‘You are holding your baby and you are being told you are a filthy, selfish whore’

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By Patricia Devlin

WHEN Terri Harrison discovered her period was late in February 1973, she knew she had to leave Catholic Ireland.

The plan was if I discovered I wasn’t pregnant I’d have a ball for about a month and then come home,” said Terri. “If I was then to hell with everyone else, I wasn’t coming back.”

Within weeks the 18 year-old from Drimnagh had arrived in London, landed herself a job on Oxford Street and discovered, officially, she was about to become a mum.

I had it all figured out,” the 62 year-old told The Star. “I had a friend who was gay, we were going to move in together, tell people he was the dad and his family would be delighted. We’d bring up the baby together and I was never, ever coming back to Ireland.”

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A young Terri.

Terri didn’t come back to Ireland – willingly.

After a minor accident at a relative’s home which left her in hospital, her news didn’t stay secret for very long. Within days a priest and two nuns called to the London house where she was staying, bundled her into a car and put her on a plane to Cork.

On landing she was driven to the notorious Bessborough House mother and baby facility where she was told she would live for the foreseeable future.

She would have to work, would not be allowed to leave the premises and most importantly respect and obey the nuns who knew what was best for her and her baby. Unknown to Terri her unborn baby had already been accounted for before she’d walked through the doors.

The first test they gave you in that institution was not to check the health of the baby, it was to see if you had gonorrhoea. That was their priority, that you were clean and that they’d get megabucks for this baby.

I was carrying a very expensive commodity. I was even assigned a name – Tracey. My own wasn’t good enough.”

A few weeks in, strong-willed Terri had had enough of the oppression, humiliation and control.

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Bessborough mother and baby institution, Cork.

I was about four or five months pregnant and the baby’s dad Liam came up to visit. Somehow we were allowed into the grounds and we made a run for it. We eventually got to the train station and travelled to Dublin. I visited my eldest sister and her husband sold me out and the nuns were called.”

A decision was taken to keep Terri in Dublin and she was taken to St Patrick’s facility on the Navan Road. A few months later she gave birth to a son, who she called Niall.

I was in labour for three days. They shut me in a room with no doctors, no nurses, and no pain relief. I was shaking that much in pain they had to tie my hands to the bed.

I had a condition called placenta praevia, which meant the after birth came out before the baby. I lost that much blood they had to wrap both me and him in tinfoil. 

“I remember holding Niall, or ‘cuddles’ as I called him, and after that I can’t remember much. I was in shock.”

Sadly the horrific birth was just the beginning of Terri’s nightmare.

“You are holding your baby, your brand new bundle of joy, and you are being told you are a filthy, selfish whore. How selfish of a bitch are you? To deprive this child of a mammy and daddy with a lovely home.

“When you were feeding your baby, you were only allowed to feed him laid out on your lap, you weren’t allowed to bond because their mammy and daddy wouldn’t be happy. And you know how they vetted the people who bought your baby? How often they went to mass and how much money they put on the plate.”

Despite watching other ‘inmates’ lose their children, Terri was convinced that somehow she would be able to take her son home. But when Niall was five weeks and four days old he disappeared.

I fed him at 6am that morning and went back up at around 11am. As I was going up the stairs another girl shouted up to me, ‘his cot is empty’. I went ballistic.”

Terri was sedated and taken to a room inside the institution. The next day she was handed a ticket to England. She left the institution shortly after, and returned to Ireland just a few months later.

She went on to rebuild her life and have three more children, but Niall was never stayed far from her mind.

When her son turned 18 she tried to make contact with him.

Sadly he has no interest in meeting Terri, knowing anything about her, their relationship, what happened when he was a baby, or what has happened since. However she hopes someday he will change his mind.

It gets worse as you get older because you know it is getting closer to the day you will leave this planet,” she said.

Today Terri continues to help survivors like herself who are still struggling from the horror of Ireland’s mother and baby hell. Next month she will help launch the newly formed United Survivors group of which she is a founding member. 

The campaign group aims to not only achieve truth and justice for victims, but also put an end to the offensive labelling some survivors still endure today.

“Labelling me in 2016 does nothing to help educate people or change attitudes.” she says.

“I cringe, and I mean seriously cringe, when someone labels me a birth mother because I never was one. I don’t even know what that means.

“Another one is to call them a mother and baby ‘home’. They didn’t exist. They were slave camps, prison camps. I’ve researched ex-prisoner of war camps, and they were the exact same as us. No rights whatsoever.
“I’ll give you an example; down the road in 1973 there was Mountjoy Prison.

“Me in Mountjoy; one bang on the cell door and you get painkillers, health care, legal help.

“Me in the institution; none of it existed. The gates closed, the doors closed.

