Philomena Lee has said she is “appalled” by the revelations at Tuam, Co Galway, and said all institutions that dealt with unmarried women need to be examined, writes Conall Ó Fátharta.
Ms Lee, whose life story was made into an Oscar-nominated movie, was in Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home where she raised her son for three years before he was adopted to the US. They never saw each other again despite both of them searching for each other at the same time.
Ms Lee said the discovery of a “significant number” of infant remains had affected her badly since she heard the news. “I was absolutely appalled. I still can’t comprehend it at all. I just cannot get over it. It really is appalling. It has affected me quite badly really thinking through on my own story.
"When I look back on my own story, at least I found my Anthony but lots of the women that were involved and who had babies there will never, never know what happened to them no matter how much they try to find out,” she said. She said when she was in Sean Ross Abbey, the issue of children who died was never mentioned.
“If any of the babies died where I was in Roscrea, we never knew. We never knew what happened to them. We never even thought about it I suppose really. What we were concerned about was our own babies and the running of our everyday lives that we had to spend there. I think it’s terrible they’ll never be able to find out.”
“A lot of them have tried, I know, in Roscrea and they have come up against a brick wall. They’re either told they don’t know anything about it or they don’t have any records of anything. That’s what I think about a lot. At least, I had some records,”
Last week, the Irish Examiner revealed that the names, ages and causes of death of 260 children and nine women who died at the institution between 1934 and 1967 were handed to the HSE by the Order that ran the home in 2011. Ms Lee said she had simply wanted to find her son and had never thought about the issue of redress or a State apology.
“The thought of compensation never entered my mind at all and even an apology never entered my mind. All I was ever interested in throughout my whole life was finding him, finding out what happened to him and he was buried in Roscrea nine years before I even knew he was there.
“Nobody ever let me know and I was only an hour away by flight,” she said.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.