The Irish Mail on Sunday
‘All seven of us were put in the Tuam home – but we were never told about each other’
AN 85-YEAR-OLD survivor of the children’s home in Tuam, said she had six other siblings who were also taken into care – but that she was never told about them.
Mary, from the west of Ireland, who asked that her surname not be used, was born in November 1928, and was placed with the nuns in 1932. In 1935, she was discharged after four years and moved in with a foster family.
She was the eldest of seven siblings who were, one after the other, taken into care and placed in the home. But no one ever told her or her siblings about each other. ‘As far as I know, my parents had no economic means but they kept having children. They were known to social workers. It was the social workers who took the children off them. My father died in 1944 and my mother died in the early eighties,’ Mary explained.
Mary’s first sister was born in 1932 and was placed in the
‘Until then I believed I was an only child’
home in 1934, while Mary was still there.
In 1935, Mary went to live with a foster family and a child officer brought her sister to live with them.
‘That was the very first time I knew I had a sister,’ said Mary. ‘I believed I was an only child up until then.
‘My parents went on to have five more siblings right up until 1940 when the last boy was born. All of us were placed in the home but none of us knew each other and were never told.
‘I remember going into the home – I was around four. There was a big massive hall in it and it was full of young kids running round and they were dirty and cold. There were well over 100 children in there and there were three or four nuns who minded us.
‘The building was very old. There was a big long walk up to it. We were let out the odd time but in the night the place was absolutely freezing with big stone walls.
‘When we were eating it was in the big long hall and they gave us all this soup out of a big pot, which I remember very well, and it was rotten to taste but it was better than starving.
‘I made my Holy Communion in the home.
‘I remember going to school from around four onwards, in a local school in Tuam.
‘We were marched to school in big hobnail shoes. I also remember sometimes there were visitors. We would be spruced up – a big effort was made to clean us all up.’
Mary recalled that the children were ‘rarely washed’ and often wore the same clothes for weeks.
‘We were filthy dirty. I remember one time when I soiled myself, the nuns ducked me down into a big cold bath and I never liked nuns after that.
‘There was no segregation. It was all boys and girls all in the same room and younger children in different rooms. The babies were in big wooden cots.
Mary discovered she had a second sister when she was fostered into a family in her local town.
‘I didn’t know until someone in the town told me there was a girl there with the same surname and that she must be my sister.
‘The minute I saw her I knew she was my sister.
Mary said she was relieved to finally leave the home.
‘My baby sister is in that mass grave’
‘I was delighted to get out of the home. I do remember hearing that babies were dying but I never saw dead children.’
Mary has since found records showing she had another sister and three other brothers.
A third sister came into the home on September 9, 1936, but died on October 10, 1936.
‘She was born in 1935. I knew nothing about her until my nephew found the birth and death certs. My sister is in that mass grave with all those poor unfortunates.
‘Our research showed there were seven of us in the home.
‘My mother didn’t tell us but the child officers didn’t tell us either. One day there was someone here and then they would be gone. The kids were obviously being fostered out. I suspect there were unofficial adoptions too.
‘I’m upset and angry over things but I can laugh it off and talk about it sometimes. My sisters are not the same.
‘We found my brothers eventually. They were fostered out and then moved abroad to the UK and America.
‘They didn’t know about us and we have not met yet. It’s very sad. One brother is in the US and we’ve two in England.’