Be The Light
Bessborough, Bali, Bryansk.
Never have I thought about the work we do in our Charity as much as I have this week. People say to me all the time “ You are amazing “, “How do you do it?”, “I couldn’t do what you do, I would have to bring them all home”, “You are so kind, such a big heart”. Interesting, but really it means nothing.
Clodagh Malone, one of the warrior women of the adoption mother and baby groups, complimented me during the week on our work in orphanages. I was quick to tell her that we are no angels and that, in my opinion, not enough people do enough. Without being judgemental, I do mean that. Our world is not a good place for millions of children and we all need to do more to change that. I honestly believe that it is too easy to turn away. There is nothing more annoying than being lectured about what you do or don’t do, but I can put my hands up and say that we all need to work harder, our world needs us to be brave enough, not just to see it, but ‘be brave enough to be it’.
Until a month ago, I was cruising along happily doing what we do. We solve problems daily; we have been on call 24 hours a day for the last 23 years for a large web of children. I am not looking for praise, nor do I want it, but as I am now 20 percent into the Mother and Baby Report with another 1500 pages to go, my head is spinning.
I am no lover of the Church to begin with, but I am doing my absolute best not to be biased as I read. Was it society? Was it the families? Did the church just do what was needed, as there was no one else there to take these “fallen girls” in? So far, as I read, no. That is not the case. My very worst thoughts about the Church did not come close to the truth.
So far, as I read, this is how it is unfolding…
‘The Church’ is like a father who sexually abuses his children. ‘The State’ is like the enabling mother who sees what is going on but says nothing as she needs the father – we have all seen that many times – so she stays and turns her head away. ‘The families’ are like a terrified, undereducated child doing as they are told, or, as the report says, doing as they are shamed into doing from the pulpits in their villages, or in the dark of night when men come to take away a ‘mentally defective”, feebleminded” or “whore” – take your pick. In reality, just a “pregnant girl”.
When I did my TEDx Talk, they asked me to land one message, which was “If you each can do one kind thing when you leave here today, between us all, that is 1500 kind things”. That was my ask.
It was so obvious to me when I began my work in Russia that kindness was a luxury that we could bring with us. Today, I sat with tears streaming down my face as I read about Bessborough, Tuam and all the other shitholes where evil ruled and kindness did not exist, except on shamefully rare occasions.
Think about Bessborough. Think of rows of metal beds, babies bums raw with scabs, starving, barely dressed. They describe freezing nurseries not fit for farm animals. Think about a 7-year-old boy ‘nursed out’ or fostered to some cruel fosterer, who starved and beat him and answered to no one, but then there was no one to answer to. Social workers barely existed. The inspector from the Report, Miss Lister, was overwhelmed I would guess.
Imagine freezing little toes and hands, ragged clothing, stinking underwear. Imagine nuns feeding themselves good meat, tables of vegetables and baked goods, while nursing mothers a few doors down the long corridors, in the same building, had nothing for themselves or their babies. Now imagine if, during this time in 1940, a bunch of magnificent people arrive with full access, as we once did in Russia, arms loaded with gifts and Christmas goodies, some played games, some painted, some played music, some sat in endless fucking meetings for years until the system got changed, it is not easy to change Russian norms. That was us. We stepped into the middle of an orphanage world in Soviet Russia in 1998 and it was just like 1955 in Ireland. We were as stunned as the little ones we met in the dark corridors.
We battled until siblings were reunited, until every child had braces, a toothbrush, no lice, a new quilt, sanitary towels, a new box for old photos of their mother or father, new runners, a net to play basketball, and a wonderful coach to go with their new court. We battled until we had a bus running weekly to find long lost siblings in other orphanages. We stood and we watched little brothers and sisters running to each other. They cried, we cried. We are still reuniting siblings to this day.
Thankfully, we just had to deal with abject poverty, but no abuse other than emotional abuse of children torn from their mothers. We watched closely for it, some child to child abuse, but no evil nuns, just a grinding, slow, huge, underbudgeted State operation. Putin arrived the same year we did.
I never go on about how amazing we are, nor should I. We take the compliments and just get on with it because we are married to it, but the team around me are the kindest people I know. The Russians that we barged in on had nothing themselves, but allowed us into every nook. They allowed us, not only to “see the light” and what it may bring, but were brave enough to allow us to “be the light”. They moved aside and worked alongside us, which could not have been easy, but they knew it was best for the children.
We have an image of Russians as big, cranky-looking, terrifying people. We see the news, we often see them as spies and killers, however the Russians that we know and work with, unlike the bitches in Tuam and other places, allowed us Irish in and allowed us to bring kindness and love. The Russians we know, for 23 years, allowed me access to the Head of the Department of Education on every visit, hundreds of times, to endlessly discuss individual children and one of my strongest traits comes out in a situation like that. I never give in or go away. Relentlessness works for me.
