't really know what happened behind the walls or within these institutions. And, you know, it was important to me, having grown up in an Ireland that was, I think, changing very rapidly. You know, I was a kid and the divorce referendum happened and, you know, and things were changing.


But we, you know, these institutions were still aware of them, but our lives weren't necessarily impacted personally. But the more that I sort of started speaking to people about this and, you know, this was 2017, the news about the task excavation ACCUM had just been released. So there was clear evidence that there were human remains in the search chambers and choom, a story that, you know, shocked the world. And I wanted to speak with people who had firsthand experience of these institutions.


And the more people I spoke to, I realised how recent all of this was and how close to home.


And yes, and to most of us, it's known as the mother and baby home scandal. And like a lot of Irish scandals, it's there. It passes by.


It's a blur for a while. And then people move on to the next scandal, which might be the cervical cancer scandal or the Garda corruption scandal or a financial scandal. And we. We pass by these things and they're left dormant, which is why your book is so important, in my view, because it brings us well up to date.


I want to begin by asking you when what were the mother and baby homes and when? As I understand it from your book, they started in the 1920s time they did they started with with the start of the state, really, and it came out of the workhouse system.


So if you go back through the practice of war, it's the transcripts. You actually see politicians debating about what to do with empty warehouses around the country. And their solution was really to put unmarried mothers into these institutions.


So at that point, was it the church who said, we want we we're going to do this? Or was it the politicians who said this would be expedient for us?


I think it was, you know, a mutually beneficial situation. So the church and religious orders, the religious sisters had already been running the Magdalene Laundries since the seventeen hundreds in Dublin. So those institutions were still were already very established.


How did you get put into a Magdalene laundry?


So various ways. So I met one woman who was the only reason she was in an institution was because she was born there. So she was born in St. Patrick's on the Navona Road or to in Kabra, which is the biggest mother and baby home in Ireland, which order that the daughters of charity, which actually had their provincial house across the road from the house where I grew up in Blakroc. So and it was a huge institution, formerly a workhouse.


And they set it up for, you know, for unmarried women and their children.


What was the process, Caitlyn? A woman, a young girl, I assume, in most cases, became pregnant. What was the next step then?


So often she would go to a priest or to her doctor. Sometimes sometimes the priest would come to the family. And in later years, it could have been social workers or, you know, women might have found out, you know, through different ways or were sent through different channels to these institutions. Sometimes their families did send them. Sometimes a priest came to the house and took them.


Where was the baby born? The baby was it depends on the institution. So in in Choom and the babies were born there for some time in St. Patrick's on the Navan Road. They opened up a maternity facility on the ground so women would have given birth there, but sometimes local hospital. So St. Patrick's was connected with what is now Jameses. Yes, in Dublin. And Bhaskaran Corrick was connected with St. Finbar, his hospital, which was also a former.


So after the birth of a baby, what happened?


So the women often would go to the institution a few months before giving birth, when she started to show it was all about secrecy and making sure that, you know, that no one found out about this.


So this was a matter of appalling shame, of huge shame was imposed on their own community. Yes.


You know, it was really imposed on these women. I talked to women who were who were kept in their own houses, you know, and secreted away until they could be sent to an institution. And so they had arrive. They'd be made to work sometimes up until, you know, the day that they were going to give birth and hard labor working in the laundries on within the institutions. And so there can be some confusion between the maid and laundries in the homes.


But the the mother and baby homes also had their own laundries. And so they would work on the grounds they'd they'd clean. You know, I talked to women who remember scrubbing floors when they were heavily pregnant and and after they gave birth, they'd be allowed very little interaction with their own child. So sometimes they'd be allowed in to feed the child, but they were kept separate. And the fathers of those children, did they were they vanished.


Some, I don't think ever knew. And I one woman was told, you know, to tell the father that it was a mistake, that she wasn't pregnant. And obviously there were fathers who wanted nothing to do with this and abandoned women. There were fathers that came and visited them in the home. So one woman who gave birth twice and to whom she was actually it was her boyfriend was the father. It's very much in love with her. And he came to her parents asking to marry her.


