Monument to Bethany Home’s 222 dead children unveiled

As a monument is unveiled today to the 222 children who died at a Protestant children’s home and were buried in unmarked graves, survivors of the home have pledged to continue their fight for justice.

The Department of Justice offered the Bethany Survivor’s Group up to €25,000 towards their memorial, but has refused to include them in the redress scheme that was offered to the survivors of Magdalene laundries.

“To help fund the memorial was the right step on the behalf of the Department, but we want them to know it is only the first step. The State had a duty of care to us, yet we suffered enormous abuse and that must be acknowledged,” said Derek Leinster, chairman of the Bethany Survivor’s Group.

A Church of Ireland service at Mount Jerome Chapel will precede the unveiling of the six foot sculpture at the adjoining cemetery at Harold’s Cross, Dublin, today.

Toys and trees are carved on to the Kilkenny limestone sculpture. The toys represent the childhood the Bethany children never had, the trees the length of time they have waited for their story to be acknowledged. A robin is also carved into the six foot monument.

“The robin is highly symbolic as it’s known for always coming back to feed its young and is a survivor despite its diminutive size. It’s also known as having the loudest voice for such a small bird,” says Derek Leinster, chairman of the Bethany Survivor’s Group.

Coleen Andrews, a survivor of another Church of Ireland home, Westbank House in Bray, will play the organ at the unveiling and survivors and their families from the North, Scotland, England, Wales, Australia and Portugal will attend.

Local TD and Junior Minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs Joe Costello will also be present, as will Sinn Féin deputy Mary Lou McDonald who will be one of a group who will cut the ribbon to the sound of Eamonn Walsh’s pipeplaying.

“It will be a day that we will always remember. We have been 16 years seeking acknowledgment for what was done to us,” said Mr Leinster.

The Church of Ireland will be represented by Church of Ireland priest Canon Mark Gardiner and the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, is also sending a representative. Fr Peter McVerry, long-time champion of the homeless, will attend.

Up to €5,500 was raised by the survivors’ group towards the monument before the Department offered to help. This will be used for the monument’s upkeep and for an annual day of remembrance at the monument, said Mr Leinster.

The unmarked children’s grave was found in 2010 by Griffith College Dublin lecturer Niall Meehan who traced unnamed dead children registered with the home to adjoining unmarked common graves in Mount Jerome.

The Bethany Home was set up in 1922 and was run by an interdenominational committee from various Protestant churches.

As well as unmarried mothers and their children, it also took in prostitutes, alcoholics and prisoners and was used as a detention centre for female offenders, non-Catholic children and young people under 17.

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