Imagine the Head of the Irish Department of Children or Education in 1920, or even now, allowing foreigners to sit for hours and negotiate, help, partner with and work beside. No chance. Our Irish doors were firmly shut and our politicians did not give a crap about the stories that were unfolding. We had too much to hide and they knew it.
Thank Jesus the Russians allowed us in. Of course, we were all afraid of the new President Putin, with his picture on every wall, but it did not stop any Russian senior servant welcoming us and our efforts. My team of hundreds over the years will verify this welcome, this successful partnership.
We have seen rows of metal cots wedged together. We know what 100 silent babies in a nursery sounds like, we know what a handicapped child with no legs dragging itself across a floor looks like, we know what paupers’ graves look like. We have stood at them and wept as more than one of ours was lowered into it. We have held freezing little hands in the snow with no gloves, we have lived through the years of no toilets, no washing machines, soiled mattresses, no birthday dates, no birthdays, only fruit for Christmas. We know the pain of searches for mothers and grandmothers. We have walked that walk.
Putin has made huge improvements, however, it is still a loveless world and the children still have dark circles of sadness under their eyes, but the care has improved and the children have more than they have ever had, although no donor’s toys can replace the mother who left them and ran, or was coerced to give them up in the maternity house. We are still there as guardians and minders and have brought endless joy and love over the years. You need only ask the children who are now mothers what we did and still do, but again, we do not want praise. We adore what we do and, as I read this Report, I am so extremely glad that we intervened and still, to this day, surprised and grateful to the Russians for allowing it.
As BBC war journalist, Kate Adi writes in her book, the people in Russia were brainwashed into thinking the State would be better to raise their babies. This was the big mistake, however, when children live in small confines with drunks or abusers, sometimes they must be removed. In Russia, this was the problem after Perestroika as so many hit the bottle, adults were left to rot, they could not care for their children who were placed in orphanages, but times are changing now, slowly, but still changing. Putin is demanding better parenting and better care for those in care and when the Boss makes demands, it happens, trust me!
We oddly have had an opportunity to work in a time warp. When we stepped into Russia, we did not know that we had, in a way, stepped into Tuam, Bessborough, Artane or Letterfrack, without the religious staff and abuse, just little broken hearts longing for their mothers, not all little, some were bigger than us and chronically institutionalised, terrifying.
So, as Joe Duffy has the Irish nation weeping with old broken men and women who were abused, beaten, starved and fostered out to bastards, as Ray Darcy talks to someone like Richard Mulligan, whose pregnant single mother was dragged from her little Connemara cottage by the local priest, guard and doctor because of the shame she would bring on the family, To Children With Love have been the ones to take many single mothers and make their life bearable. We have rescued so many over the years and kept their babies with them, it is uncountable at this stage.
The Irish men who impregnated the girls are another story. That part of the Report is most interesting. In the Netherlands, around the same time, one third of fathers came forward and took responsibility. In Ireland, almost none did. Inheritance was in the mix here also, getting that farm and being shame-free. They got away scot-free, while the girl and her family were shamed for life. Again, male domination and female abuse, a core value of the Catholic Church and the State it seemed. We need just look at the Kerry Baby case to see that in action. Look at Joanna Hayes’s story, again, it is beyond shocking and no nuns there, just State.
I have seen mothers in Russia hand over their babies sobbing, I have seen Americans and others whoosh in, adopt them and change their names, but not in the movie, Philomena, not in 1950. I have stood and watched this in the last ten years of my life. More than 75,000 children went to the States from Russia alone, monies changed hands many times, to organisers, translators etc., many children were ‘rescued’, but in reality, if they could have had a Mama and Papa in their own country, life may have worked out, if only the right supports had been there.
Micheal Martin is a good person. He is kind and genuine, but he did not do his job last week. He was waxing lyrical on the Brendan O’Connor show yesterday. He is right when he says there was a warped sense of thinking regarding sexuality back in the day, however, women like Catherine Connolly, Noelle Brown, Colleen Anderson, Mary McGovern and Miriam Moriarty Owens bravely told Ireland that the Report was a lie, a whitewash. They told Claire Byrne, they told Tubridy and they told 10,000 people over my DDPK vlog in my kitchen. Transcripts were changed, not shortened, but literally changed and evidence was rewritten by the Commission, according to these amazing, brave women. The Commission refuse to answer their queries, 20-odd million euros later.
Micheal Martin’s apology was too soon and did not come with enough real medicine or a plan, even though they have had years to think it through. Politicians are great with words, but Miriam Moriarty Owens, a survivor, tells us that she was promised a medical card in 2002 and 21 years later, she still does not have it. 21 years later. I wonder if any civil servants are still looking for a pay rise after 21 years? I doubt it. Caranua turned Miriam away when she put on her best coat and took the train to Dublin to meet them to discuss it. Turned her away after a childhood in an industrial home with her siblings where she endured horrendous abuse at the hands of the State. Turned her away from a place set up to look after survivors.
