PATRICK JOSEPH HAVERTY spent the first five and a half years of his life in Tuam mother and baby home.Sitting in local historian Catherine Corless’s house, Haverty tells TheJournal.ie that the formal recognition that “a significant number” of children’s remains have been discovered in sewage containers at the old mother and baby home site is “bittersweet”.
For years, survivors like Haverty have been telling their story, but until three years ago, it had fallen on deaf ears, something he says has to change now.
Haverty was born in the Tuam home in 1951.
“My mother had to leave (the mother and baby home) after 12 months and she knocked on the door for five and a half years trying to take me out, but the nuns wouldn’t allow it, so eventually I was fostered out to a good family.”
The people who ran the home did not want a bond to develop between mother and son, so they sent her away, he explains.
She was not your typical young teenager who got pregnant – she was 27 years old – but she was unmarried.
He was eventually reunited with his mother years later when he found her in Brixton, south London. But his memories of his first step into the world – when he was fostered out as a child – remain clear.She got work in Tuam, and every time she would head off to work she would come down and knock on that door and plead with the nuns to let her see her son. They always said “no, go away”.
Haverty said he was brought out to a car, but got a fright when a dog appeared.I can remember the day I left the home. I was all dressed up and I walked out with some people that I didn’t know.
“I’d never seen a dog before, so I jumped back in to the car again.”
This is a testament to just how much of an unorthodox upbringing he had in the home, where he didn’t know anything about the outside world, he explains.
While he says he doesn’t remember many details from the home, one memory does stick in his memory: Mattresses lying up against the wall, drying out, after the young infants had wet the bed.
“I was one of the lucky ones – I got into a good foster home and got to meet my mother again after many, many years,” says Haverty.
However, even though he was only in the home in his early years, he never escaped the stigma of being the child of an unmarried mother.
They knew that I was out of wedlock and it is the Church that is to blame for that, because that is the way they were raised to think. We were nothing but a kind of scum… you weren’t normal because you didn’t belong to a wedded family.
As a young man, Haverty says he was shy, but he would still go to the local dance halls.You were just a bastard in their eyes. People would just make little of you and look down on you. They wouldn’t even talk to you.
However, who he was and where he had come from always remained an issue.
Now that the truth has prevailed in Tuam, Haverty wants an apology from the Bon Secours and from the State. Not just for him, but for his mother, who passed away four years ago.If I did get talking to a nice girl, sometimes we would get on great. But the next week, you see, she wouldn’t talk to me. Why? Because someone had got to her. Someone had told her – her friends maybe – who I was and where I’d come from. Or her parents would tell her not to go near me, because I came from an unmarried woman. They’d tell her to keep away.
“I didn’t choose to be born into that situation, yet we were the ones who paid for it. Us and our poor mothers, who did absolutely nothing wrong. I want that apology, so that I can read it over my mother’s grave and so I can tell her, she didn’t do anything wrong.”
During our conversation, he receives a call from an old friend who was close to his foster parents.
They saw him on RTE News and they want to congratulate him.
“Someone has finally listened to us at last,” he told his friend in a quivering voice.
‘No one listened’
“No one in Dáil Éireann listened to us, only a small number of politicians,” he says.
One person’s secretary said they didn’t know where Tuam was and simply said ‘good luck to you’ when we asked for help.
However, he pays particular tribute to Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuiv.We asked the Taoiseach to come down to the site last year – but he didn’t. We’ve heard nothing today from him today. It’s like you have to drag it out of them, an apology, for all this sort of thing.
“He is the only one who listened to us, he sat down with us and brought it up in the Dáil.”
Aidan, Catherine Corless’s husband, points out that many politicians never took them seriously. But now they have to, he states.
Former Galway East politician Colm Keaveney was constantly trying to highlight the issue, says Corless. ”Sure, he eventually lost his seat for doing so,” he adds.
In 2014, Keaveney called on the Taoiseach to offer a formal apology on behalf of the State for what he described as “appalling treatment of mothers and babies”.
Calls for an apology
Keaveney told RTÉ’s News at One that there is “no excuse for silence” on the issue.
Three years on, the survivors say that silence is still resounding.
“Sure they know now that we were telling the truth, they shouldn’t be hiding from it,” said Haverty.
“They all need to apologise. They [the religious orders] have rosaries in one hand and the devil in the other.”
Haverty has high praise for Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone who he says has shown true compassion for the survivors of the mother and baby home.
“While other politicians haven’t wanted to know about us, she really has made huge strides to listen to us. She sat here and just listened to us. I felt, ‘at last, someone is taking a minute to listen to us’.”
“Perhaps it is because she is not from here, that she is from America. Perhaps she is not conditioned like the Irish people to just stay quiet, not to ask questions about that. She wanted to unearth it, which is why I think she got so emotional about it, because she wants to find the truth for all of us.”