What might they have become?
Every day (for decades)
Who were they? What might they have become? Why did it happen?
What are the untold life stories of the Tuam babies?
The babies, and infants, that is, who were callously cast into oblivion, coldly buried in a series of chambers, linked to a sewage system or septic tank.
(‘Chambers’…always a word that evokes grim thoughts or images).
What were their names? What did they look like? What would they have become? Presidents? Paupers? Great actors or artists? Sports stars? Farmers? Gifted tradespeople? Shopkeepers? Fathers? Mothers? Priests or nuns?
A woman rang Liveline. She is 73 now. She moved to Tuam in the 1970s and lived in a house right beside those wretched chambers. With her calm voice this great, decent woman told Joe her story. Of how, one day back in 1974, an anguished neighbour alerted her…that a young boy was outside “playing with a skull.”
The woman who rang Liveline investigated. It was indeed a human skull. Shocked, she proceeded down into the field, to what we now know is the site with the secrets. And suddenly she fell into a…chamber. When she stood up, she saw a row of what reminded her of cider bottles, each one wrapped tightly in cloth. Now, over forty years on, she and we know they were babies.
When (back in 1974) the now 73-year-old woman questioned a former employee of the Mother and Baby Home, the retired staff member said that the routine was that babies were buried in the chambers in the middle of the night.
It’s not a horror movie; it’s Ireland in the first and indeed second half of the 20th century.
So, who were they and what might they have become?
Their peers, the fortunate ones, played football and other games in school yards, while the damned babies lay in their secret grave.
What would their names have been? How would they have got on in the world? Who might they have married? What would they have called their children? What would they have called their grandchildren? (They can’t all have been terminally ill; they were unwanted, uncherished, to be dispensed with).
When others celebrated their birthdays and First Communions, and later still journeyed into teenage years and adulthood, silence still reigned at the secret grave.
And the vast majority of people went to bed at night without knowledge of the secrets, though some people must have suspected something, and some people must have known something, and some elements of ‘the establishment’ must have been guilty, either through their sanctioning of barbarity, or their indifference. Not to mention the holier-than-thou families and the, to put it as its mildest, irresponsible fathers.
Winter after winter, the cold wind slapped the secret grave, the rain fell and the nights closed in. Summer after summer, life went on, but not for the children who had been damned.
And they never got to know Christmas.
And each night, the people who ran the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam – and there is no reason to presume that these horrors were exclusive to Tuam – prepared to go to bed. First, these sanctimonious, cruel, sick people said their prayers.
They said their prayers nightly in the Mother and Child Home, praising God and thanking God. And in their pathetic piousness they got into their beds, with their clean sheets and their self-styled clean consciences.
And, outside their windows, the rain fell on the banished babies.
Who were they? What might they have become? Why did it happen? How could it happen?
On the Athlone Road at about 12.50 pm on Sunday I saw two Kerry men walking towards the Hyde with the casual gait of farmers about to close the gate after a final check on the stock. They had rugged, weather-beaten faces and I knew by the look of them that they had been to thousands of matches and that they have seen more All-Ireland medals than it might take to cover the new surface at the Hyde.
To them, Roscommon on Sunday was just another location, another pit-stop on a never-ending journey. They were coming to collect two league points as routinely as a woman lifting clothes from the line after she suspects a shower of rain is on the way.
I was only going in for the Sunday papers – I am always amazed at how early some people go to matches. It was 1.55 when I returned to walk into our field of dreams – there were still dozens of fans queuing for tickets.
‘They’ll delay the throw-in” a man said on the way in as he eyed the queue – but they didn’t.
The pitch was in fine shape, undaunted by the rain of previous nights, but I suppose we came, not so much to admire the catwalk, but to see the models.
There were a good few Kerry people around me in the stand on the Athlone Road side, as well, of course, as lots of hopeful Rossies.
From the beginning, the referee infuriated the Roscommon fans. We played some nice football (I liked Cian Connolly’s direct running), but the highlight of the first half was the quality of some of the Kerry scores. Still, we weren’t too far behind at half-time, and a man on my left who was wearing a Longford GAA cap assured me that Roscommon had wind advantage to come.
In fact the weather was beautiful and the football was lively. The pattern of the first half continued after the break; nice play from Roscommon, Kerry a bit sharper up front and staying four, five and six clear. But now the referee was driving Roscommon fans mad and I honestly thought he did us no favours. It was one of those days when a decision in favour of the home team was treated with sarcastic applause. Several calls seemed to go against Roscommon. The fans, totally lacking in originality (as in other counties, new script urgently needed), called up all the traditional insults, interspersing expletives with repeated requests that the referee go to Specsavers.
The concern for ‘Cassidy’s’ eyesight (I never heard his first name) was touching.
When John McManus was sent off, all seemed lost, but Roscommon scored three great points in succession and it was encouraging to see this team holding their own against the mighty Kingdom. When the excellent Ciaráin Murtagh dispatched a superb penalty, the home fans erupted with enthusiasm at the prospect of a possible draw or win. Roscommon were now within one point. A middle-aged Kerry couple in front of me both broke into simultaneous frowns. Obviously they’re together a long time. Now, suddenly, there was some lively banter between Roscommon and Kerry fans, with a disagreement over whether or not constant jersey-pulling by Kerry players merited black cards.
Our fate was sealed in the last two or three minutes when Kerry added 1-2, creating a winning margin that was cruel on a gallant home team that had thrown everything at their illustrious opponents.
The fans vented further frustration at ‘Cassidy’ and some of the Kerry tactics, but ‘Cassidy’ finally blew the final whistle and that was that.
Twenty minutes after the game there was a ferocious hailstorm. By then, I was at home. On the highlights programme on RTE later that night I saw Kevin McStay and Marty Morrissey doing the post-match interview in the middle of that ferocious hailstorm and I wondered if Marty envied Des Cahill, who at that very moment was probably dancing the foxtrot or something of that nature in a warm hailstone-free studio.