Mutton Island at dawn

Mutton Island at dawn

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hey, Enda - is it really such a long way to Tuam?

A beautiful ceremony of rememberance to honour the Tuam Babies
was held in Salthill, Co Galway, last night. 
I met an extraordinary man last night, only he doesn’t really believe he’s so extraordinary.

In recent months, he has found a voice he never realised he had. Now in his 60s, he has learned how to tell his story and speak out against injustice.

He spent much of his childhood in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, a place which is now notorious all over the world.

It took him an awful long time to learn to love and take care of himself.

It’s not easy to care about yourself when you are told you are inferior to others.

When you walk to school in hobnail boots and you are forced to sit apart from the rest of the class.

When you are beaten for the most minor transgressions, not given enough food, and branded with labels like “home baby” and, worse, “illegitimate”, because your mother committed a terrible crime just by bringing you into the world.

It didn't even matter if your mother was raped, or terrified to reveal the identity of the father. That's just the way it was in those days.

It’s not easy to let go of that kind of baggage, especially when you live in a rural community.

Oh, look, there’s your man, the “home baby”. The one who was adopted because his mother, shockingly, never got married, or the one who arrived late and didn’t smell too good at school.

It’s the kind of baggage you carry with you well into adulthood, if you ever manage to shake it off at all.

Like when you go to the dance and the girl who was so friendly last week never wants to look your way or speak to you again. She’s heard the rumours or been warned off, you’ve been branded.

There's no way in the wide world you would ever be allowed darken the door of her family home.

Or when you go to the pub and you realise that nobody else there tonight has been classed as “illegitimate”. You might just feel like drowning your sorrows or, worse, finding a way of permanently ending the pain.

As many did, but we will never know, because the true level of suicide was another thing the Irish State was very good at covering up in those dark days.

He told me what it was like to feel inferior in a rural community in North Galway, to feel that he was not worthy of finding a wife because society had told him all through his youth that he didn't deserve to be loved like everyone else.
Historian Catherine Corless: her tireless research on behalf of
the Tuam Babies has allowed survivors to find their voice

And, yet, in recent months his life has changed.

He has begun to find his voice. The global headlines generated by the “Tuam Babies” scandal have allowed him to talk about his sense of injustice and even do media interviews for the first time.

He wants justice for the 796 and he wants people to listen. He’s full of praise for Catherine Corless, the local historian who first told the world the truth about what happened in that terrible home.

By making it clear that the truth about the "Tuam Babies" was worth fighting for, she made him see the value in his own life.

He says he’s one of the lucky ones, because eventually he was shipped out to a lovely foster home.

His childhood was not all bad, although he can’t say the same for many of his old friends and contemporaries.

In Tuam, he has helped to set up and organize a support group for survivors. They find great comfort from meeting up and talking and healing, and he’s found that he of all people has the gift of being able to express their pain.

He doesn’t want much, he says. Just some recognition that a terrible wrong was done to him and the other children in homes around the country, in the name of the Irish State.

It would help if those in authority would reply to his letters or answer their phones.

For months, since the start of the year, he’s been trying to get the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to come and visit his little group of survivors down in Tuam.

It wouldn’t be a huge burden on the Taoiseach, the Irish Prime Minister, to take a little detour from the road to Castlebar on his way home some weekend.

Just to sit with the survivors and to hear their stories, the stories they were afraid to tell for most of their adult lives.

But when he rings the phone goes dead. Or a faceless official makes a non-committal promise that he or she will get back in touch. But never does.

He knows the abuse, the denigration, the labelling didn’t happen on the current Taoiseach’s watch, but it was done to him and his friends with the collusion of the Irish State.

It wiped out his self-esteem, to the extent that he could not hold his head high in the local pub, and he just wants to sit in a room with a few other survivors and tell the Taoiseach what that was like.

How he didn’t kill himself or drown himself in drink.

He wants some acknowledgment of the pain that he and others went through and the huge transformation he had to go through to be able to stand and talk to a reporter in a Galway park on a Sunday evening.

His friend had a little sister he never knew about, who may or may not have been buried in a septic tank. He’d love the Taoiseach to come to Tuam and just listen to their honest words.

They are not going to be able to turn back time, but it might help the healing process if the most powerful people in the land sat and listened and acknowledged the hurt caused.

He watched a new scandal erupt in Dublin last week, involving nuns who have been awarded a national hospital despite their refusal to pay adequate compensation to the victims of childhood abuse.
A beautiful ceremony to remember the 'Tuam Babies' took
place at the Circle of Life, Salthill, last night. 

He watched the Taoiseach visit the White House last month and give a wonderful lecture about immigration to US President Donald Trump.

And wondered how he could make his way across the Atlantic to Washington, but not sit in his car and take a short trip down to Tuam.

After more than half a century of pain and needless shame, is that asking too much?

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook

Read my earlier blog about Catherine Corless, The Quiet Determination of a Modern Irish Hero,

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

The tireless determination of a modern Irish hero

Sometimes the darkest story has to be brought to light, no matter how sad or distressing that story might be or how uncomfortable it makes people feel afterwards.

When I visited Cambodia almost 15 years ago, I took in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum near the centre of Phnom Penh. This nondescript secondary school, in the middle of the city, was transformed into a grotesque concentration camp in the 1970s and as I walked around it my eyes filled with tears.

My Galway friend and I toured the museum at the same time as a distressed Cambodian couple from a provincial town, who were visiting the capital for the first time.
No visitor ever forgets the murdered
children of Tuol Sleng in Cambodia

Overwhelmed by all the photos of the former inmates, virtually all of whom had terror in their eyes, we hugged each other movingly at the exit gates.

We spoke no Khmer, they spoke little English, but our common humanity meant there was no need for words.

Most of the inmates were children and there were hundreds of distressing photos of them, staring at their interrogators in terror, dotted around the museum.

