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Kilbaha sculpture captures Mother and Baby home horror

By Dan Danaher

A SURVIVOR of the controversial Tuam Mother and Baby Home has lauded a memorial crafted by a retired Kilbaha-based sculptor. Tuam Homes Survivors’ Network (THSN) chairman, Peter Mulryan (76) is still haunted by the fear and desperation of the unmarried mother who was forced to give up her baby to a nun as depicted in Jim Connolly’s newest sculpture. The composite piece is in its final stages of completion, pending the receipt of an extra €50,000 to cover the remaining costs.

Having met Mr Connolly on a number of occasions at the site of the unmarked burial ground in Tuam, Peter and his wife, Kathleen, visited him recently to see his sculpture commemorating the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Mr Connolly is working on this piece, free of any labour charge. The sculpture shows a nun on one side of a closed gate holding a baby with the broken-hearted mother on the other side. Mr Connolly has cast the nun in bronze and has to fully complete the mother and the gate. “The memorial sculpture speaks volumes when you look at it the way the image is done. You don’t need to read anything but just look at the expressions of a young mother handing over her child to someone through the gate. “It is so sad to look at. It is so natural and absolutely brilliant. I can’t get the desperation and fear on the mother’s face out of my mind.

“It was easy to see the pain of losing her baby on her face. “I never thought I would see the day when someone would have the patience and the time and the respect to show to us, which we never got before. It is something worth waiting for at long last. “You don’t have to look at the sculpture for too long and the more you look at it, the more you learn from it about what happened about 100 years ago. It is the best thing I have seen so far,” he said. “The survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home were forgotten in the past. We were classified as nobody in society and were regarded as second-class citizens. “We just had to keep our head down and say nothing. We were seen but not heard. No one wanted to listen to us. “With all the lies that have been told by the State and the Church in the past, we are just bracing ourselves to see what we will do next if the outcome is not what we want,” he added. Tuam Home Survivors’ Network consists of about 20 survivors, family members and advocates who seek to inform and obtain a factual representation of this dark period in recent history.

The home came under the spotlight after local historian Catherine Corless’ research led to the discovery of the human remains in sewage chambers at the Tuam site. Her research revealed the deaths of 796 babies and children at the home. Six days after being born in University College Hospital Galway on June 29, 1944, Mr Mulryan was moved into the Tuam Mother and Baby Home with his unmarried mother.

“The rule at the time was unmarried mothers were not allowed to stay in the parish. They were not supposed to be seen or heard and my mother was put into the county home in Loughrea when she was pregnant to work as an unpaid domestic until I was born. “When I was born, my mother could have left if she had 100 Irish pounds but because she was poor, she was made suffer for her sins. “She was put into the Tuam home scrubbing floors and minding babies apart from her own. We were kept separated as much as possible and were not allowed to bond.

“I was in that institution for four and a half years before I was boarded out to a farming family in County Galway. I remained with this family until I was 30 years of age. It wasn’t an easy life. “There was up to 300 babies in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home way above the capacity of 150,” he recalled. In 1975, Peter married Kathleen and moved to Ballinasloe. The same year, after many years of being denied contact, Peter found his mother, Bridget Mulryan, now deceased. Jim Connolly said a special course on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home is now being completed in the history department in NUIG and he has been in contact with the head of this department Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley. He outlined there is a proposal that a memorial for the babies would be erected on the university property and this is being supported by the THSN. Mr Connolly estimated that €50,000 approximately is needed to complete the castings and is hopeful that a private donor will come on board in the near future.

About Fiona McGarry

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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