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The Tuam Oral History Project

The people featured in this exhibition all spent their formative in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. The 'Home' was one of a number of such institutions established at the foundation of the Irish state. Publicly-funded and located in a former Workhouse building, it was under the management of the Bon Secours Sisters. Thousands of women and children passed through its doors until its eventual closure in 1961. In recent years, research by Catherine Corless has drawn attention to conditions in the institution and the sector generally, prompting considerable media coverage. Between 2015 to 2020, the State-appointed Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes gathered evidence and issued a number of reports.

The key aim of the Tuam Oral History Project is to enable the survivors of the Tuam institution and their families to tell their own life stories, in the way that they want them to be told.

Members of the project team will record and archive the histories and life stories of survivors and their families, as well as the memories of others connected in any way with the institution or with those who spent time there. Members of the project team are anxious to make contact with anyone who wishes to have their memories recorded. They are happy to travel for meetings and interviews.

The Tuam Oral History Project

Teresa O’Sullivan was born in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in February 1957. Her mother, 16 when she became pregnant, went to England to have her baby with the support of her family.

However, the Irish Catholic Guild, a ‘rescue’ organisation, persuaded her to return to Ireland, and she entered the institution in Tuam, where she remained for a year. Returning a few months later to take her daughter out, she was told that Teresa was on her way to U.S., which was untrue

At 21 months, Teresa went for treatment for severe ear infections to St Finbarr’s Hospital, Cork. Adopted by a couple from West Cork soon afterwards, she had a very happy upbringing, despite a hearing impairment and the loss of her adoptive mother at the age of 12.

In 1990 she had an emotional reunion with her mother, who was then married with five children. They established a strong relationship which continued her mother’s death fifteen years later. Teresa had three children, Cian, Áine, and Rebecca who was still-born. Though she had a happy childhood, and has had great support from her family, Teresa is conscious of the impact that early childhood trauma had on her.

Tom was born in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in June 1942. His mother Maureen was then 17½. She remained in the institution for the year following his birth.

Tom was 5 when he was boarded out to a family in Loughatorick, near Woodford. While the family were good to him, he says, ‘it wasn’t what you’d call home’. He believes he fared better than many others in the same situation.

He was not supported at school and regrets that reading and writing has always been a challenge. He enjoyed working with machinery, and was employed at the Tynagh Mines and the Galway Metal Company. Throughout his working life he was an active trade unionist. For twenty-five years, he was the drummer in a band that played in venues throughout East Galway and Clare.

He married Ann Flood in 1965, and settled in Kylebrack where they raised five children.

Tom found his mother when he was about 20. She introduced him immediately to her husband and ten children, and they remained in regular contact until her death in 1994. Tom still lives in Kylebrack with his son and his two greatly-cherished dogs.

Peter was born in the maternity hospital of what is now University College Hospital, Galway, in June 1944. His mother was one of five siblings, and at the age of 33 she discovered she was pregnant.

A single mother-to-be, she was regarded as a scandalous woman in her village. The parish priest arranged for her to go to the County Home in Loughrea when she was seven months pregnant, and a few days after Peter’s birth both he and she were transferred to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Kept in Tuam for twelve months, she was transferred back to the County Home, where she worked as a domestic servant.

Peter spent four years in the Tuam institution, before being boarded out to a farming family. His life with this family was extremely difficult, both physically and mentally. His mother meanwhile spent ten years in the County Home, and while there became pregnant again at the age of 44. She was returned to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Peter’s sister Marian Bridget was born a healthy baby in April 1954, and it is recorded that she died in Tuam ten months later. Having only learned of his sister’s existence in 2015, however, Peter is investigating the possibility that she was in fact adopted.

Peter’s mother was next sent to the Magdalene Laundry in Galway, where she was incarcerated for 35 years until her death. Peter found his mother there in February 1975. In October of the same year he married Kathleen and they went on to have seven children. Peter has been active in cultural and sporting bodies throughout his adult life.

John Egan was born in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in 1951. His mother Kathleen remained there for the year after his birth. John left the institution in 1958.

While he remembers very little from his time in Tuam, John clearly remembers the day in 1958 that he was fostered out to Mrs Cooney, especially his nervousness during the journey to her house, off the Scariff road near Gort.

At school he got good reports, though he struggled with Maths then and afterwards, having missed three years of classes. After secondary school he looked after his uncle, cycling 28 miles from Gort to Woodford a few times a week. The uncle was difficult to deal with, but following his death John inherited his farm.

John met his future wife Josephine around this time, and later turned the farm in Woodford over to forestry in order to move near to her family in Limerick. John and Josephine had four children, and now have a grand-child. They still live in Limerick.

Carmel was born Winifred Carmel Smith in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in July 1949. Her mother Winifred had been admitted to the institution in May 1949 and was discharged in March of the following year.