How, we wondered, could human beings inflict such suffering on fellow human beings?

A few hours later, we stood in the middle of the Cheung Ek Killing Fields, a few miles outside the capital. It was here that the murderous Pol Pot regime killed so many of their own people between 1975 and 1979.

Many of them had been transferred to Cheung Ek from Tuol Sleng, where they were killed by a strike to the head. Mass graves containing almost 9,000 bodies were discovered there following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.

We were told they were beaten across the head with sticks before being thrown into the graves, because bullets were too precious or expensive to be wasted on the peasants of Cambodia.

As we stood there in silence, my friend said the whole place felt eerily familiar. The lack of birdsong, the complete and utter silence of the place, reminded him of Auschwitz, a place he had visited the previous year.

We learned a life-long lesson that day, about the cheap price that can be put on a human life by those in positions of power.

As a journalist, I wondered about the first reporters to visit Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. How important it was to tell the story of a regime which began to treat its own people as less than human. It was a distressing story, but it needed to be told.

Little did either of us imagine that a decade and a half later we would find out about ‘killing fields’ of our own, less than an hour north of our home city.

Catherine Corless: a quiet but brave modern Irish hero
It might seem crass to compare the killing fields of Cambodia to the 796 babies who are now believed to have been buried in mass graves in Tuam, but in both cases it was so important to shine a light on the darkness and to remind ourselves of man’s inhumanity to man.

It’s so important to tell the truth, especially when barriers are put in your way or people wish you would just go away.

Which is why I think Catherine Corless is a national treasure. If it wasn’t for Catherine we would never have heard of the “Tuam Babies” and if she’d accepted the barriers placed in her way their story would never have been told.

When she tried to find out how many babies died at the Mother and Baby Home, she was ridiculed by people in authority for not being a “real” historian.

Even last week, after her worst fears had been confirmed by the Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes, Catherine was still facing flak from detractors who refused to face the facts uncovered by her investigations.

Take Bill Donohue of the conservative Catholic League in the United States, who earns a salary in excess of €400,000 per year. Instead of thanking Catherine for shining a light on a dark period in Ireland’s history, he slammed the Galway woman last week.

“Contrary to what virtually all news reports have said, Corless is not a historian,” he said. “She not only does not have a Ph.D. in history, she doesn't have an undergraduate degree. She is a typist . . .

“This does not mean she is dumb – many secretaries are brighter than the professors they serve. Nor does this disqualify her from making a contribution to historical events. But she is no historian.”

Tuol Sleng: where an ordinary secondary school
was converted into a concentration camp
Catherine Corless faced the same type of prejudice in her long quest to find out the truth of what happened to the Tuam babies.

She had attended school with children from the Mother and Baby Home and, even as a youngster, was appalled by how badly the children were treated by society in general.

They were “illegitimate”, deprived and forced to sit apart from the other pupils in Tuam. They weren’t worthy of consideration as human beings.

Her interest in the site rose when she heard the story of how two young boys came upon what appeared to be a mass grave while playing on waste ground in the 1970s.

She knew the site had been used as a Mother and Baby Home from 1925 to 1961 and when she began her research six years ago all she wanted to discover was how many babies had died there during that period.

Catherine imagined that ten or maybe 20 babies had lost their lives at the home, never imagining that the true figure was almost 800.

But she came across so many barriers in her quest for the truth. When she approached the Bon Secours order, who operated the home, they diverted her to a communications agency who did anything but communicate.

They gave Catherine a swift, terse reply, indicating they had no records from all their years of running the Tuam home.

She described the response of the Bon Secours, even after she was vindicated last month, as “callous and cold”.

Catherine Corless has built a replica of the infamous
Tuam Home in her living room outside the town

When she approached Galway County Council, they wanted nothing to do with Catherine or the local committee who wanted to erect a plaque to commemorate the dead babies.

“I know Galway County Council tried to put a halt to every effort that we made. The first hurdle to overcome was when we formed a committee. This was before I had any idea of the extent of the hardship the mothers and children went through. I simply wanted to put up a plaque, to name the children, with Theresa Kelly,” she told me recently.

“We had to approach Galway County Council because they own the land, the housing estate, there. They weren’t forthcoming at all. They said no, you can’t be doing that. They didn’t want the plaque. They came up with every excuse as far as I was concerned."

In Tuam, local business people expressed hostility to Catherine’s research. They didn’t want to delve into the home’s murky past or to acknowledge that Ireland had a terrible history in terms of how it treated its most vulnerable children. They wished Catherine would go away.

Only for one sympathetic woman in the Births, Marriages and Deaths office in Galway, Catherine Corless might never have discovered the true number of “Tuam Babies” or opened up a much-needed national debate about how badly Ireland treated its own children.

Catherine refused to accept the doors which were slammed in her face or the repeated assertion by people within the Catholic Church that the past was a different country and should be left untouched.

That attitude extends to the difficulties survivors of institutional abuse have experienced in seeking adequate compensation.

Catherine has been overwhelmed by the correspondece
from survivors of institutions across Ireland
In recent months, Catherine has met so many survivors who tell her that, at last, she has given them a voice after so many years of feeling that they were second class citizens because they were “illegitimate” and had grown up as “home babies”.

People claimed she wasn’t a “real” historian, even though no “real” historian has done anything to approach Catherine’s tireless work in exposing Ireland’s darkest secrets from the past century.

“My argument was that it was not that long ago, that the survivors are still around, and that it’s still the same Church and State. The survivors are still very much alive so you can’t say it’s in the past, they are all around us, they are hurting and we have to do something for them,” she said recently.

Catherine told me things which seem incredible to modern ears, such as getting pregnant for a second time being described as a “second offence” for young mothers who were separated from their children and bundled into Magdalene Laundries across the land.

