“We had to go up at feeding times, washing times, but we weren’t allowed cuddle them. We were told, ‘don’t. They’re not yours any more’.”
“The 10 o’clock feed, I would have been going up for that. He was gone.”
“They slammed every single door in my face, they looked at me as if I was dirt on their feet. I had given birth to a baby, a beautiful baby. They looked at me like I had done something wrong. Bad. And I believed it.”
“I was caught by the hair and swung around the room ... I had my head repeatedly banged on the mantelpiece.”
“The girl who wet the bed and myself had the wet sheet put over our head and were made to stand in the corner for the whole of breakfast. We never got any breakfast either.”
These are the voices of Redacted Lives, the Journal’s podcast that released its first episode in November. These are the voices silenced for decades, and it is both gruelling and important to hear them.
Over the course of six episodes, we hear from women who were forced into mother and baby homes, and from the children who began their lives there. The Journal’s Orla Ryan talks to academics, lawyers, activists, writers, historians, and current Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, but she centres the podcast on survivors and it is their lives we are being asked to witness.
We already know this story. We know and have known that terrible abuses were carried out behind the high walls of these institutions: we even knew it at the time, as those interviewed make clear. But to hear it in this way, spoken by those who lived it, to hear their anguish and their rage, is to be reminded that we failed and continue to fail them.
Pregnant women were forced into these homes, babies were taken from their mothers, children were abused and neglected. As a country, we are still in the throes of reckoning with the enormity of what went on with our own complicity, and this podcast is part of that process.
Ryan does a sterling job gathering the strands to tell this story with compassion and rigour, and Redacted Lives makes clear that all these individual elements — mother and baby homes, industrial schools, institutions — are part of the same sorry story.
The podcast takes the report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes head-on, through interviews and reporting, picking apart the manner in which evidence was gathered, how it was published, how survivors were treated, conclusions reached, all interspersed with the voices of those who were directly affected — first by these State-run institutions and then by an investigation that fell short for so many.
This is both our past and our present, still affecting those searching for lost family members, for withheld records, for information about what happened to their children, being asked to give evidence time and again to commission after commission, to relive their trauma and find it once more disregarded. “They threw it all aside,” says one survivor. “They tried to shut us all up.” Redacted Lives gives us another chance to hear them. We should take it.