One of the country’s most notorious mother and baby homes is set to get a new lease of life as a specialist suicide support and prevention centre.
Suicide charity Console has acquired Bessborough House in Cork City and plans to convert the Georgian mansion into its largest support, training and education facility.
“Bessborough House has such a sad history but we hope to turn it into something positive and life-giving — this is a positive story,” Console founder Paul Kelly said.
Some leading Cork businesses have agreed to help with the facelift, but Mr Kelly appealed last night for others, and for tradesmen, to get involved.
The house needs a lot of cosmetic work before Console can use it to provide counselling, support and helpline services for people in suicidal crisis and to those bereaved or affected by suicide, or for education and training courses in suicide prevention and mental health projects.
Console’s other Cork centre, on Perrott Ave, will continue to operate.
The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, the order of Catholic nuns which owns the house, was not available for comment.
Today, the Bessoborough estate houses several healthcare and social support services, but while the congregation owns the property, it does not run the services.
The house was built around 1760, and was owned by several prominent families over the years.
At the invitation of Bishop of Cork, Dr Daniel Coholan, it was taken over in 1922 by the nuns and was one of three Mother and Baby homes run by the order across the country.
The late Dr James Deeny, a former chief medical officer for the Department of Health, found mortality rates at Bessborough by the late 1940s were over 55%.
Mother and Baby home campaigners fear the remains of up 3,000 infants could be buried in mass unmarked graves on its grounds.
Mr Kelly said Console is acutely aware of the dark history of the building.
“Hopefully, this will be a new chapter in its history, a new beginning. This will be about saving lives,” he said.
Mr Kelly, whose younger sister, Sharon, died by suicide, founded Console in 2002. He said he understands that the grief after the suicide of a loved one is protracted and complicated.
“We hope this centre will provide a lifeline for families as we walk the journey with them, through the grief and terrible loss,” he said.
Recent figures show more than 500 people died by suicide here last year, with around 12,000 incidents of deliberate self-harm and attempted suicide. Console’s 24-helpline deals with almost 3,000 calls every month.
If you’d like to get involved in Console’s Bessborough project, contact 01-6102638.
Console’s 24-hour helpline 1800-247 247, by email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or log on to www.console.ie.
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