All she cared about was finding truth and justice for the dead babies and their families, despite the indifference or downright hostility of the authorities.

“The whole sadness of Tuam is in the way they used a former sewage area as a burial vault. It seemed to be just the final insult to the poor little children,” she said.

“I felt more angry than emotional. Throughout my life I have seen injustice all around me. I’m very, very empathetic towards people who haven’t a say. I feel anger at the Church for trying to dismiss what we were trying to say.

“ It was mainly the upper class people in Tuam who didn’t want us doing what we were doing. Some shop-keepers and businessmen felt we were putting a blight on Tuam. How can you portray Tuam in all its glory when all that horror is there?”

Of course, Catherine’s story was not just about Tuam. It’s about a country in which a lethal cocktail of poverty and religious dogma meant that some people could be seen as less than human  and locked up in prisons for the “crime” of having a baby outside marriage.

Remembering the women who were locked up in the
Magdalene Laundries in Galway last month

As blogger Izzy Kamikaze put it so succinctly in her blog three years ago, Church, State, communities and families all played their part in the massive tragedy of Ireland’s institutional past.

They young mothers who were imprisoned from the 1920s to the 1960s would not have been incarcerated without the complicity of their families and their communities.

“When all the secrets are told, nobody is going to come out of it smelling of roses. It is very sad that we seem to be more interested in how these children were buried than in their miserable lives, or the pain still being experienced by the bereaved mothers and the adopted children severed from their histories,” she wrote.

And if Catherine Corless had not persevered with her research in the face of hostility and derision, we might never have known about the 796 Tuam babies and their unmarked graves.

Or opened up a debate about how appallingly the Irish nation treated its most vulnerable children.

And that’s why Catherine is a modern Irish hero.

* A short vigil of remembrance for all the babies who died in institutions across Ireland will take place at the Circle of Life garden in Salthill, Galway, on Sunday, April 23 (7pm). It's being run by First Light, who used to be known as the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association. There will be music, poetry, and song All are welcome. 

A previous blog about a dignified ceremony in Galway to remember the Magdalene Laundry women:

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Joyous faces in the Galway rain

So what does it mean to be Irish?

And what’s the best way to celebrate on our national holiday?        

Awaiting the parade in the Galway wind and rain

Those questions hit me on a strange St Patrick’s Day this year, when I took in my city’s rain-swept parade, attended the funeral of an old friend’s sister, and somehow managed to survive a night as possibly the only sober person in a crowded Galway pub.

Is the best way to celebrate being Irish to get absolutely hammered, as so many did on our national holiday?

Friends in the service industries tell me they hate to work on this particular day.

The stereotype of the "drunken Irish" has become such a cliche that Amazon even tried to sell an offensive green 'Drunk Lives Matter' t-shirt this year.

In one fell swoop, they managed to insult the entire Irish race and the black people in the United States who have genuine grievances with the racist elements of their country's police.

I've long since given up on hard drinking on March 17, as it can be alarming to walk through Galway city centre in the evening and to see so many drunken "zombies" milling about the place.

And, normally, I'd give the parade a miss if the weather was foul.

But this year there were lessons to be learned from the way thousands of people made the most of atrocious conditions to celebrate our national holiday.

To be honest, like many people, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my native land. For most of my adult life, I have fantasised about leaving the cold and wet island behind in order to live in a place with a warmer, more welcoming climate.

As a young man in London in the late 1980s, I revelled the experience of leaving the confines and constraints of home behind. London offered freedom, wildness, and a multi-cultural environment which seemed alien compared to the confines of ‘Catholic’ Ireland.

Try telling people now that it was impossible to buy a condom or to get a divorce in the Ireland of my youth. That repressive country felt like a different planet from the one that voted for Marriage Equality in May 2015.

A view of the parade
by Turlough Moore
I experienced long breaks in places like Australia, Egypt, Spain and Thailand, and loved the experience of holidaying or scuba diving in hot climates.

I fantasised so much about moving to hot countries, I almost wished my life away.

If you decide in November that you are going to hate the next five months of your life then - guess what! - that invariably becomes your truth.

You don't make any room for joy on a winter's afternoon down by the Salthill prom.

Wanderlust, of course, is part of who we are. I have friends from Galway who are scattered all over the world.

They have made new lives in the US, UK, Australia, Norway, and Thailand, because they never saw their futures back home on the wet and windy rock.

In 2010, during a gap year, I lived out my ‘Bucket List’. A full year away from Ireland brought me unbrldled joy, the chance to live and work in Thailand and Nicaragua, and left me with a real sense of doom and gloom upon my return.

So I have to admit I had one of those dark days of the soul when I opened the curtains on Friday morning. I cursed the dark, grey sky and found myself wishing I hadn’t agreed to cover the Galway St Patrick’s Day Parade for a national newspaper.

It was with dread that I made my way to Eyre Square, wishing I could just close the curtains, put on a fire, and spend the day at home. But work is work, especially for a freelancer!

And there was a valuable lesson to be learned.

All around me were smiling people, making the most of the driving wind and miserable rain. Tourists and locals alike were determined to enjoy themselves, even though the rational side of any human being would say it was no day for an outdoor parade.

It was amazing to see such good humour among the 1,000 poor participants who were soaked to the skin as they approached the end of the parade route.

I didn’t see a single person cry or complain, although a politician joked to me that the Town Crier “must be crying now” with the kind irreverence and good humour us Irish can take for granted at times.

Could you imagine a British MP joking with an English journalist with such informal ‘craic’ in his voice as he sat outside in the cold and rain?

Given our country’s terrible relationship with alcohol – and how downright messy St Patrick’s Night can become – it felt so fitting to me that a young man who has battled alcoholism and addiction was the guest of honour at the Galway parade.

The weather was simply awful, but it was great for me to meet Gavan Hennigan for the first time.