But it was just this fear and the stigma. It was impossible. And he was denied. But he came to Choom. He went to the Skouras Institution to visit her while she was there. But they would not let him see his daughter. She remembers him coming. The nuns would let him come in and see her, but they wouldn't let him see his own child. And he wanted to take his daughter home, but he wasn't allowed.


Was there any way, once a woman was in one of these institutions that they could get out?


Many of the mothers did leave. And child to be signed out by your family?


Yes, sometimes families had to pay. So there was a midwife who worked in Basra who wrote a book and she spoke about how families were made to pay one hundred pounds at the time and I would get their daughter back to get their daughter back. I was just in Sean Ross Abbey there yesterday and spoke with one survivor who whose granny paid one hundred pounds for her to be released from the institution. And so also the woman I mentioned and choom, her family, we found records to show that her family were paying for her son, her firstborn son, and to be in the home.


So it seems like that was a condition for her to leave the institution, that they had to pay money. And they kept they kept the boy.


No, her son stayed in Choom and was fostered out to a family and she didn't see him again for the rest of the institution.


Kept the child. Yes, the. People. Let's go to Catherine Corless is a very important person in this, she's a historian. She very recently has uncovered a shocking scandal related to. Now, as I understand it, around 800 bodies were buried in a sewer. We don't grounds or do we know that we don't know the exact number that are buried? We won't know until the test, until the site is actually we are hundreds, but we're talking about hundreds that died.


It's clear from that. You know, Catherine did incredible research to find that the death hurts. And, you know, there it's very clear that there that number that died in the home and around 800 children, why such a high mortality rate?


I think the conditions at the time, you know, and you can go through the death certs and see the causes of death. And some are malnourished, some are malnutrition. The the home was actually closed in June because of the state of it when in 1961. So you can see in Galway County Council minutes, you know, debates over over whether they should keep it open or not. And it's clear that there was there was a huge fire hazard at the time.


It was an incredibly crowded institution. You know, there were over 100 over 100 children in this institution at some times, and the conditions within the institution were very poor. So in the first year, sanitation, I think, was very poor. There was no heating. And, you know, there was one woman who worked there in the home as what they called a domestic Julia Devanny. And she speaks about, you know, the children being hungry and and sort of ragged and looking near starved and sort of not speaking normally because they had no interaction with with sort of with a parent because the mothers were kept sort of separate and weren't allowed to really interact.


The people who ran these homes were nuns.


The religious sisters. Yeah, the bond seekers run Choom, the daughters of charity run St Patrick's. It was actually an order based in England called the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Mary, who ran three institutions, including Sean Ross, Abbey, Basara and Kasser pilot in Ireland.


And they were private institutions, as they're called, where they subject to any inspection, where they are accountable to a local council or to the Catholic Church.


Well, they were I mean, they were inspected from the early years. And one inspector, when I went through the records, she, you know, tried to raise the alarm about the death rates and how did she go about doing that?


She wrote a report in which she said basically that children were dying at higher rates in the institutions than they would have, you know, in the slums of Dublin, in the tenements. And yet the church and state were paying for children to be or the state was paying for children to be in these institutions and the church were running the homes and receiving money and to do so. So the conditions were clearly quite dire in your book.


Yeah, OK. Then you talk about a woman, Carmel and her mother, Bridget. Um, would you tell me their story?


So, Carmel, I met in Cork and her mother was sent to Basara and when she became pregnant, she was actually over with you? No, with Karmas Brother. And so in the 1960s, Bridget was in England and she was sent back by the crusade of rescue to Cork. So many women, Irish women were sent back from the UK to these institutions to give birth because there was a fear that maybe Protestant families would adopt these children. And she was sent back and, you know, she was staying in this institution.


She was made to work. And when she gave birth to her son, William, she became very sick. And he did also, she describes that there was a she had an injection that she thinks was she thinks it was a dirty needle. And this sort of she worries of this infection spread then to William. He died in St Finbar in the local hospital, and she was never allowed to see his body. She was never allowed to attend his burial.


And she was sent back to the UK. And years later, in the 90s, Carmel actually happened to move to Cork. She married a man from there and she she was living very near by where the institution was. And her mother came over in the mid 90s and went to the nuns to ask them where her son was buried. And she said one nun brought her down to there was a nuns graveyard on the site of the institution and she was told that her son was buried there.


