Councillor tells of personal connection to Bessborough

Mary Linehan-Foley on the beach in Youghal, Co Cork. The independent councillor was born in Bessborough in 1966. Picture: Des Barry

A woman has spoken publicly for the first time of how she was born in a mother and baby home and then visited the same place 17 years later after discovering she was pregnant.

Members of Cork County Council listened in silence as Cllr Mary Linehan-Foley gave a moving account of her association with the mother and baby home at Bessborough, which was run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” the Independent councillor told colleagues about the aftermath of her birth at Bessborough in 1966.

It’s widely believed that up to 700 babies may be buried in the convent grounds. A report stated that between 1942 and 1943, 113 of the children born at Bessborough died while in the care of the religious order.

She said that she was lucky to have been adopted “by a very loving family”. Both her adoptive parents have since died.

The 48-year-old, who lives in Youghal, said at the age of 17-and-a-half she discovered she was pregnant herself.

“I hitched up the road to Bessborough. I said I’d be kicked out of home for sure, but I wasn’t and everything was fine.”

She said she has since tracked down and met her birth mother, who lives in Co Waterford.

“My birth mother had horror stories [about Bessborough]. I was one of the babies who were breast-fed for six weeks and then taken off my mother. I luckily found where I came from and I also had a very loving [adoptive home].”

She confirmed it was the first time she had gone public about her connection with Bessborough and admitted to being nervous when she spoke on a debate in County Hall about the mother and baby homes scandal.

The chairman of council, Cllr Alan Coleman, described her account as “very moving”.

Ms Linehan-Foley said she fully supported a motion tabled by Cllr June Murphy (SF) calling for a comprehensive inquiry into the homes, which would include consultation with survivors and advocates.

Ms Murphy said the Government should make counselling services available to survivors and appropriate memorials should be erected to those who died at the homes.

“I’m 100% supportive of this. I luckily found where I came from. I’d love to help other survivors. There shouldn’t have to be a motion from the council to get this done. It should be done anyway,” Ms Linehan Foley said.


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