This young man from Knocknacarra rowed solo across the Atlantic earlier this year and showed plenty of good humour as he surveyed the one hour parade from the viewing stand.

“If you can put up with conditions like this, that’s the best training you can get!” joked the extreme athlete in the relentless rain.

“The conditions are pretty tough. It’s as bad as it is out in the middle of the Atlantic, nearly. I think it’s incredible that so many people came out to enjoy the parade today, given the conditions.”

Gavan has been overwhelmed by the welcome he has received in his native Galway since completing his solo row.

What a role model he has become for the children of his native city. Gavan hit rock bottom in his late teens and early 20s, but he has shown us all what can be done with determination and the will to turn his life around.

“I was kind of worried that a lot of people wouldn’t know who I was, but a lot of kids were shouting out my name as I made my way through the city today. Overall, the reception has just been incredible since I got back,” he said.

Following Gavan at the head of the parade were the Galway 2020 activists who secured European Capital of Culture status for the city and the Let’s Get Galway Growing network, whose community-based projects played a key role in securing the prestigious Green Leaf 2017 designation.

There's no rain like Galway rain .... !
The awful weather failed to dampen the spirits of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, the oldest military company in the United States and one of three visiting groups from overseas.

Some of the more colourful floats were provided by representatives of the city’s ethnic communities, including a fantastic red and yellow dragon from the Irish Chinese Society.

The Galway Traveller Movement celebrated their recent designation as a minority ethnic group, while That’s Life Gamelan Players highlighted the wonders of performance theatre for people with special needs.

The most magical moment of the day came when a young man with special needs brought a giant love heart up to the politicians in the viewing platform, and then decided not to share his love with them.

That simple, wild, irreverent gesture prompted a huge ironic cheer.

Representatives of the city’s Filipino, Polish, South African, and Indian communities underlined just how multicultural my city has become, and every one of them seemed to be genuinely thrilled to be representing their communities in the driving rain and near gale-force winds.

I was amazed by the salsa dancers. They revelled in showing off their slick dance moves on the street in conditions which must have been totally off-putting for most of them. And they went through their dance moves with huge, beaming smiles.

There was a special round of applause for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, who marched behind a banner which proclaimed ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’.

“I haven’t seen the parade in years, because I’ve been away gallivanting on adventures, but the first thing that jumped out at me today was the diversity of the communities here in Galway. It’s great to see it,” Gavan told me afterwards.

It was a relief when the parade ended, I have to admit, and a joy to get home to put on a hot drink and change my clothes.

But it was still so uplifting to see the joy on so many faces on a horrible day in my native Galway, the kind of day which would normally make me fantasise about moving to sunnier climes.

The drunken steretype: one of the more offensive t-shirts
on sale in the USA to mark St Patrick's Day
Each and every one of the 1,000 participants in the parade, and the thousands watching them pass by, taught me a lesson about acceptance.

You can wish your life away, dreaming of beaches and sunnier climes, or you can leave the house with a smile on your face and celebrate the joy each new day can bring.

Attitude is so important and the people in Galway city centre on Friday could teach a cynic a thing or two about making the most of life in horrible conditions.

And that’s how I will remember a joyful St Patrick’s Day, 2017.

The true spirit of the Irish is in the beaming faces who embraced a  communal event despite in the rain, not in the scenes of drunkenness in the crowded pubs hours after the parade had ended.


Earlier blog post: Banned from the land that made us refugees ....

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Remembering the 'Maggies'

It is hard for people of my generation, or those younger than us, to imagine the terrible stigma which was attached to single motherhood in 20th century Ireland.

A beautiful ceremony in Bohermore yesterd
It’s only now we are waking up to what a terrible institution the Roman Catholic Church was and the awful, disgusting, inhumane ways in which some religious orders and individuals treated some of the most vulnerable members in our society.

There was no joy, no sense of fun or adventure, in post-colonisation Ireland. Beautiful people were locked up for decades because the most natural thing imaginable, having sex, was turned into a dirty, rotten crime.

The children of single mothers were branded as “illegitimate” and “bastards”, leading to the kind of terrible attitudes which allowed 796 of them to be buried in a septic tank in a so-called ‘mother and baby’ home in Tuam.

They were seen as less than human, the devil’s spawn, and harsh treatment of them was seen as the norm.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, during my University days, I had quite a few friends who were single mums. I don’t think I – or even they – realised what amazing ground-breakers they were in terms of social change in Ireland. Had they been born a decade earlier, they might have been incarcerated for life by nuns.

How guilty were Irish families – and all of Irish society in general – for allowing young women to be stolen from them, locked up for life while their children somehow ‘disappeared’?

Well, we remembered those women in Galway yesterday.

How strangely appropriate – and deeply poignant – that an event had been organized to honour the women of the Magdalen Laundry in Galway yesterday of all Sundays.

The event took on a whole new significance following the shock revelations about the discovery of the bodies of 796 babies in a decommissioned septic tank less than an hour up the road, in Tuam.

About 100 people took part in the moving ceremony in which the names of each of the women buried in Bohermore Cemetery were called out before flowers were placed on their shared graves.

The Flowers for Magdalenes event was planned weeks in advance to give a dignity in death which had been denied in life to the Galway women who had been imprisoned in the city centre laundry.

Until the closure of the laundry in 1984, ‘fallen’ women who became pregnant outside marriage were locked up and forced to work in the premises in the heart of Galway City.

The Magdalen Asylum, as it was known, was run by the Sisters of Mercy from 1845 until its closure. There were 41 such institutions across Ireland in the late 1800s.

Placing flowers on the shared graves of the Magdalene women
Women who became pregnant outside marriage were taken away from their families and placed in the laundries, along with their “illegitimate” children.

They were separated from the children, many of whom were moved to another institution across the city, called St Anne’s. If they were not given up for adoption, they were allowed to see their children once a year.

