A nun told me: 'You're dirt' - Women's voices from the mother and baby homes

A nun told me: 'You're dirt' - Women's voices from the mother and baby homes

Girls from just 12 years of age up to women in their 40s gave birth to 57,000 children in the mother and baby homes. File photo: Larry Cummins

Today, the Commission of Investigation has found that 56,000 unmarried mothers, some as young as 12, passed through, Ireland's mother and baby homes.

They were aged from just 12 years old to women in their 40s and they gave birth to 57,000 children in the institutions.

Here are some of the voices of those who were admitted to these homes and had to endure the horrendous conditions there.

On becoming pregnant 

I was told by a nun: 'God doesn't want you - you're dirt'.

Whenever I came back to Ireland from the UK, I wasn’t allowed return home. I couldn't be seen.

My bag was packed and I was run out of the house.

I was treated like a second-class citizen by my family. Society had an obsession with hiding everything away.

My parents were very ashamed when they found out. They phoned the priest.

They forced me to sign an affidavit that the child was not the father’s. 

The birth father tried to abort the baby with pills, vodka and a coat hanger.

The social worker drove me to the mother and baby home. No-one said a word during the whole journey. 

After I told my family I was pregnant after being raped I was told: ‘Shame on you, look what you’ve done to Daddy’ 

I began to cry (when dropped at the mother and baby home). The Sister punched me in the back and said: ‘You're here now and you’ll be here till you get rid of that child. You’ll be here again next year, you are only a prostitute anyway’.

The mother and baby home was my saviour at a very hard time in my life. It gave me a chance to get used to being a mother. There were, and are, good people out there.

I knew it was a home for girls in my situation and my own suggestion was that I would go away to hide the shame. The problem had gone away from my parents.

I was conditioned to say 'Yes sister, no sister, three bags full sister' and I was sitting there in the car while the nun drove and when we got there I knew the social worker had fucking lied to me.

Conditions in the mother and baby homes 

My memories are trying to escape with my pal from the abuse we were suffering. Everyday we got out of the room, we’d climb up using the big iron gate on to the big stone way that surrounded the place but the drop to the outside was too deep and we knew we’d break our legs if we jumped down.

I used to wet the bed at night, and every morning, the nun would hit me before she grabbed my left ear and dragged me to the wash basins.

I still have nightmares about the place and wonder how they could be so cruel to little children in a religious country.

You just had to work and keep your mouth closed.

One of the saddest tasks I had was ironing the little dresses for the babies to get them ready for when people were coming to see them. 

I was told I could work off my sins for the next three years. 

The very sight of the nuns was to be forever frightening. 

The deaths of the babies was covered up with the mothers told ‘it’s taken care of’.

One young girl whose baby died at two months old wanted to see where her child was buried and was told by the nuns that ‘she shouldn’t know'. 

Any girls that tried to run away were brought back by the gardaí. 

Local farmers would come to the home looking for a wife. 

I was pregnant from rape and told the nuns that I might have syphilis and that there was a danger that my baby could be blind, deaf and dumb. I was sent for a test, but not given any results.

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on
www.irishexaminer.com/podcasts

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence