"I should never have been in Ireland," say single mothers returning home


You are the source of both the water and the blood in my veins. I still hurt, though. Even though you are so close, I am unable to touch you. ".

Poems by Maria Cahill explore the trauma of her upbringing.

She was six weeks old when her mother Philomena was brought back to Ireland from Britain.

Maria, a British citizen who was born in London, was also sent to a clandestine "mother-and-baby home" in Ireland.

They were seen as places where sinners went to be punished.

Her story poses significant questions about a program that saw thousands of girls and women who were not married repatriated from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Government agencies and religious organizations planned their journey.

Campaigners claim that although the repatriations were ostensibly voluntary, the women were frequently forced to go.

I spoke with Maria, 69, at her Doncaster, West Yorkshire, home. She said: "I shouldn't have been in Ireland; I was born in London.

"I wish that (the trip to Ireland) had not taken place in my life. ".

For the past six months, I have been in touch with Maria and her daughter Fiona, discussing their efforts to fill in the gaps regarding Maria's early years.

After nearly seven decades, it is clear that Maria has a deep sense of loss for the woman she was permanently split from when she was just two years old.

Maria's living room is covered in images of Philomena.

Maria reflected on a priceless photo of her sitting on Philomena's knee at a Castlepollard, County Westmeath, facility for single mothers, thinking, "She must have loved me so much.".

Maria and Philomena
Maria and Philomena at a Castlepollard facility for single mothers.

In 1954, Maria was born in Hendon to Philomena Cahill, who was 19 at the time.

To work in a cigarette factory, she had relocated to the English capital.

She met the father of Maria while she was in the city.

In an effort to unravel the mysteries surrounding her early years, Maria has spent 40 years gathering information.

Fiona has recently largely taken over the letter-writing and filing of requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act.

They have ring binders filled to the brim with plastic wallets that hold the correspondence and documents they've collected.

According to one letter, Philomena was "referred" to the Westminster Social Welfare Committee by a priest by the name of Fr. Craven in January 1954, two months before Maria was born.

As one of the major organizations involved in the repatriation program, it was "run under the auspices of the Crusade of Rescue.".

A baptism record reveals that Maria was christened on April 27, 1954, one month after her birth, in a church in London.

The following entry comes from the ledger book at the County Westmeath "mother-and-baby home" called Castlepollard, where Philomena and Maria first resided after their May 1954 arrival.

Maria's entry in the baptismal register - surname and address of adoptive parents has been blurred
The baptismal register entry for Maria.

The standard time frame for the so-called "moral rehabilitation" of single mothers who were considered "first offenders" at the time was two years, which Philomena spent there.

Because my mother was a "bad girl," they changed her name to Cyril, according to Maria. ".

The ledger notes that Philomena's "house name," which the women and girls in the institution were to go by while there, was "Cyril.".

The final time Philomena and Maria saw one another was in 1956.

County Westmeath "mother-and-baby home" Castlepollard.

Maria described how her Irish adoptive mother physically and emotionally abused her: "I grew up so alone. ".

Maria and Philomena happened to live in Edinburgh at the same time in later life, but they were unaware of one another.

I could have met my mother, Maria remarked. "I feel like I was cheated out of her hands. ".

The fact that Maria has two birth certificates—one in the UK with Philomena listed as her mother and one in Ireland with her adoptive parents listed as her mother and father—illustrates the challenges she encountered in learning about her past.

After Philomena passed away, Maria only discovered who she was.

Maria learned that Philomena had been searching for her as well as the fact that she had half-siblings.

But Philomena had been misinformed; she had thought Maria had been adopted in Canada.

Why didn't they tell her more about me? Maria questioned, adding that she was a beloved and desired child.

Ireland had greater Catholic influence than the UK during the 20th century, and it also had a more conservative social climate than the UK.

Pregnant women who were unmarried frequently fled Ireland for Great Britain to avoid being placed in oppressive institutions.

Irish immigrants to Britain have almost all the rights of British citizens, including residency, healthcare, and social security, ever since what is now the Republic of Ireland gained independence from the UK in 1922.