The inmates, known as ‘Maggies’, had to wear ‘penitence caps’, large boots, and heavy skirts down to their ankles. They worked in the laundry and slept in dormitories. They were never allowed out of the Forster Street premises.

The last resident died in the laundry in 1995, just one year prior to its closure, and Sunday’s remembrance ceremony was attended by women and adult children who had been confined to the home.

It was really moving to hear graveside testimonials from a former Magdalene Laundry resident, a woman who worked there as a teenager, and a man who had been sent there with his single mother.

The sixth annual 'Flowers for Magdalenes' event
took place at a Galway graveyard yesterday

One 70-year old lady, who left a comment on my Facebook page, summed up the heartbreak we experienced as we listened to the stories being shared by former residents and their adult children.

“I cried today for those women. I thought about the time after your baby is born,” wrote Mary Lyons.

“I thought about how you wanted to be treated as the most precious woman in the world as you had carried and produced this other little human being.

“You wanted warm baths, comfortable clothes, plenty of sanitary stuff and loads of praise.

“But not in the Magdalene Laundry. No, you had to swelter in the heat of a laundry where you washed and ironed the clothes of the rich and the linen from the local hotels.

“Why? Because the Catholic Church had such a hold on everyone, they fostered the idea that sex outside marriage was worse than if you committed murder.”

As Mary pointed out, there was a huge irony in young women being locked up and made to feel guilty by religious people who participated in, or covered up, the terrible abuse of Irish children.

Yesterday, former resident Peter Mulryan broke down in tears as he recalled his difficult childhood in a home and how he used to look up at the stars and dream of another life as a youngster.                                                          

Mr Mulryan has taken a High Court action in order to obtain information about a baby sister he never knew from Tusla, the Irish child and family agency.

"It's an insult the way these women are buried in on top of each other,” he said, as he surveyed the shared graves at Bohermore.

Mr Mulryan said he had never been able to trace his little sister. For years, he didn’t know if she had been buried in the mass grave in Tuam, as he believed she had been confined there, or whether she had managed to escape and make a new life in the United States. 

He has since found out the truth.

“My sister was buried in that so-called grave, that septic tank, in Tuam," he said. “She was only nine months old."

He was given a huge round of applause for his bravery, as was a former Magdalene Laundry resident who described how harsh life was for the women in the Galway facility.

“I knew many of these women here,” she said, with tears in her eyes, looking out over the graves.                                                                            
It was the biggest attendance yet at this annual event

Another lady, who worked there as a 13-year old, said she wanted to re-assure family members present that the lay staff who worked there – apart from the nuns – had treated the women well.

Flowers were laid on each of the graves and afterwards poet Sarah Clancy and singer Caroline Stanley dedicated a poem and a song to the Magdalenes.

Sarah read an angry poem, ‘A Prayer to St Bridget’. You can view Sarah's poem here.

One of the organisers, Ann Irwin, said she was taken aback by the numbers who attended the sixth annual Flowers for Magdalenes event at the graveyard. Only three women attended in the first year.

“What happened on Friday was totally coincidental, but it was important that we provided an opportunity for people to congregate and to tell their incredibly poignant stories,” she said.

“The stories that people told this year were nothing but heart-breaking, really. People have told their stories before, but not to such an extent. They were so beautiful and so brave to tell their tragic stories.”

She said it was important to call out the names of each of the women out loud, to give them a dignity which had been denied them in life.                 

It was a poignant, emotional ceremony in Galway
“It was important that everybody said their names together. It was important to hear the testimonials of survivors and that these things are said,” she added.

Ms Irwin said it was important not to forget how women and children had been treated when they were confined to the Magdalene laundries all across Ireland.

“It’s a very, very recent history, but it’s a history we have swept under the carpet to such an extent. If it wasn’t for events such as today, people would turn a blind eye. It’s so important to keep it on the agenda and not to forget these women.”

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can check out his Facebook page here

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

A letter to Donnie O'Trump

Dear Donald,

(Or Donnie ... as we might call ya out here in the wild wesht of Ireland).

Just a quick note to say I’d only be too delighted to join you at the White House, or the Teach Ban if you’d like to learn a bit of Irish, on St Patrick’s Day.              
With President Obama in the good ole' days

Meself and Fionnuala have the bowl of shamrock ready since November and we’re really thrilled by the chance to meet yourself and Melania on March 16.                        

To be honest with ya, I could do with the break. I’ve had a rough few weeks since a feckin’ do-gooder Garda, a policeman to yourself Donnie, almost brought down the entire Government over a few feckin’ penalty points and nearly cost me my job.

It means even more to me to visit this year than it used to when the O’Bamas were in the White House, because there’s a lot of feckers tryin’ their best to retire me at the moment.

But I won’t give up without a fight. I didn’t become the longest serving TD in Ireland, or make Ireland great again, by pure chance.

It’ll be great to have an oul’ chat, maybe pop up to Trump Tower in the Big Apple, or fly down to Florida for a round of golf.

We’ve a good deal to talk about.

Like the feckin’ fake news media. I’m sick to the teeth of them and I can see they’re giving you a hard time across the water too.

They once accused me of being a racist here in Ireland, because I used the feckin’ ‘n-----‘ word at a private function a few years back.

Imagine, you can’t even tell a joke these days with all the political correctness flying about.

Ireland is like America, it’s gone far too feckin’ PC for my liking. So I have to say I admire your straight talkin’.

They’re always accusing me of making up stuff here in Ireland too, especially when I meet this fella with two pints who always tells me just what I want to hear at functions.

They’re like rats, some of them meejia types. Try  as I might, I could never convince them that I often met this fella with two pints on nights out in Dublin or Castlebar.

I see you are planning to build a big wall, and now they’re even sayin’ you are a racist for trying to keep the oul’ Mexicans and Muslims out.

For putting your own people first?