And we've only found out this year after the. The Berríos report came out that her son is actually buried in Cars Hill, which is a farm and graveyard in Cork, and I went with Kamal to visit it. Very soon after that, she finally realized or was finally told where her her brother is actually buried. And we went and it's you know, we had to climb up this this lane and wonder sort of electric fence and to reach this graveyard, we're actually there was two other people with us and one happened to have a relative who was illegally adopted through one of the institutions as well.


So there's so many people affected by this, but it was an overgrown, neglected graveyard in Cork. And there's not one headstone or marker. And it's possible that there are more children who died in Basra and buried there in CastleHill, 900 children died in Basra. And there's only bit of time between the 1920s to 1998.


These homes were still in operation.


Basra is still in operation until 1998. I met a woman born in 1988 there the same year that I was born, and she's only just begun to search for her mother. So those people my age and younger, who were ages 30, I'm 30. So my generation is directly affected by this.


This is not the past I have. And I know another woman who was sent to an institution that year. So her son was born and that same year. So there's people even younger. One person called in. I was doing an interview. It was born there in 93. And so this is not the point.


People were still being sent to these institutions, presumably by devout Catholic families as recently as the early 90s and even later.


So during reporting for the book, I went to a small town in Donegal outside Letterkenny called Newtown Coningham, and I found out that the institution there called The Castle was operating until 2006. So it only opened in the 1980s and it operated until 2006. And the woman I happened to knock on the door, the woman who ran it, and she told me that she remembered one woman coming who actually took her baby home and she kept her baby. But when she went back to her hometown in Sligo, the local priest wouldn't baptize her child because the child was born out of wedlock.


Right. And that happened in the 21st century. Yeah.


The story of Jim, somebody that you met at in Enock in the Marian shrine there where he works. Tell me his story.


So this was a complete chance encounter. I was in Knaack during the Navina, and there's a small canteen there and it was sort of empty. A lot of people had gone to mass and there was this man sitting at a table having his lunch. He was one of the the stewards they called them. So volunteers who help out at the shrine. And I was asking for directions actually to the graveyards and where I know that there was a bond score, plus where some of the nuns who were actually buried in Choom were and were moved to their grave, their ADNOC.


So I asked some directions and we got talking and I told them about the book and he told me he was born into in the 1940s and that he had not been able to find his mother ever, ever. And he was how hard he tried he had gone to his you know, he was a religious man and he went to his local priest hoping that the priest might be able to give him answers and the priest told him to leave it be.


And I think that really deeply hurt him. You could you could tell the pain of that.


And in your book, you describe Jim as being and remaining a devout Catholic.


He is he's a man of faith, but he felt left down or let down by the church and and he wept when he was talking to you.


He did all that sorrow and hurt and remorse, just, I think not understanding why he wouldn't be given the simple information. And he worked for the Galway County Council also that ran the home. And then he went to them looking for information or help to find his mother. You know, he said to me that he'd even just just to find her grave, you know, and she might not still be alive, but just to be able to go and visit her grave would be so important to him.


He lost the child himself and himself and his wife and, you know. He talked about the importance of having a dignified burial and having a grave to visit, and he really worries his mom was very young when she had him, and he knows from the basic information he was given that she was around 16. So he worries that he might have siblings who were born in Choom and who might be in the grave. And that's something that he worries about a lot.


Just to give her some perspective. Kevin, you've lived and worked in the United States. Yes.


For just two years. Yeah, the. Uh. The possibility that something like this exists in the United States or in the United Kingdom. Or anywhere, frankly. Strikes me as. Unlike. How does this strike you? Well, actually, there were similar institutions in the US and we think, again, Catholic again, I was actually in San Francisco not that long ago for a family event and there was a dot as a charity institution there in the city where children were adopted from and are again coming back trying to find information and aren't able to access it.


In the course of your research for this book, you must have many religious. It was important to me to hear the perspectives of people within the church, so I spoke to a number of religious sisters and I think we have this idea that anyone who operated these institutions are long dead and gone. And there's no one to answer for what happened there. But I spoke with a sister, with the daughters of charity, who was a midwife in St. Patrick's mother and baby home, and remembered very clearly women coming in one with two corsets around her belly to hide her her pregnancy as she remembered one woman riding home.