Carmel never met her mother subsequently. And, despite many efforts, she has been unable to find her final resting place.

At the age of 5, Carmel was boarded out to Agnes and Tom Reddington, who lived near Ballina, Co. Mayo. The couple, who had two grown-up daughters, looked after her very well, and she had a close relationship with Tom. When she was 18, Agnes developed a serious illness, and Carmel was obliged to emigrate to England. Staying with relatives of her foster family, she enjoyed the freedom and the social life of London, where she remained for twelve years.

Returning to the Ballina area, she married and raised three children. She now lives in Tuam, having spent some years living and working in Galway.

Christine was only four or five pounds in weight when she was born in her grandfather’s house in 1950. Soon afterwards she was placed in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

At the age of 8, she was fostered by Margaret Carroll, who she says was a caring women. Christine also had a good relationship with her social worker, who was an advocate for her throughout her earlier years. Having attended school in Tuam initially, Christine moved to Headford when she was fostered. There she completed primary education.

Before leaving the Tuam institution, Christine’s mother had signed papers allowing her to be adopted by a Mr and Mrs McHugh in the US. After many attempts by them, Christine was brought to America when she was aged 17, but it was not a good experience. She stayed with her adoptive parents for only eleven months, but remained in the US for twelve years. In 1970, Christine had a son, who she gave for adoption through a Catholic charity.

Christine had contact by letter with her mother, but not with her father.

Back in Ireland Christine married in 1979, and lives in Headford to this day. She has two daughters and another son. A further daughter died as an infant. Her daughters are in communication with her American son, though she herself is not. Being a good mother is important to Christine.

Joe was born in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in 1938. His parents were both from the Ahascragh area. Joe’s mother Margaret entered the institution when she was seven months pregnant and left when Joe was one year old. She would later marry, and have five further children.

At the age of 5, he was fostered by Mr and Mrs Kane in Abbeyknockmoy. They also had a son, Paddy, who later moved to London. Joe believed that the Kanes were good to him and to Paddy. He lived with the Kanes until they passed away, and still lives near their home in Abbeyknockmoy. Joe never subsequently met his mother or father, though he did meet some relatives later in life.

Joe has many good friends in the community, with whom he enjoys hurling, dancing, playing darts and socialising over a few pints. With a mischievous sense of humour, he has a number of favourite sayings including, ‘What is lotted can’t be blotted’, which sums up his attitude to life.

Pat was born in 1952 in Killimor Co. Galway. Sadly, his mother Teresa died in childbirth, and his father Ned was unable to care for the new baby and his three sisters.

Initially relatives tried to help out, but because of their circumstances were unable to continue doing so, and the children were sent into care. The girls went to the Mercy Convent orphanage in Ballinasloe, while Pat was sent to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

When he was aged 6½ Pat went to live with relatives, and two years later returned to his family home in Killimor. He remembers the Tuam institution as a place where he was always cold, hungry and afraid. He experienced physical punishment and neglect, resulting in a hearing impairment which persists to this day.

Pat had learning difficulties which were not addressed in school. Thanks to a neighbour, he learned to read and write when he was in his 20s. He cared for his father until his death in 1975, and overcame many difficulties through the years with the support of his sisters and extended family. Still living in Killimor, he cherishes his pet dog Jessie, and meets with friends for lunch every day at a local café.

Walter was born in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in 1941.
At the age of 6, he was boarded out to a Lally family near Athenry.

While he was never re-united with his mother, Walter has met a sister, a year younger than him, that he did not know about until she contacted him when he was aged 78. She lives in the United States, and the discovery resulted from genealogical research.

Following a period working in England, Walter settled in the area he grew up, and he inherited the Lally farm. He built a house, married, and raised three children. His wife Susan passed away four years ago.

In recent years, Walter has been helping out in his daughter’s barber’s shop. He has developed a warm friendship with another survivor of the Tuam institution, with whom he attends meetings.

Michael O’Flaherty was born in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in 1948. His mother, Patricia, who remained in the Home for a year following his birth, emigrated to Manchester, having found that the parish priest did not want her to remain in her home parish.

Though he has no memories of the institution in Tuam, Michael has a clear recollection of going to live with a foster family when he was five. He recalls being neglected and physically punished by his foster father. The obligation to help on the farm often resulted in him missing school. At 15, Michael was moved to another foster family, where he ate alone and slept in a shed, while again working hard and being badly-treated.

In 1972, Michael enlisted in the Army where he experienced huge job satisfaction, getting the opportunity to acquire catering skills, to serve in Lebanon, and to establish lifelong friendships.

In 1998, he met his mother, who was widowed with one other son and living in Manchester. Sadly, their time together was short as Patricia was terminally ill. In her last year she established a loving relationship with Michael, his wife Ann, and her grandchildren David and Emer.