Well, they’ve been accusing my people, the Blueshirts, of being racists ever since we sided with poor oul’ Franco down in Spain in the 1930s.

You can never do anything right to please these people.  
President Trump's ban on refugees has led to calls
for Enda Kenny to boycott the White House this year

We can’t build a wall here around Ireland, although I believe those feckin’ Europeans stopped you from building one around your golf course down in Co Clare.

Feckin’ eejits.

I know you were like a vulture fund when you bought Doonbeg and Ireland was in crisis at the time. But we rolled out the red carpet for you when you visited, remember.

Like you, I only back winners and I knew you’d be a winner even then. I'd like to invite you to Ireland for an official visit as long as all the oul' whingers won't kick up a fuss like they are now in Britian.

We could invent an oul' Irish great-grandfather for ya. I'll tell the world from the Oval Office that there were plenty of O'Trumps about the place when I was growing up in Islandeeeeeedy, outside Castlebar. I'm sure your connections in Russia Today and Fox News would be delighted to spread the mighty story of your hidden Irish roots!

Wouldn't it be a great legacy for me to be remembered as the Taoiseach who brought you - the man who's making America great - to Ireland? Sure, I'd nearly die happy, although I've too good a pension set up to be going anywhere too soon!

Anyway, I might have a few tips for ya for dealing with those troublesome Muslims. We have a mighty system here called Direct Provision.

We can’t keep them out, but we can put them up in oul’ cheap hotels owned by our friends for ten to 15 years. We pay these refugees €19.10 a week to stay out of trouble and the beauty of it is we can then provide plenty of money for our buddies to put them up for years on end. Saves us from actually having to build houses for the buggers!

If you can’t ban the Muslims, maybe you could come up with a Direct Provision system of your own. Mind you, I think you have one for the black lads, at any rate, because most of them seem to be in jail.

We could talk about our rogue police officers, too. Maybe you could give me a few tips about those lads who shoot black lads over in the Shtates.

We have troublesome Gardai here in Ireland too, some of them are never satisfied unless they have somethin’ to complain about.

One or two bad apples and they want to discredit the whole force.

Our lads tend not to shoot people, but they cause a fair amount of damage when they go around accusing their own feckin’ colleagues of being corrupt.

We haven’t found the best way of dealing with them yet, although spreading rumours that they might be child abusers seemed to work for a while. It kept them quiet, until it caused all the bother last month.

I’d love to talk to ya about the oul’ health service as well. I see you are getting rid of that Obamacare and I’d like to know how you are getting on.

Our solution here in Ireland is to make the waiting lists so long that patients generally die before we have to treat them. We tend to save a fortune that way, you know, as most of them don’t need treatment by the time they get to the top of the queues!

And, sure, anyone with a bit of money or a bit of sense can avoid the oul' overcrowded public hospitals. My friends with health problems tend to like flying over to Americay, to places like the Mayo Clinic. 'Tis great for you and great for us!

We’ve a bit of a housing problem at the moment here, too. Mind you, it’s not a problem really, because many of us are landlords, so rising rents go down very well with our core voters.

Homelessness doesn’t really bother Fine Gael voters unless a fella has the temerity to die right outside the Dail, but I love the way you attack the media and I’d like to learn more about spreading the word about “fake news”.

I love the way you keep discrediting the news media so much that nobody believes them any more.

Mind you, I wouldn’t mind an oul’ Fox News or Breitbart to spread the Fine Gael gospel here in Ireland. Especially with that hound Micheal Martin breathing down my back.

Then there’s the oul’ corporation tax and your wonderful multinationals. I was pure disgusted when the European dictators (sorry, authorities) told us Apple owed us €13 billion in unpaid taxes last year.

I can assure you we will fight this to the highest level, to ensure Apple will never have to pay a cent in corporation tax to the Irish authorities.

I want to assure you, Donnie, that the Americans will always be welcome here. You are welcome to pay as little tax as you want for as long as you want.

Your soldiers are welcome to stop off here to buy leprechauns and whiskey on their way to and from the bombing missions in Iraq and Syria.

There's mighty hospitality for the US
troops at 'neutral' Shannon Airport
Never mind the ‘loonie lefties’. They say Ireland is a neutral country, but we know who our true friends are here in Ireland.

And I have to say we are honoured to be the only European country to have US pre-clearance on our soil.

Your immigration people are always welcome and I hear they are becoming so friendly that they are now even helping passengers to remember their passwords and open their Facebook and email accounts before they board the planes these days.

Damn right, you shouldn't let anyone into America if you find out they've ever 'friended' a Muslim or a Mexican on that oul' Facebook.

People say you hate immigrants, like the Irish, but sure how could ya? Didn’t you marry an immigrant yourself!

People say you are surrounded by white supremacists, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of supremacy. In Mayo, we’ve been trying to be the best footballers in Ireland since 1951. What we’d give for a bit of supremacy in 2017!

So, like I said, we’ll be delighted to make the trip to Washington on St Patrick’s Day. Fionnuala has the green dress ready and all.

I promise I won’t give you a lecture about your own tax returns or raise any tricky questions about the 50,000 ‘undocumented’ Paddies living in the US.                  
Should Irish people boycott the White House
on St Patrick's Day this year?

We say that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter here in Ireland. Well, I'm sure that one man's undocumented migrant is another's illegal immigrant.

And Paddy's Day is not the day for tough questions.

Irish Taoisigh have been bringing the bowl of shamrock to the White House for over 20 years and I’m not going to let a bit of racism, human rights concerns, Muslims, or cranky Irish Americans spoil a good party.

You’re making America great again, just like I’ve made Ireland the best little country in the world to do business in over the past six years.

See you on the 16th,

Love and best wishes,

Kim Jong Kenny,
Taoiseach of the Republic.