They had this secret system of Mei-Ling where they'd they'd send women's letters to their families and so that they they'd pretend they were at work and in the UK. And this woman decided she was going to pretend she was in Norway. So she brought in maps and and the nun was terrified that she was going to make a mistake and it was going to be found out. And I spoke with a nun who worked in a on laundry as a novice and who did say there were abuses and that the women were called penitence and, you know, that they just didn't see at the time what was happening, but also that there was a hierarchy and that people felt that they could not speak out.


And I think that that's hard for my generation to understand is how difficult it was to question the church. I even spoke with a bishop who who remembers, you know, when he was a priest. And in 1968, Humanae Vitae came out. So the church doubled down on contraception being, you know, a sin. So he he just said it was impossible to question even when you were a priest, even when your authority within that, within the church, they felt when you encountered these people, women in particular, who would have had an affinity with women who are fallen.


Did you feel you were talking to people who were naive? Did you feel you were talking to people who were wicked? Did you feel you were talking to people who were trapped and institutionalized, the women themselves, who were assaulted and the nuns? Yes, I think there was, you know, a level of institutionalization that they experienced themselves within the hierarchy of these orders. But at the same time, you know, they have voices. They can still speak out.


And the orders themselves are very protective today.


Feel like the rest of us feel that something evil, awful has happened?


No, not all of them. And there is an ongoing what is the rationalization for from those who don't feel that way?


Some of the religious sisters said to me straight up that that they thought survivors were looking for money, which was very difficult to hear when you've met people who are searching for one mother were searching for where her child is buried. Another is, you know, just trying to find out who their mother was. So for for a religious sister to to sort of smear, you know, the intentions of survivors like that and really to to feel that it's all about money.


And it was quite upsetting to hear. And there I think there's a resistance to to wanting to know. I feel if I had devoted myself to a religious order for my whole life and I found out that these things had happened, I'd want answers and I'd want to know. And, you know, there is an understanding that not all religious sisters had a hand in this and but but to continue the silence, to perpetuate the silence, to not encourage and, you know, justice and transparency now is, I think, a mistake to Choom.


And Catherine Corless was a revelation for this country and for many people. Bishop MKC was a leading churchman here for a long time, and he became embroiled in his own scandal where he fathered a child. Recently, we learned that he was also a child sexual abuser. And he would have been what do we know about that element of his story? Well, it was reported recently that there were several historical allegations against Bishop Casey, who, you know, I think everyone remembers from 79 when when the pope came.


Yes, he was there with father. Clearly, there was father fathered children. Both had father children.


And he was talking to the young people of Ireland. Yeah, I remember very vividly, I'm sure anyone who saw it. Yes.


That the hypocrisy of that and actually the nun I spoke to who was a midwife and St. Patrick's was there at the time that Annie Murphy went to St. Patrick's. This woman, though, the woman was to go to Amy Casey, the son, and the pressure that she was put under to have her son adopted as the same pressure that many women were put under within these institutions. And you know, that hypocrisy within the church. I think that, you know, I spoke to people whose who the father, you know, had been a priest as so there were several women who were sent to these institutions after he sort of.


Yes, yeah. Their child was fathered by a priest, whether that was consensual or not. And, you know, so this is the hypocrisy of us. And even when I was doing research in the archives and a.. I came across the archivist there who is working to, I guess, preserved the records and who gets requests often from survivors looking for information. And it turned out that that he was a convicted child abuser.


Also what Carter calls uncovered. Hundreds of babies buried. In Assir. So we know it's indisputable evidence that significant human remains were found in sewage chambers in Choom on the grounds of the barns cause institution and the remains of children dating back to the time that the nuns operated that institution. So without a doubt, there were children buried in what was a sewage tank. And so we know that without a doubt, the number of children is what we need to find out.


So the excavation is due to take place. The government has committed to doing that, but it has yet to start significant human remains. It's clear that there were many bodies that were that were buried in this very undignified and disrespectful manner. And, you know, it's very painful for people with relatives who died in this home to think that their remains are still in in what is essentially sewage chambers. So that is clear.


