Life

Radio review: Enlightening but bruising discussion on mother and baby homes

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Nuala McCann
Nuala McCann Nuala McCann

Today with Claire Byrne RTÉ Radio 1

Bad Bridgets Podcast

With RTÉ journalist Claire Byrne, it’s always about the story.

There is never the sense of an ego behind it. She gives her interviewees space and time, then evens things out, putting the opposite point of view in a measured and sympathetic way

And so we come to a discussion of the Mother and Baby Homes report released recently in the Republic.

The figure of 9,000 babies dying in these homes brought home the heartbreak.

Byrne’s Friday ‘Gathering’ brought together a TD, a senator and an archivist for a discussion that was enlightening if bruising.

Most compelling of all was archivist Catriona Crowe who spoke with authority and strength on the 3,000 page report that, she said, would take a month to read at 100 pages per day.

Crowe pointed to what she called “very bizarre conclusions” like the assertion that there was no evidence of forced adoption only to go on to state that the women had no choice.

There was no evidence of physical abuse but the report contains a lot about punching, slapping and beating.

“What do you call putting a woman through childbirth without anaesthetic while taunting her about her previous sins?” she asked.

It’s a considerable research achievement, what’s wrong with it is its methodology, she said.

Part of the problem is how, starting in the 19th Century, the Catholic Church operated as a “shadow state” in Ireland, she said.

Their archives are still their property, she pointed out, but they should be opened up for everyone to see.

She called on the Attorney General to enforce that in law.

“If somebody had the guts in government, we need to take these records over,” she said.

A new podcast looks at the lives of millions of Irish women who fled Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th Century to find a future in America.

Girls as young as 11 set sail from Ireland on their own. They found work, often as domestic servants, cooks, they were wives and mothers. Some might have called them the heroines of the hearth.

But Elaine Farrell of Queen’s University and Leanne McCormack, Ulster University, found otherwise.

Their podcast, Bad Bridgets, is the story of poverty, terrible hardship and the sheer will to survive.

Farrell and McCormack were taken aback by the disproportionate number of Irish women who ended up in jails in America.

Assisted by Siobhán McSweeney of Derry Girls fame, this is the untold story of thousands who went in search of the American dream but ended up living the nightmare.