(Please note that this blog actually admits to being Fake News)

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Check out his Facebook page here

More information at

Find Ciaran on Twitter, @ciarantierney

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The vilest smear of all

When I was a young reporter on a provincial newspaper in the 1990s, rumours began to circulate about a local politician among journalists, political representatives, and Gardai across the West of Ireland.

The whispers would surface occasionally at local authority meetings, press launches, or court hearings, spreading quickly from one media outlet to another in the small bubble which was the local media at the time.                                                                                
Brave whistleblower Maurice McCabe

The rumours were of a sexual nature and involved underage victims.

If they weren’t true, they were appalling slurs against a man who had a high profile in both sport and politics in the West of Ireland.

Until the day he died, I never heard any concrete evidence of wrong-doing against the man.

As far as I was aware, he was never questioned or charged in relation to the activities which were so well-known among journalists and politicians in one part of Ireland.

In those days, my role as a newspaper journalist involved regular phone contact with virtually every politician across the region.

I had no way of knowing whether the rumours about this particular man were true or not, but I heard them repeated so often that they clearly coloured my dealings with him.

I’d call him whenever I had to, I’d exchange pleasantries with him on the phone, but the unfounded allegations I had heard – with absolutely no substance to back them up – would hover in the back of my mind.

After his death, one of his party colleagues spoke to me with disarming honesty. He said that his friend was aware of the rumours for many years and that they had driven him to alcohol abuse and a very lonely life in his latter years.

So, in recent weeks, it was hard to imagine the kind of anguish the family of Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe was going through. This was a man whose only ‘crime’ was to be an honest policeman.

When he discovered that colleagues were bending the rules, abusing the Pulse system to allow high-profile people such as journalists to evade penalty points, he did what could only be described as the right thing.

A system of justice is discredited in the eyes of the people if justice is not served equally, but Sgt McCabe could hardly have imagined what was in store for him when he began to raise his concerns.

Maurice McCabe did Ireland a huge favour by stepping forward and daring to expose wrong-doing and the abuse of power.

As a result, he was falsely accused of raping a six year old child.

The accusations were not made public, but hidden away in a Tusla (child protection agency) file and spread as rumours among sections of the Gardai and media in Dublin.

Expressing solidarity with Sgt McCabe at
Shannon Airport last week
They were only unearthed after the wrong details were “copied and pasted” into the wrong Tusla file.

If that wasn’t malicious, it was a level of ineptitude which was unthinkable in a country which is still reeling from clerical sex abuse allegations which were covered up for decades.

Sgt McCabe was the subject of the worst smear anyone could face.

Those who instigated the smear knew full well that the rumours would spread when they shared them with Garda colleagues or crime correspondents in the media.

The implication was clear. How could you take the claims of a whistleblower seriously if you had heard the rumours?

Ireland is a small country and people love a bit of gossip, just as journalists and politicians thrived on the “inside information” we had – apparently without any substance – about our political friend in Galway in the 1990s.

For the ‘crime’ of telling the truth about corruption in our police force, Sgt McCabe was portrayed as a vile person who could not be trusted by some senior Gardai.

It is nothing short of frightening that a man whose only concern was bringing  the truth to light was vilified and branded as a sex abuser.

Former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, who subsequently resigned from his job, branded his allegations as “disgusting”.

Imagine how difficult it was for Sgt McCabe to carry out his duties when the head of his own police force showed such vehement opposition to his brave attempts to expose corruption.

And yet that was nothing compared to the allegations circulating in the background. He would have known nothing of them at the time.

You can imagine the informal briefings which are so central to Irish political life. “Did you hear the rumour about so-and-so?” “Don’t trust so-and-so. Sure, have you not heard about the file . . . “

Sgt Maurice McCabe: an honest whistleblower who
was the subject of malicious (and false) smears

All Maurice McCabe wanted was truth and justice – instead, he was the victim of a truly appalling smear by those who wield power in Irish society.

But for a mistake by a member of staff at the child protection agency, who contacted him in error about the “wrong” file, he might never have known about the vicious rumours circulating behind his back.

He was being punished for breaking the unwritten rules of Irish life.

This, after all, is the country in which you ring a politician in a bid to move up the lengthy waiting list for a local authority house.

It’s the land in which a TD or Senator will pressurise a surgeon to move you up the waiting list if you urgently need surgery and the waiting lists last for months or even years.

It’s the country where the right connections will allow you to evade penalty points if you know the right Garda and you are in a position of power.

Bending the rules is part of our heritage.

Perhaps it goes back to our colonial days. With a wink and a nudge, Irish people learned how to work their way around inconvenient or “tricky” laws. Sure, they weren’t our laws.

They were imposed by the British after all. We had a grudging admiration for law-breakers under the British Empire and we exported that rebellious spirit to the US and Australia.

But there’s a huge difference between opposing unjust laws and smearing a good policeman who only wanted to do his job.

Over a decade has passed since McCabe first raised concerns about corruption in the Gardai and it’s impossible to imagine the anguish he has gone through since then.

The realisation that some people – with the right connections –  have been able to act as they please while evading the consequences should make us all fearful for Irish democracy.

There are too many coincidences in the Maurice McCabe case to suggest anything other than a deliberate and malicious campaign to discredit and disgrace a good man.

If a Garda whose only crime is to expose corruption can be maliciously and falsely branded as a sex abuser, what does that say about power and democracy in 21st century Ireland?

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and content writer, based in Galway, Ireland. You can check out his Facebook page here

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Find Ciaran on Twitter, @ciarantierney

A blog post about media ownership in Ireland, from July 2016

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Banned from the land that made us refugees ...

“Where e’er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies"

‘Thousands Are Sailing’, The Pogues

Between 1847 and 1850, a hundred ‘coffin’ ships sailed out from Galway Bay. The people who made it onto those ships were desperately impoverished and full of fear, and yet they saw themselves as hugely fortunate compared to those who were forced to stay behind.

