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A view of what is believed to be a burial site for stillborn children, who were born at the old Kilrush District hospital maternity unit. The site, in a wooded area, is located on the Cooraclare road across from the site of what was previously the Kilrush Poor Law Union Workhouse. In the late twenties it was then utilised as a Mother And Babies home, which it is believed was closed in the early 1930s. Photograph by John Kelly.

Call for council apology over role at Kilrush mother and baby home

CLARE County Council has been urged to apologise for the role it played, in the 1920s and ‘30s, in the running of the County Clare Nursery in Kilrush. Last week, in the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, the high infant mortality rate there was revealed. The deaths of so-called “illegitimate” infants is recorded as 168 during a ten-year period from 1922 to 1932. The commission concluded that the vast majority of those children died at the home. The facility was owned and financed by Clare County Council.

At the outset of this week’s meeting of the West Clare Municipal District, Councillor Shane Talty proposed that an apology would be issued by the council at its February meeting.  He said the council was proud of its history but added, “We should acknowledge our dark chapters and if the local authority had a role in that, albeit nobody today can take responsibility, I think at a top level, we should be acknowledging the role of the county council.”

Cathaoirleach of the district, Councillor Joe Garrihy said, “As the current municipal district and group of councillors, I think it is right and proper that we acknowledge the role that the local authority would have played and appropriately respond. More than anything else, along with apologies, is to give every commitment to support the victims and the survivors and listen to them”

Supporting those sentiments, Councillor Cillian Murphy described the issue as “very sensitive”. “Rightly, we should be acknowledging the council’s role in it,” he said. “I think that we are in a position here where we are apologising for past actions, historic actions. I think that it is also incumbent on us to make sure that, in 30 or 40 years’ time, another group of councillors and another group of council executives aren’t apologising for things that are happening as we speak. I would put Direct Provision right in the middle of that. We are here watching it happen. It’s on our watch and, to me, it is a stain on us as a country to tolerate Direct Provision for any longer.”

Councillor Ian Lynch said he was “really struggling” with the revelations of the Mother and Baby Homes Report. “The fact that we had a Mother and Baby Home in Kilrush makes it so real and so close,” he remarked.

The Independent Councillor also commended the work of local historian Rita McCarthy.

Senior Executive Officer John Moloney said he had been tasked with working with the community to identify following a memorial site, following a meeting between the Chief Executive, Cathaoirleach Mary Howard and Ms McCarthy. “I’ll work very closely with people on the ground,” he said. “I know it was a county facility and not just for the people of Kilrush.”

Councillor Susan Crawford acknowledged the “pain and hurt” and said the vulnerable must now be better protected. Councillor Joe Killeen voiced his shock at the “inhumanity” suffered by victims and survivors “in the recent past”.

Director of Services Leonard Cleary said, “The report holds a mirror up to our past. It’s a difficult and distressing past and, as a society, we can in no way shy away any longer from what are extremely painful truth that as a society we fell far short in our care of vulnerable women and children and it’s particularly painful that it was within our own municipal district in West Clare. The memorial is some small expression of those sentiments. It in no way mitigates what happened. It’s a gesture to acknowledge and improve awareness for the future. ”

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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