“But one thing I have always said is I was never anyone’s victim. I was a target carrying a very expensive commodity.”

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Terri’s interview in the Irish Daily Star published on 19/10/16

 

Child number 1629 – David’s story

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David Kinsella

By Patricia Devlin

This month I spoke to a number of survivors of Ireland’s horrific mother and baby institutions.

One of those was David Kinsella, a Dublin man who was born in the notorious St Patrick’s facility on the Navan Road.

The 58 year-old’s story is incredibly heartbreaking. Set aside the abuse he suffered from the very day he was born, he never got the chance to meet his mum as she passed away before he was given her details. On the same day he found out that his mother had died, he discovered he had siblings, including a sister called Emma, in the UK.

After speaking together on the phone Emma jetted in to Dublin to meet her brother. She told him that their mum Elizabeth had taken David’s existence to the grave. They laughed and cried together before parting ways.

A few months later David received an email from Emma saying she’d spoken to his other siblings and because their lives had ‘evolved’ without him, they wished to continue that way.

Another heartbreaking rejection that this incredible man didn’t deserve.

That was 11 years ago and David still holds on to hope that he will build a relationship with his siblings. Just last month the father-of-six sent Emma one last email in a bid to build bridges.

Said David: “I said to her that I will always be grateful for her coming to meet me and telling me a little about our mum. If she does wish to contact me, she can. My door is always open. At the end of the day life is short, we all age and we all die.”

Heartbreaking.

Here is David’s full interview published in the Irish Daily Star earlier this week.

A Dublin man who was born into a notorious mother and baby institution in the 50s says he believes the State used him as a medical trial subject.

David Kinsella, 58, a trained trauma and addiction therapist, was given countless vaccinations from the day he was born until the age of four at the now defunct St Patrick’s ‘home’, Dublin.

The father-of-six has made the claims after scouring his medical records from his time at the Catholic church-run facility.

They were obtained after a 40 year search for his biological mother, who sadly passed away before David had a chance to meet her.

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David’s mum Elizabeth

Speaking to The Star yesterday Mr Kinsella said: “I believe I was a medical trial subject for them where I was getting additional injections, vaccines, that I should not have been getting. And that’s evident in my medical records.

The amount of vaccine notes in my records is substantial. There was one year I got the same vaccine twice.

I was given the BCG vaccine on the 12th of December 1958, when I was 4 months old. And on the 18th of December, four days later, I’m anointed and confirmed. In grave danger of death, my records say.

My adoption was delayed three or four times because I was hospitalised six times according to records.

On one of the occasions I ended up in St Kevin’s Hospital, St James’ now, for seven months.

According to the records I had to get a full blood transfusion and I also had deteriorated iron malabsorption, which can come from malnutrition.

And I do believe that unknown to my adoptive parents, it (vaccine trials) continued on until I was in primary school.

I recall a doctor regularly calling to my adoptive parents house, where I was held down and forced to get big drops into my eye and more injections.”

David was born into the notorious Catholic church run institution in 1958.

His mother Elizabeth, an unmarried 31 year-old woman at the time, left St Patrick’s for England around 18 months after he was born.

She went on to marry and have four more children but never told them of David’s existence.

She sadly passed away at the age of 61 after a battle with bowel cancer and was buried in Basingstoke, England.

David joined his new family in Clondalkin at the age of four, but did not discover he was adopted until the age of 11.

When he turned 18 he sought to find his birth mother but was told by the then Eastern Health Board there were no records.

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St Patrick’s institution, Dublin.

Overcome with feelings of emptiness and what he calls genetic bewilderment, David spiralled into alcoholism and prescription drug abuse from his late teens to mid-20s.

He bravely underwent rehabilitative therapy at the age of 25, before setting out again to find his biological mother, this time through St Louise’s adoption authority. Again he was told no records existed.

It was only when I tried for a third time under the HSE in 2003 that a social worker, a lovely lady who was dedicated to my case, helped me,” said David.

I’ll never forget the day that she rang me in my office on November 7, 2005. She said, ‘David I have good news and bad news for you.

Ethically I’d rather meet you in person but in this instance I have to talk to you on the phone because I have someone else on the other line from England. She’s a sibling of yours and she wants to fly in next Friday and meet you.

The bad news is your mum died at the age of 61 from bowel cancer in Basingstoke in London.”

After coming to terms with the bitter-sweet revelation David met his younger sister Emma the following week.

We spoke for hours and we cried,” he said.

She said to me, ‘sadly David your existence was taken to the grave’.

She knew nothing about me nor did any of my other siblings.

Emma said she can’t fathom how mum could leave a child. My reply to her was that the fear inside St Patrick’s was greater than her maturity.