They were the equivalent of today’s Syrian or Iraqi refugees. Their land had been stolen, the crops had failed, and they dreamed of new lives far removed from the conflict and turmoil which raged across their homeland.

Many were less fortunate, such as little Celia Griffin, aged six, from Connemara. Celia never had a chance in life and was found lying on the side of a road, just one of hundreds of thousands to die of starvation.

The ships were destined for the ‘New World’.                    
Not much empathy for the children of Syria
in President Donald Trump's USA

Poor country people from villages and townlands across the West of Ireland, many of whom could barely muster a word of English between them, sailed across the western ocean in search of a chance in life which had been denied them under the British Empire.

I think about those people most weeks when I bring foreign English students on a walking tour of Galway. I think of how forgotten they were for decades in Galway City, their point of embarkation.

It was only when a returned emigrant, the late Mark Kennedy, kicked up a fuss that the city and region honoured them with a wonderful Famine Memorial Park which opened eight years ago.

For many, the collective memories are still too painful … of poverty, of families torn apart, of the pain of long-term emigration. Most of those who made it to the other side – many died during the lengthy crossing – never got the opportunity to go home and visit their loved-ones again.

The Irish fugitives were near the bottom of the barrel in 19th century America. As they flocked into the Bronx, Hell’s Kitchen, or South Boston, it would have been unthinkable to imagine how their lives would have turned out if they had been denied entry at the US border.

Had the US president taken a hardline on emigration, had there been 19th century equivalents of Donald Trump and his “extreme vetting”, then countless Irish would have been turned back as soon as they reached the east coast of America.

They wouldn’t have had enough food to survive the return journey and, if they did, the numbers who died in the Great Famine would have been vastly higher.

Given our terrible history, it was shocking to wake up this weekend to discover that “extreme vetting” – bordering on fascism – has now been introduced just an hour’s drive south of where those coffin ships departed from Galway Bay.

Last October marked the 15th anniversary of Shannon Airport’s complicity in the US ‘war on terror’
At the stroke of a president’s pen, Muslims from seven countries have been banned from entering the US.

Marking 15 years of Shannon Airport's use
as a US military base last October
Persecuted in their own country and no longer welcome at the end of an arduous journey, Syrians refugees in 2017 have quite a lot in common with the Irish who escaped from the discrimination and hardship imposed by the British Empire.

The Irish died in their thousands on coffin ships in the 1840s and now Syrians are dying on makeshift boats as they make their way across the Mediterranean.

Back then, the Irish were seen as a threat, deeply unpopular, rebellious spirits, who could not be trusted on the streets of New York or Boston.

Today, Muslims are the new “enemies”, even though, strangely enough, Saudi Arabia (who provided the vast majority of the 9/11 bombers) is not on Trump’s list of seven banned countries.

Amazing, too, how Yemen is on the list, considering it has been bombed to bits by US “ally” Saudi Arabia over the past two years. Yemen is on the verge of famine, but any Yemeni who turns up at a US border will be deported and sent back home.

The targeting of an entire race, nation, or religion has brought up understandable comparisons with 1930s Germany.

Back then, good people were afraid to speak out while their Jewish neighbours were being forced to wear yellow stars to make them more identifiable in a growing climate of hatred and intolerance.

Given our own troubled history, it’s incredible to think that racial profiling is now taking place on Irish soil.

The US ‘pre-clearance’ at Shannon was supposed to make travelling easier when it was introduced in 2009, but now it could lead to people being discriminated against for no other reason than their country of birth.

It is unthinkable to imagine the kind of hostility a Yemeni or Syrian would have to deal with if he or she was to try to board a flight to the US at Shannon.

Imagine, the land where hundreds of thousands of people were made refugees is now about to let a powerful nation, motivated by xenophobia and fear, discriminate against refugees on Irish soil.

Of course, Irish people have already been turning a blind eye to what’s being going on at Shannon Airport for the past 15 years.

President Donald Trump's anti-Muslim measure has
caused huge controversy in Irealnd

Last July, for example, 85 civilians – among them almost a dozen children – lost their lives in a bombing in a small Syrian village.

Combatants had targeted a village in Northern Syria which had been held by Islamic State (IS) or Daesh fighters.

The combatants or “terrorists” who carried out this attack on Tokhar stop almost daily in Shannon to refuel their aircraft.

The terrorists were US soldiers. But there was no minute’s silence, no protest, and the bombing did not even merit a mention on BBC or RTE news.

People in Ireland or the UK only found out about it thanks to RT, the Russian channel, and Britain’s Channel 4.

How can we care about the loss of innocent lives when we are not even told about them by many segments of our media?

Most of us just shrug when we hear that over 2.5 million US soldiers have landed in ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport since the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001.

We didn’t protest when US soldiers who pass through Shannon murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Syria over the past decade.

We didn’t protest when planes carrying munitions, helicopters, and even deadly chemical weapons to aid the Israeli occupation of Palestine passed through Shannon.

We didn’t protest when prisoners were renditioned through Shannon on their way to be tortured at Guantanamo Bay.

Mind you, we can’t be sure about that one … because not one person in authority in Ireland has ever searched a US military plane during 15 years of Shannon’s use as a military base.

But surely, finally, it’s time to protest now. Is it acceptable that people in uniforms standing in Co Clare can now prevent people from getting onto a ‘plane on the basis of their nationality alone?

The Americans have made a mockery of international law by effectively turning a civilian airport into a military base. Now they want to discriminate against refugees before they even leave Ireland.

In light of our own terrible history, can Irish people really stand idly by when we hear that racial profiling has become a fact of life just an hour south of where the ‘coffin’ ships once set sail from Galway Bay?

Shannonwatch, who have monitored the US military use of ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport for the past 15 years, have organised a protest at the airport this coming Thursday (6pm)

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