Pope's visit

Woman's vigil over mother and baby home scandal

The mother and baby home at Tuam, Co Galway, where the remains of almost 800 infants have been found
Aoife Moore, Press Association

A MANCHESTER woman whose sister vanished from a mother and baby home is holding a silent vigil at the same time as the papal mass in Dublin.

Annette McKay's mother, Maggie O'Connor, from Galway, was sent to the Bon Secours mother and baby home when she was 17. She was pregnant after being raped.

Ms McKay (64) knew nothing of her oldest sister, Mary O'Connor, for years. The child is reported to have died in the mother and baby home in 1943 from natural causes.

However, Ms McKay believes her sister was illegally adopted.

A year after her baby was taken from her, Maggie O'Connor was informed that Mary had died from whooping cough, but never received proof.

Ms McKay said she is holding the vigil in Tuam, Co Galway, as a show of support.

"The vigil is our way of saying to survivors, you are not alone. The message is that you shouldn't be alone, we're there in solidarity and support."

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Gathering outside Tuam Town Hall, the group plan to walk the 30-minute route to the former site of Tuam Mother and Baby home.

Knock shrine in Co Mayo

Ms McKay says the Pope's planned visit to Knock shrine this Saturday is a missed opportunity to send out a signal of change from the church.

"There should be some proper recognition and repentance on behalf of the church," she said.

"It's not good enough, these people matter. Their lives mattered.

"I think he should visit Tuam, imagine the message that would've sent, instead of going to Knock - business as usual.

"There needs to be a complete and utter awakening in the church to the depths of what they've been responsible for.

"Visiting Tuam would have been a hugely symbolic gesture, to signal the church will change and Francis would start that change.

"The Pope could say to survivors, 'I want you with me here in Tuam', the church should be meeting the people who have suffered, that's what hurting people, they feel the church isn't listening or responding.

"People love Pope Francis, it's his perfect opportunity to speak from the heart, and say now is the time for change."

Pope Francis is visiting the Republic this weekend

Those at the vigil will read out the names of children and mothers who died at the home, and a pair of baby shoes will be left in memory of each child.

"There will be no speeches, we're just reading the babies' names and ages. They need their identity, we'll read out their name and give them a voice."

Proceedings will start at 3pm to coincide with Pope Francis's mass in Phoenix Park.

Maggie O'Connor died in April, suffering from dementia in her later years, which Ms McKay called "a blessing" as she could finally live her life in peace after years of torment and depression due to her treatment in the home.

Ms McKay said: "I don't have time to cry. I need to do this, for my mother, and she would've wanted me to do the right thing, for those children and their mothers.

"My mother is still so present with me, I want her story to matter, Maggie mattered and her baby mattered.

"You cannot concrete over Ireland's history."

The Tuam home for unmarried mothers, run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours, operated from 1925 to 1961.

In 2013, local historian Catherine Corless discovered official records showing that around 800 children died at the home in Tuam.

In March, a commission of investigation announced it had found "a significant number of human remains" at the site.

Ms Corless believes most of the children are buried on the site, part of which had a local authority estate built on it in the 1970s.

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