I cannot believe the similarities in parts of the Report to our own project in Russia. I am not worried about saying it, as Putin respects our work and he knows how much I respect the Russians that we work with. I will type nothing that I would not say to him if I were with him. We work in industrial schools per se, where sexual abuse, like the Report says, is rare, but emotional abuse is rife with children torn from their parents and no visitation structure, the attachment wounds are nearly impossible to heal, unless you can find an organisation like ours that dedicates its entire live to that healing process. It goes way, way beyond a few sessions with a therapist, even if we could find one.
Putin inherited 850,000 orphans when he came into power. I have zero interest in whether he is an angel or the opposite, my only interest is in those children and our access to them. If I worried about the ethics of Governments, I would have to emigrate to New Zealand. Bertie, Micheal, Jack Lynch, De Valera, etc., all stood over evil and turned a blind eye, as they closed doors, locked children in, called their mothers “mentally deficient”, “prostitutes”, “feebleminded” and “whores”. Each one of them should hang their heads in shame. The TDs are equally to blame and do not even get me started about the survivors, two months ago, having to beg not to have their files sealed. Any politician who voted for that is not fit for purpose, particularly the female TDs.
After World War II, the Danes opened an island for “slightly imbecilic, erotic girls”. They were confined to this island and sterilized, as the Report says, with some, I am sure, there because they refused to give some local judge or priest a blowjob and some who may have simply been difficult teens. At the same time in Switzerland, according to the Report, compulsory sterilizations were carried out based on agreements between local authorities and doctors, on “unmarried”, “maladjusted” or “sexually promiscuous, feebleminded girls”. So, it was not just in Ireland, but women were being abused everywhere. A version of Margaret Atwood’s fictional dark story of Gilead was alive and well in our world and supported from the top of the Church down.
These children in Denmark, Switzerland, Russia and Ireland all had many common denominators, as we know well in our organisation – no visitors, no mother’s care, no love, no birthday dates, scabies, lice, poor education, shamed mothers, wet mattresses, daily punishments, mothers tortured and torn from their babies, living in fear of men, the Church and the shame brought on their own families perpetrated from the altar.
I only know now of the shock and horror of Bessborough, Tuam, the Denny House asylum, country homes, as they called places that took over from workhouses in the Report. Society threw them in there, out of shame and fear of the screams from the pulpit in front of all the neighbours, while the pulpiteers were shamefully impregnating and abusing many themselves. Look at Michael Cleary and Eamonn Casey, there were thousands more I am sure.
I was on holiday ten years ago in Thailand and, bored at the pool, I found a local orphanage, a huge place. It was run by nuns with rooms of babies, talk of “prostitute” mothers and that smell of fear. It was like Ireland thirty years earlier. It was my first time to see a nun-run institution, as there are no religious staff in Russian orphanages, only State staff. I have since seen many places in Vietnam, Romania, etc., in fact, I do not know of any others who have spent so many hours in the past two decades in the orphanage world.
My daughter, Sophie, was on her travels post-college some years back when we got a call from her one night from Bali. She told us she was leaving a nun-run place where she was working because she had just watched a religious teacher beat a small boy to a pulp. She wanted us to know she could not stay, as she had complained to the nun, who said it was none of her business. The little boy was 9 years old. The teacher had just about broken his nose. Sophie and her Irish friend moved on to a small orphanage village in the mountain tops where everything was better, kinder and more humane. There were no nuns. She went on to work in Russia for a year and she adored it. She is still friends with many of the children and continues to travel with me to visit them from time to time.
We were so lucky. We arrived at a dark, dilapidated orphanage in minus 30-degree weather, no toilets, no heating, urine-soaked mattresses, no bulbs, at night, long dark freezing corridors, no hugs or kisses, no love, but we were allowed to stay. We were allowed to investigate, to doctor, to nurse, to care and to train. We were the answer that Bessborough and Daingean needed, but no one came to them, no one cared enough and no one was allowed in. No one saw the lice, the scabies, the rotten teeth, the dark circles under their eyes, the bruises. No one heard their cries. The fact that they fed non tuberculin milk to new-borns was par for the course and one reason why so many babies died, so says the Report. We heard the cries in 1998, in Russia, and we took off our coats and stayed, but we were too late for the Tuam babies or the Letterfrack little boys. We were just seven decades too late to help our own.
The Russians allowed us full access and to this day we still have it, we are still there, for this, I am eternally grateful.