Archival records, however, demonstrate that British welfare organizations and charities frequently saw single Irish mothers as a drain on the system.

The cost was emphasized very strongly, according to Dr. Lorraine Grimes of Maynooth University, who has examined the files.

They declared, 'We are accepting these women, housing them in our institutions, and having to find homes for their kids. '".

Irish birth certificate with blurred names

A classification, "PFI," which stands for "Pregnant from Ireland" and is perceived negatively by survivors, was used in official documents because of the sheer volume of cases.

The Catholic Church in Ireland was concerned that children born to Irish women in England would reject the faith.

At a meeting held in 1931 at the Irish High Commission in London, officials from the Dublin government and English Catholic welfare organizations were present.

The Irish government agreed to cover half of the expense of sending back mothers who became pregnant there but had no other children.

Despite having lived in Great Britain for a sizable amount of time, there is evidence that some women were returned home.

For instance, in 1967, the researcher Mary Frances Creegan documented a case involving a woman who had moved to England when she was eight years old but was sent back to Ireland when she fell pregnant later in life.

The repatriations were supposed to be optional, but according to Dr. Lorraine Grimes, many of the mothers she spoke to "felt it was completely forced - that they did not have a choice.".

Similar results have been mentioned by numerous other academics.

Stories like Maria Cahill's, who was born in the UK but moved to another country as a baby, raise additional concerns about human rights and consent.

Maria, Chris and Fiona
I was shown photo albums and paperwork by Maria and her daughter Fiona.

A formal apology should be made, according to Fiona, Maria's daughter, for what she called an "anti-Irish, anti-single-mothers scheme.".

"Since my mother and her mother were never reunited, there will never be a complete sense of closure for her.

But it would mean so much to simply state the truth and receive an apology. " .

It is challenging to estimate how many women and kids have returned home.

Between 1948 and 1971, 2,610 mothers' repatriations were facilitated by the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society of Ireland (CPRSI), one of the major organizations in Dublin.

In 1967, there were 213 more than any other year.

195 CPRSI repatriations between 1938 and 1948, according to government notes.

However, the overall scale is probably larger. This is primarily due to the lack of verifiable data from the 1920s and the majority of the 1930s.

For instance, from 1926 to 1930, a welfare organization in Liverpool docks reported having contact with 1,947 pregnant Irish women.

The number of repatriations is unknown.

Women have reportedly been sent to Ireland from a number of other locations, including Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, and Portsmouth.

Some repatriations were also not at all documented.

There were unofficial, covert agreements that didn't appear in any official records, according to Dr. Grimes, made through priests and parents. ".

She believes there should be more research because it is difficult to put together "fragmented" statistics, and the state "has to face into this institutional past.".

"Many of the survivors have died, and others are advancing in age. So it's crucial that this happens right away rather than waiting another ten years. ".

Lorraine Grimes
Dr. Lorraine Grimes stated that even though the repatriations were supposed to be optional, many of the mothers she spoke to felt forced to participate.

The Irish government declared that it was "aware of the distress and profound hurt felt by many survivors who were repatriated.".

The Commission of Investigation into Mother-and-Baby Homes, which published its final report in 2021, sent the BBC a lengthy statement outlining its findings and work.

Each of you did nothing wrong and has nothing to be ashamed of, the then-Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Micheál Martin said in his apology to survivors of the institutions. " .

Keep going strong, is my advice to women who are going through this, said Maria.

Additionally, the government declared that "new legislation now permits the provision of comprehensive birth information and tracing services.".

The Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who oversaw the Castlepollard facility, asserted that they were unaware of or uninformed about the issues we brought up.

The organization claimed that in 2009, it forwarded all of its records regarding mother-and-baby homes to the Irish health and social welfare authorities.

Maria has shared her story in an effort to support other survivors.

"My recommendation to women going through this is to remain strong.

"Paper trails are never absent.

"It might have taken me 40 years, but my life is finally coming together in bits and pieces.

. "

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