7 Nov 2010

Irish babies – Catholic and Protestant – were killed by people with a deranged view of life

Irish Central - August 31, 2009

Irish kids, Catholic and Protestant, were killed in abuse schools

by Eddie Holt

It wasn’t only Catholics who suffered in mother and baby homes. Protestants were abused too. It’s true that after 1891 or so Protestant numbers were in decline. Then they had represented 10 percent of the population of the, by now, Republic. By 1991, they were down to a little more than 3 percent.

Many Protestants “left with the flag” of course. Indeed the steepest decline took place in the 15 years between 1911 and 1926. Their numbers have been in decline, albeit at a slower rate, since. The rump that stayed, belonging mostly to the professional classes, kept their heads down and got on with it.

The last Protestant industrial school closed in Stillorgan, County Dublin in 1917. But a Rathgar, Dublin 6 facility for mostly children of mixed parentage or children born to Protestants, was opened as a mother and baby home. Bethany House has been excluded from the Redress Scheme. It was run by an interdenominational committee from various Protestant Churches. Perhaps nobody wishes responsibility.

It’s absurd that “the Bethany home” was excluded from the Redress Scheme. The notion that Protestants were, on average, wealthier than Catholics and had better-earning jobs was true. Not all but many. But many mixed-religion or even exclusively Protestant – Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Ireland – mothers needed its help.

The Bethany Home opened in 1921 and closed in 1970. Who was on the Board of Trustees until it closed in 1970? Nobody seems ready to give out such information. Why indeed does the State seek to distance itself from its part in such non-Catholic houses like The Bethany Home? If children suffered and died, children suffered and died.

I have a report that shows that the Dublin State not only inspected certain homes but paid mostly for their upkeep. Also, much more shocking: 14 children died between inspections. Strangely, the length of time between inspections is not specified. How much mixed love-making characterized the society?

The Catholic rate for being pregnant outside marriage was just about 3 percent. If a similar percentage of Protestants had babies it would mean something of the order of about 200 babies a year. In 1950, when Protestants amounted to about 5 percent of the population, not everybody had the means to transcend mother and baby homes.

One boy caught up in it was Derek Leinster. He was born to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. He describes conditions in the Bethany Home as “hellish”: “Apart from the appalling lack of care and attention that was shown to the children in the Bethany Home, there were many rumors about even more serious issues.

“These babies and infants would scream uncontrollably because of their wretched condition. They would cry for food and for the basic necessity of human contact. It was said that those who looked after us in the orphanage became so frustrated by the pitiful, hungry cries of the babies and small children there that they resorted to holding a pillow over the baby’s face – until the crying stopped and death had taken over.

“I am unable to prove that this happened of course, but I certainly believe that if an adult human being could allow a defenseless infant to lie in soiled nappies, unwashed and unfed to a point where they were half dead, then it is certainly conceivable to kill them so they no longer had to listen to their cries. Some of the people who were quite closely involved with the Bethany Home at that time firmly believe that this did take place.”

Derek Leinster continued: “The woman in the Church of Ireland Records Collection seemed quite happy to remind me that there was more value put on the muck on the bottom of my mother’s shoes. Those of her family who came into the office at the Bethany Home in 1941 held infinitely more value that was put on me as a person. That is essentially how unimportant we were!

“We children of the Church of Ireland who were adopted and fostered were so unimportant that officially we do not exist.” So, albeit far less in number, Protestants suffered too. It’s clear that the Republic of Ireland, when it entrusted itself to Rome, was likely to regard Protestants with suspicion and as a breed apart.

So, perhaps the legion of abuses – though overwhelmingly Catholic – were non-sectarian. Maybe it was just Christian sectarianism instead of Catholic sectarianism. It really doesn’t matter because children were killed in these places. The Bethany Home in Rathgar, Dublin 6 should be included under the Redress Scheme.

It matters to the perpetrator (or perpetrators) whether a death is considered as murder, manslaughter or misadventure. It should matter less to the victim. There is no doubt that children were killed in Catholic and Protestant mother and baby homes. Individual cases may vary between the seriousness of the charge and it remains almost impossible to level the most serious.

Think of it though: Irish babies – Catholic and Protestant – were killed by people with a deranged view of life. Ireland really needs to start thinking about it.

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