And we know that is there. Off the top of my head. The people I considered to be complicit in this would be church, of course, and church leaders, prominent church leaders. Guards'. Politicians, councillors, national politicians. Yes, you're nodding your head.


One woman described being brought back by the guards when she escaped Sean McDermott Street Moton Laundry. So the guards did bring women back, the woman who gave birth twice and to whom she was sent to a laundry and she escaped. And she remembers the nuns coming to her home and more and go away. And there was a local guard with with them. So the guards did they were aware of what was happening. And politicians also, you know, in 1964, there was a debate over and sort of inspections for four adoptive families.


And there was a lot of worry about it in rural areas because they thought it would mark the child as illegitimate. If an inspection happened, everyone would know that this child was adopted and how he was involved in that. And that debate. Charles saw you as minister for justice at the time and he was saying sort of why place on record that a child is illegitimate? And there was there was another politician, a Labour politician, who call called out the system and said that women were being treated as slaves.


And these institutions, they were being kept there for two years. And he said he would do away with the system and allow mothers to keep their children. And I think all he just said, I have no function in that regard. So this was not something that was secret. It was something that was debated among politicians, known among doctors, social workers, lawyers, lawyers and also the media.


And the media, yeah, there were reports, you know, on on these homes dating back, you can go back through this was this was hiding in plain sight in a way, was it not?


It became the current phrase, yeah.


I think it became normalized. You know, it's similar, I guess, to some systems of institutionalization that we have today, like direct provision where we know that, you know, I think it's a huge injustice is taking place within that system, but it becomes normalized and we sort of accept it. And I think that's what happened with these institutions.


Is this fully functioning society? I think we need the rights. And the humanity one would expect. I think people need the right to their own birth information, the fact that the Irish state is still denying people the right to their own identity is perpetuating that culture of secrecy and shame. I think that we need answers about why so many children died within these institutions and why something wasn't done sooner.


Is there a commission? Yvonne Murphy, Judge Murphy. She has reported previously on Clerical Sex Abuse. Is there a commission setting now? Is there are the investigations going on to see? What the truth of this matter is, yes, the commission of investigation is due to report early next year their final report. When I began reporting this nearly two years ago, they were due to report. So it's it's going to be, you know, five years in the making of this report.


And but we still don't have answers. And there are mothers and families out there hoping that this report might give answers on where their loved ones are buried. And and we need we need answers. So people are waiting for that final report. Are people being still put into those homes? I'm not aware of institutions that are still operating, but definitely I mean, there are still there's still a stigma and shame, I think, against single mothers in this country, particularly homeless single mothers who are made to feel selfish sometimes for keeping their children who are told, you know, how why are you having a child if you if you're homeless or if you're struggling?


So still a shame. And I think, you know, they're still so pro-life. Catholic pregnancy crisis, pregnancy agencies who are offering single mothers accommodation or people who have crisis pregnancy accommodation. And there's there's been questions in the past about how these agencies operated and and whether they've been involved in illegal adoptions in the past. Has been questions raised about that also. Is there any consequence for the people responsible for this? As of as of now, no.


And after the Magdalene inquiry, the religious orders refused to pay redress to survivors of the Magdalene Laundries. I'm sure that there will be calls for redress again after the mother and baby home investigation is concluded. But, you know, the recent Berríos report called one of the affidavits from the religious orders and speculative and misleading. So there is still a resistance to providing clear answers on the part of the church and and the religious orders.


OK, your book is called Republic of Shame. Stories of Violence Institutes, Institutions for Fallen Women. It's published by Penguin. The author is Caitlyn Hogan. It's an excellent book, a very fine piece of journalism plus ultra. Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us and good luck with the book. And that's a story that you should read if you can, because it's still going on.


And the people who are responsible for the crimes that were committed or indeed who hold responsibility for holding criminals to account are not doing very much. That's all we have time for today. Thanks very much to Ken and Hogan. The book is called Republic of Shame, published by Penguin. And thanks to you for listening. And of course, a big thanks to Tasco Finestra sponsors. That's all we have time for. We'll talk to you, sir.