I also have a very strong belief that the nuns there, as they did with many other mums, told my mother that I had passed away after I was anointed and confirmed. In fact, I am 99.9 per cent sure they did. Sadly I’ll never know for sure.”

The joy of meeting his half-sibling helped David overcome his grief from losing the mum he never met.

Unfortunately a few months later Emma dealt him another heart-rending blow.

“I received an email from Emma saying that she’d spoken to my other siblings and because their lives have evolved without me for the last 40 years, they wished to continue that way,” explained David.

“She said she didn’t know if we would get in touch again and wished me well.”

Today David refuses to let the rejection he has suffered in the past from helping other victims like himself.

As one of the founding members of the newly formed United Survivors group, the 58 year-old is spearheading a campaign for an official government apology to the victims of mother and baby facilities here.

We also want to give victims the strength to fight for justice and speak out,” he said.

He also revealed that after 11 years of no contact, he has sent his sister one last email in the hope of building a relationship with her.

Said David: “I said to her that I will always be grateful for her coming to meet me and telling me a little about our mum.

If she does wish to contact me, she can. My door is always open. At the end of the day life is short, we all age and we all die.”

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David’s story in the Irish Daily Star 18/10/2016

Branded a fallen woman, but Mary was just another victim of Catholic Ireland.

By Patricia Devlin

WHEN Francis Timmons held his dying mother’s hand, he felt like the luckiest man on earth.
For not many children who survived the horrors of the 1970’s Irish care system were as fortunate to be with their mothers.

“To be beside her when she was dying and to hold her hand…I was very lucky I was there,” he said. “I speak to so many people who never had and never will meet their parents.”

Mary Timmons sadly passed away in January 2014, two months before her son was elected to South Dublin County Council.

Until her death she had wrongly carried a guilt that had been instilled in her by the church and the State. That she was an unfit mother because she was unmarried.

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Mary Timmons

Mary wanted her children, but she was told because she was unmarried she wouldn’t be able to look after them,” said Francis
And losing us had a huge and devastating effect on her life. She ended up in the Simon Community for 40 years.

Nowadays she would have had all the support she needed. She would have been encouraged to keep her kids. She was judged.
“Luckily we did get to see her now and and again and she always said to us, ‘I’ll be coming to get you soon’. But she was prevented from doing so.

And years later, even when she was dying, she had this huge guilt.
I remember I was holding her hand and she looked at me. I just said, ‘you done absolutely nothing wrong’
And she didn’t. It was her family, the State, the Church – they all judged her.”

The Clondalkin councillor, 45, grew up in the Blackrock-based Madonna House mother and baby institution ran by the Sisters of Charity in the 1970s.
He was later moved to a foster home where suffered horrific abuse – now the subject of a Tusla-led investigation.
Two of his brothers were also placed in Dublin-based institutions.

Basically what the Church and State did in our situation was they ripped us apart,” said Francis.
They literally took our hearts out, jumped on them, put them back in and expected us to get on with life. It caused a lot of problems.
I grew up with one brother, and the other brother had a few different foster families and it was a strange relationship because we didn’t get to see each other that often.

One of my earliest memories in Madonna House was going off with my other brother and leaving one behind. It’s painful to talk about.
And that’s one thing I felt guilty about. They were awful places and to leave someone there that you care about was hard.”

Sadly some of the foster homes children were being sent to weren’t much better. Francis, who only recently opened up about the abuse he suffered, still struggles.

“You try to shut a lot of it out as time goes on because you want to sleep at night time,” he said. “I almost drank myself into oblivion. I spent a lot of 20s just drinking and getting very, very drunk. It was the only way I could get a proper night’s sleep.

“And there were times when I just wanted to die, I didn’t want to live. I never tried suicide but I did think I’d be better off out of this.
“I thought I would never get out of Madonna House. I was so relived when I did then I went on to suffer the abuse in foster care, I just thought I’d be better out of the world altogether.”

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Councillor Francis Timmons

Since taking his seat the independent politician has been a leading light for abuse survivors where he has tabled countless motions on their behalf.

He is also one of the founding members of the new United Survivors group, which is calling for a State apology to all victims and survivors of mother and baby institutions.
The group is calling on the support of politicians including TDs and Senators to back its bid for justice.

We aren’t looking for sympathy, we are looking for people to know this affects just as much people today as it did then.
The last Magdalene laundry shut in 1996 this is relatively only a few years ago. We aren’t going back 100 years.
What we need from the Minister and the government is that this isn’t a thing that just affected us for a few years in the 70s, this stretches up to the present day.

“One thing I say now is, I am nobody’s victim. I am a survivor because I am here to tell the story.
All we want is truth and justice and a day where we can all go to bed and get a proper night’s sleep.”

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My interview with cllr Timmons in the Irish Daily Star 17/10/2016