A six-year investigation revealed shocking findings in Ireland's mother and baby homes, which were mainly run by the Catholic Church. It brings attention to the country's "misogynistic culture."

By Anna Halkidis
January 15, 2021

A shocking new report is bringing attention to a grim time in Ireland's past involving the death of thousands of babies and children at the hands of the Catholic Church and the state.

The report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes revealed there were 9,000 deaths in 14 mother and baby homes and four state-operated county homes between 1922 and 1998.

Mother and baby homes, which were all closed by 1998, were where unwed pregnant women were sent to deliver their children. These institutions were mainly run by the Catholic Church, which once held great authority in Ireland. The six-year investigation on these homes stemmed from an unmarked mass grave that was found in a mother and baby home in Tuam in 2014.

The report explains about 56,000 people, including 12-year-old girls, were sent to these homes, and about 57,000 kids were born there. Even more: About 15 percent of these kids did not survive because of malnutrition and preventable diseases. Many of the babies who did survive were put up for adoption, usually without the mother's full consent.

An image of the site of the discovery of a mass grave containing the bodies of 796 children of St. Mary's Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway, Ireland.
Credit: Getty Images.

A survivor named Terri Harrison, who detailed the ill treatment she faced, said she was 18 when she was sent to one of these homes in 1973, according to the Washington Post. At 5 weeks old, her baby was taken away for good. "They threatened me with the high courts. They were going to ring my father in his place of work. They were going to put me in the national newspapers, and under no circumstances would I ever be allowed to take my son back because he was happy with his Mommy and Daddy," she said.

Dozens of these homes also allegedly performed unethical vaccine trials on children between 1934 to 1973. Children were reportedly vaccinated with experimental shots, including for whooping cough, tetanus, and polio, but without the birth mother's knowledge.

Micheál Martin, Ireland's prime minister, apologized to survivors and, during a press conference, called it a "dark, difficult, and shameful chapter" of the country's history. "It opens a window onto a deeply misogynistic culture in Ireland over several decades, with serious and systematic discrimination against women, especially those who gave birth outside of marriage," he said. "We did this to ourselves as a society."

The leader also acknowledged the shame these women were forced to feel. "We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy," he said. "Young mothers and their sons and daughters paid a terrible price for that dysfunction."