They were of Galway.
These little people. Barely formed.
Barely knowing what life is.
Their surnames Galway through and through,
Read through them and it’s like an electoral register from any part of the county.
But electoral registers count those who have a voice, those who have a vote.
These didn’t. Until now.
When we open our ears to hear them.
Their forenames given them in love and terror.
Carefully picked names from frightened mothers in a bleak black and white time, not far removed.
They might have been grandparents now themselves, sitting in front of the fire, with their own grandchildren on their laps, stroking their hair, minding them from the fears of modern life. They might have contributed great things to this community, love, wisdom, strength from having lived through terrible times. They might have been able to impart the durability that our modern generations find hard to sum up.
Take some time to go to Page 26 of this week’s paper and read through those names, carefully listed and collected by Catherine Corless, who graciously gave us permission to list them here so that you all can see the enormity of what has taken place. And remember them.
I have a friend who grew up in a home — who I helped reunite with family after a lifetime of physical and psychological abuse suffered first at the hands of the nuns and then at the hands of greedy farmers who took him in and made him work to the bone, robbing him of all his dignity and shattering his self belief.
He was a commodity all his life, never knowing true love until his brother shared that with him, and until his newfound nieces and nephews hailed him as the uncle he never knew he was.
I wrote here last week about the sheer reluctance of any sector of Irish society to accept accountability, to stand up and say, yes we did wrong. And the fear of Government to tackle any of these matters because of a perceived need for elongated due process.
I fear that in a dozen years’ time, maybe two dozen, we will hear similar reports about the children of emigrants and asylum seekers who are forced into direct provision, into settings that are not appropriate for family settings.
Into a life where they lack privacy, security, the dignity one needs to have time for oneself.
We might think we are great because all of these dark deeds happened in our past, but do not be fooled.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and one to abuse a child as well. Have our eyes not been opened sufficiently wide to alert us to what is wrong?
For many of us, there is nothing more we can do about the past now until the authorities and the communities decide what is the next step with the Tuam discovery.
However, for every one of us, there is a more important role to play. Let us open our eyes to the myriad possibilities for impoverishing and disrespecting children that still occurs in this country.
All children deserve a childhood, they deserve to be loved, to be hugged, to be comforted when scared, to be able to run wild in the wonders of nature, to have a space they can call their own private arena, where they can think for themselves. All children need to have dignity and privacy and respect and care.
And right now, in towns and cities across the nation, Ireland is still imprisoning children in hotels and hostels and in centres of direct provision where they live an unreal existence in a physically and psychologically unsafe environment.
We close our eyes to this and cover our ears and sing lalalalalalalalalala for fear we should imagine ourselves compliant with this. It sickens me to think every day that within a stone’s throw of where we all live, there are people forced to live on €19 a week, in places where their children can’t bring home their friends or imagine that it is any sort of a home.
We look back and blame it all on society and yes, society then was an unforgiving monster.
But to do that is to assume that we are all angels now, that we cherish every child equally now, that we all stand up and accept blame when we mess up, that we operate in a society that is like a panopticon where we see all evil and do all we can to make sure it stops.
Ireland should be better than this. So when we stop the pontificating and self righteousness, let us focus on this, on doing things that are here in the now, so that in 2047, we are not holding more inquiries into how we continued to treat our children like prisoners in 2017.
Let’s open our eyes and start changing the wrongs of 2017 as well as the horrific wrongs of 1947. Let’s take a stand for children. Let us not be a lighter version of the society that created Tuam.