If only the toxic Church had allowed kindness through those doors, but those bitches had no idea what kindness was. They only knew evil and they locked themselves in with those innocent victims. An article in today’s newspaper suggests that the nuns themselves were victims of abuse with sexless, miserable lives and should not be blamed. I do not agree. The children were their cash cows. It was a contemptible circle, where the priests shamed pregnant girls from the altars, they took the girls away, locked them up with the worst jailers imaginable, who abused and tortured them through to childbirth, took those very babies, sold them and made millions from them. Was it about shame, really? These bastards clearly did not care what their God thought. Or was it only ever about the money? The priests created the shame to fuel the business. These people believed in no God.
So much in the Report is rattling me. I attended a conference in Russia 15 years ago to address the orphan problem. I was with child psychotherapist, Joanna Fortune. On one particular day, they were discussing how to train maternity house staff NOT to separate single mothers from their babies and Joanna was discussing the need for refuges for domestic violence cases. We both spoke that day about the Irish experience, but little did we know the true Irish story, instead we discussed having no orphanages in our country. We both received gifts, mine was crystal, Joanna got a kettle. If they knew Joanna, they may not have been brave enough to hand her a kettle, but we accepted with grace, as it was a time warp. Communism held them back so much that, at that point, they were only beginning to catch up.
We brought in foster experts from Ireland, as our children were being taken by highly unsuitable men in the early fostering days in Russia to do all their farm work, to freeze in sheds and be beaten regularly. I read in the Irish Report that these exact events also happened in Ireland. History repeating itself, sadly, only decades later. The Report talks of children all over Ireland in rags being starved and beaten whilst in foster care. A 4-year-old little girl was being beaten by her foster mother when the inspector arrived. The child was being punished for cutting her finger. Of course, there were also good fosterers and these were mentioned too.
According to the Report, the girls screamed as they laboured in rooms with no staff, their babies ripped from their young arms, vaginas cut with no anaesthetics, abuse spat at then as they gave birth, forms shoved under their noses to sign while they were traumatised and exhausted. Some were sent out to buy an outfit to give their baby away in. Does it get any worse than that? The Report concludes that most adoptions were not forced. I strongly disagree.
These survivors deserve a pension, as our Trisha McGrath says, for life, an ‘apology’ pension. They need healing days in a safe environment; no politicians there, no religious allowed to attend, as both were their jailers. If Jews had a day of memories, would they want the Nazis there? I doubt it. Plant acres of wild flowers in parks where we can walk and think about them. Remove the bonging Angelus from our living rooms until the Church pays the millions owed from earlier Reports and compensation. When paid, let them bong away.
The Bon Secours nuns were forced to apologise last week, but it did take force as well as shame and 900 little bones in a septic tank. Apology my ass, it is too late, too empty. Just pay your bloody long owed debts. There were 9000 dead babies from a sample set of 18 homes and we had about 300 homes, so do the sums. We are surely looking at our own Holocaust.
The survivors are getting older now, but before any more time passes, they need to feel our support and love. We need an annual Day for this, it is more important than Christmas Day. If Jesus were to choose between his birthday being celebrated or a day to honour these children and their mothers, which would he choose? I think I know.
The Church and Vatican have no place here right now, as they still owe the survivors millions in compensation from the first Reports in 2000 for “gross abuse”, as per the Ryan Report, Murphy Report, etc. Our repeated Governments have allowed them to walk away without paying their debts. I do not know why, as the Vatican is one of the richest organisations in the world. Can anyone answer this? Can anyone tell me how someone can continue to listen to men on a Catholic altar, who still believe that men are better than women, having read the details in this Report?
How do we roll out a red carpet for a Pope or allow Bishops to strut around in silks when they owe compensation to these broken Irish people? And not a peep from Rome, the Head of their Church, not a peep. In a word, ‘disgusting’. In a phrase, ‘not fit for purpose’.
Do not turn away from it. It is our history. Our children need to see this in a museum and their school books so that it never happens again. We need to look at it, as Amanda Gordon said this week, and not just see the light, but we need to “be the light”.
We are simply not doing enough. We need far more kindness, not just donations to Tubridy’s Late Late Show fundraisers. There is more to this, sign petitions, march, whatever it takes. These survivors need us all behind them.
Thank you to everyone who has been on our journey with us to this day, both Russian and Irish. We intervened, we saw, we acted, we were allowed full access, we solve problems daily, we mend hearts and we are honoured to be allowed to do so.
If only the bastards who ran the hundreds of Homes in Ireland had allowed the same, we would not be weeping all week when we turn on the radio or every time I turn over another page of this Report. I have another 1500 pages to read and that is not including the 1200 pages that were chopped out mysteriously in the past three months that no one has explained yet, as it seems that the Commission do not feel like replying to questions.
We need to do more for these people, and we need to do it right now. It is just not good enough. Irish friends and colleagues, please read this report. I hope you feel as ashamed as I do, because I know these people are just not getting the justice they deserve. Nothing can give them back their childhoods, but we can do more than we are doing right now.
“There is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.