On 25 August 2018, the Pope visited Ireland. He would stay 36 hours and his presence would console some while angering others. The couple of costly days would bring divisions in Irish society roaring to the fore.
I didn’t go to see the Pope in 1979 and I certainly wasn’t going to attend in 2018. Instead, I went to the Garden of Remembrance at 3pm on 26 August. I wanted to be there but as the day drew near, I was decidedly unsettled. I can’t put my finger on it. I wanted to be there and to be counted and yet, I was very shaky. Maybe it was due to the fact that I had never made myself visible as someone born in a Mother and Baby home before. I warned my daughter that I might change my mind.
I did attend and I am happy I attended. It was very special in many unexpected ways. The first thing which struck me was how cross-generational the event was – from teen to pension, we stood side by side. And the second thing was the different groups represented. The sheer number showed how the Roman Catholic Church had splintered Irish society in the adverse effect it had on so many. We stood and remembered them all.
Walking arm in arm, and in overwhelming silence, we made our way to the site of the last Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street. To see so many people in front, beside and behind made it a fitting remembrance day and impacted on all those present. I was annoyed when I bumped into someone who dismissed it all as an anti-Catholic rally because that’s not what this was about. I was there to remember and to be counted. I wasn’t there to rally against any church, let alone one I am not even a member of. I was there as someone born in a Mother and Baby Home and in respect for all those who had passed through similar institutions.
I wrote two posts on Facebook – one before the event:
“Today, my daughter and I will stand with others in the Garden of Remembrance. We will remember my birth mother, Kathleen, and will think about all the women and crib mates that passed through St Patrick’s, Navan Road, Dublin and the other facilities that blighted our beautiful country. We will hope that, some day and in some way, we will reconnect with our families and reverse that decision to sever that precious bond before it ever had a real chance of forming.”
And one after the event:
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt alone. Unconnected. Disconnected. Separate.
Having been adopted, it doesn’t matter how many times people compare you to others they know or assume adoptees are all identical in origins and experience, I was still alone. I don’t think about it on a daily basis but when it rears its head, in reaction to such questions as who do you most resemble or if there is a history of some illness in your family, I feel alone again.
Today, I stood with my daughter and I no longer felt alone. I felt a part of something. And that felt nice.”
I walked back to catch the bus home. I had listened to the speeches and contributions and we’d chatted amongst ourselves. I thought nothing else could impact. Walking down Marlborough Street, I suddenly stopped. All along the railings of the Pro Cathedral hung tiny, baby shoes – representing those small children whose remains were dumped in a septic tank at Tuam. The sight of those shoes took my breath away.