Northern Ireland news

Mother and baby home survivor says her grandfather 'had to buy her back'

The Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry, Co Down

A CO Tyrone woman whose mother was sent to a mother and baby home in Newry has said she is appalled that no one has been held accountable for the treatment of women and babies in homes across Ireland.

Elizabeth Brennan, not her real name, was born in 1962 while her 19-year-old mother was in Marianvale home in Newry, Co Down.

She said that several months after her birth she was taken across the border to a Sisters of Nazareth home in Co Donegal and plans were made to sell her to an American couple.

However, after a long search, her grandparents found her and paid for her to be returned to her family.

READ MORE: Lynette Fay: Despicable attitudes towards women and pregnancy remain

Ms Brennan said she was “disgusted” by the report into mother and baby homes in the Republic, published last week.

The report investigated tens of thousands women and children who stayed at 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes across the Republic between 1922 and 1998.

It found women in the homes "were subjected to emotional abuse but there is very little evidence of physical abuse and no evidence of sexual abuse".

However, Ms Brennan disputed how abuse was categorised and questioned why no one has been held to account.

"What do you call 9,000 children dying and having children taken away?" she said. "They used to bath me in Jeyes Fluid. Selling me back to my grandfather is abuse."

She added: "Mothers are getting no respect from the religious orders or the Irish government. They are just treated like this was a normal thing to do. It wasn’t a normal thing to break a bond between a mother and a child."

Ms Brennan said her mother was compelled to go to Marianvale.

“I think that those mothers and children haven’t got any justice… Not all families put their girls in there," she said.

"I know my granny and granda didn’t put my biological mother in there. It was the priests who ran the country at that time and everyone was afraid of them… My granny and granda, who I called my mother and father, were never ever ashamed of me. I had a good life with them but that’s not the point, it shouldn’t have happened.”

Now 58, she only found out the circumstances of her birth five years ago and has never told her own family.

“You carry this shame and I don’t know why because I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.

She said she was stunned by Tipperary Labour TD Alan Kelly's reference in the Dáil to "Gerry, whose aunt bought him out of Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea".

Ms Brennan said: “I nearly fell out of my seat. I had been told about my grandfather having to buy me back...When I heard that this man had been bought by his aunt I thought it must have been a systematic thing as well.

“I knew they were trying to send me to America, only my grandfather had to pay to get me back. It feels like you’re a business transaction. It’s not a nice thing thinking you were sold.”

She is adamant her mother did not sign any adoption papers in Marianvale.

“She would never have signed anything," she said.

Ms Brennan said her pain has been compounded by the huge difficulties she has had in obtaining her records in Northern Ireland. She said she was only able to get records thanks to Dublin-based sexual abuse charity One in Four.

She said of the records she did obtain, most are contradictory - giving her several different birth dates in April, May and December. Other records incorrectly stated that her grandmother was a single parent and her aunt was being cared for in a mental hospital.

“I was supposed to have been born in Daisy Hill Hospital (in Newry) but there’s no record of me," she said.

Ms Brennan said she hoped that a report into mother and baby homes in the north, due to be published later this month, will "tell the truth and not sugar-coat anything".

"Tell the truth and at least then it will give the mothers who are still alive some kind of closure and will respectful to the mothers who are not alive," she said.

Ms Brennan said her faith has been shaken by her experiences.

“I believe in God but I don’t go to the chapel any more," she said. "I don’t trust them. I’ll never trust them again.”

A spokesman for the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, who ran Marianvale, previously said: “Adoptions from Marianvale were in compliance with national legislation - each mother had the assistance of an independent social worker who would have been directly involved in the adoption process.

“Persons who were resident in Marianvale can seek access to their personal records, under current legislation.”

Margaret McGuckin, from Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said the report into mother and baby homes in the Republic was "shocking".

"It broke my heart," she said. "It just brought memories back. This wasn't just in the south, it was in the whole of Ireland. Nobody knows the half of what was engrained in us as children. There needs to be a collective apology for the whole of Ireland (from the churches)."

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