Michael Kitt TD and the Tuam Babies: Irish history is a very small place too

On Thursday 5th of June 2014, Galway East TD Michael P. Kitt addressed the Dáil, adding his voice to calls for an inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes.

I support the call for an independent inquiry into the deaths in the mother and baby homes. As someone who has represented east Galway and Tuam for over three decades, I am very saddened by and horrified at the information on the large number of deceased children involved. I have spoken to the Minister about this and thank him for giving me a hearing.

I understand there could be four Departments in the cross-departmental response to examine the situation and particularly the burial of children in the mass grave. Donal O’Keeffe, writing in journal.ie quotes the historian Catherine Corless describing the mass grave as “filled to the brim with tiny bones and skulls”. It is a terrible indictment of how we cherish children.

The Minister would probably agree that the Bon Secours sisters must act on their responsibility in this matter as they ran the home for mothers and babies. I understand the sisters and the members of the local children’s home graveyard committee have met to discuss a memorial of the unmarked children’s grave in Tuam and that the names will be recorded. I ask the Minister and the Government to work with the local committee in Tuam and the families of the deceased to have a dignified re-interment of the remains of the children. When one thinks of children being discarded, it is time to find out exactly what records existed in the old health board, which preceded the Health Service Executive, HSE, and in Galway County Council because according to media reports there is some dispute about where the records are held. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some of this information. I hope to have a minute later to ask further questions.

Michael Kitt has indeed represented the people of Tuam and East Galway for over three decades. In 1975 he “inherited” his seat upon the death of his father, Michael Snr, who was first elected to the Dáil in 1948. No shame in that. The Taoiseach came to the Dáil by the same route, that same year.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Deputy Kitt is completely in earnest in his horror at what happened in the Tuam Home. But back to Deputy Kitt in a moment.

I saw a beautiful Tweet from Adrienne Corless the other day: “Am so proud of her but she won’t hear of it. She works with that pristine clarity on behalf of nobody, but those kids. Their advocate.” Adrienne is right to be so proud of her Mam. If not for Catherine Corless, we would never have heard of the Tuam Babies, of whom President Michael D Higgins said “These are children who while they were alive had rights, the rights to protection, and who, if dead, had the right to be looked after with dignity.”

Since Alison O’Reilly first broke nationally the Tuam Babies story in the Irish Mail on Sunday on May 25th, it took a while before the story gained traction. The Journal was among the very first to follow up on the story but it seemed that it was only when the international media reported on our latest scandal that some sections of our media deigned to cover the story in any depth, and then mainly to sniff snootily about sensationalism. I call it Oh Jesus We’re In The Washington Post Syndrome.

Until the story got widespread national interest, mainly by becoming first an international story, some of us on social media were baffled and frustrated that such an important story was not leading the news every day and night. It should be said that there were some honourable exceptions, among them and notably Philip Boucher-Hayes, who covered the story on both Liveline and Drivetime, and Carol Hunt in the Sunday Independent.

The naysayers, presumably completely unrelated to the Bon Secours Sisters’ expensive PR firm, have spread the word that coverage has been either “hysterical” or an outright hoax. They weren’t all babies, you know. They weren’t dumped. And it wasn’t a septic tank. And if it was, 796 bodies wouldn’t have fit in a septic tank. The Parish Priest in my native Glanworth singled out the real culprits: the media. (He also took a fantastic swipe at Gay Byrne and his twenty researchers who have but one purpose in life: to do down the Catholic Church. I can only assume that the PP is listening to the wireless from 1983.)

Context can never excuse brutality or neglect, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying. In an Irish Times opinion piece entitled “What twisted morality led to misery of Tuam home?” the Iona “Institute” Patron and (presumably) Twisted Morality Expert Father Vincent Twomey laid the blame squarely on “Victorian puritanism”. Still, I suppose no man ever went broke telling the Irish that it was all the Famine Queen’s fault.

As for “it wasn’t a septic tank” and/or “796 bodies wouldn’t fit in a septic tank”, I think Izzy Kamikaze has answered those arguments pretty comprehensively here. I wish she had called that piece “The Trouble With The Trouble With The Septic Tank Story Story”.

As I’ve said before, one thing at least is certain: there will be no saying a few prayers and covering this up again, as was done when Tuam’s mass grave was first discovered in the 1970s.

Update: Adrienne Corless has set the record straight with the Paper of Record.

One point upon which we can all agree is that the Bon Secours Sisters, for all their depravity, did not operate in isolation. The Catholic Church and the Irish State always worked hand-in-glove. Those of us putting money in the Sunday collection plate have always been complicit too.

Ireland has always been an open conspiracy. The nuns, the parish priest, the schoolmaster, the postmistress, the doctor, the nurse, the bank manager, the shopkeeper, the farmer, the publican, the vet, the county councillor, the TD and the Senator. All the respectable people. And all the people who wanted to be respectable too. We were all in it together. We Irish, crippled by our own insecurity, disfigured by our massive inferiority complex and warped by our craven need to look down on someone, we have always despised the vulnerable.

Oh yes. Michael Kitt. No, I didn’t just quote that Dáil speech above because I’m in it (though I’m grateful to Sinead O’Carroll for the tip-off). We all know that Ireland is a very small place. Turns out Irish history is a very small place too. If you’re on Twitter, you should be following the historian and librarian Liam Hogan. He tweets as @Limerick1914 and his coverage of the Tuam Babies story has been exemplary.

Liam sent me this from the Tuam Herald (25/6/1949). In 1949 the infant mortality rate in the Tuam Home was running at five times that of the general population, but members of Galway County Council “found everything in the Home in very good order” and stayed for the grub.

Notice anything?

Galway Co Co

 – Donal O’Keeffe


4 thoughts on “Michael Kitt TD and the Tuam Babies: Irish history is a very small place too

  1. Donal: you appear to be running behind on the facts of this story. Ms Corless has already denounced and walked away from the “septic tank brimming with bones story” as have the two men who as boys found the stone structure. I know those “sniffy” people (including myself) who want to look at this in a scientific way to get to the real facts of the matter may be incomient when it is do much easier to let our biases take us where we want to go, but why don’t we put the pitchforks and torches down and pick up the archeoligists trowel and see what really went in here?

    • You might try getting your facts straight yourself, Robert.

      ‘No, my mother has not made any retraction in relation to her findings about the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

      ‘No, my mother did not “admit” that anything in her findings was “impossible”.

      ‘My mother, Catherine Corless, is as consistent as ever in her presentation of her findings; no retractions, no “admitting” to “impossibilities”.’

      For more from Adrienne Corless, take a look here, like a good man. Thank you.

  2. Hi Bob: The facts were out about the Tuam Home (sic) in the mid-40s – you must have missed those health reports! But then again – who wants to know about the inconvenient people; those forced into institutions, out of the public gaze.

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