Profound Moment of Validation for Forgotten Children
Thousands Turned out Yesterday in Solidarity with the Tortured Victims of Systemic Institutional Abuse

By Carl O'Brien
Irish Times
June 11, 2009

EVERYWHERE YOU looked, there were powerful and emotionally charged scenes.

There were two older men who hadn't seen each other since Letterfrack in the 1950s, who broke down in tears when they recognised each other.

There was the woman who had found out in recent years that the baby she had in a Magdalene laundry hadn't died after birth, as she had been told; the baby had been given up for adoption.

An elderly woman shrieked at the heavens, saying she had been sleeping in a tent on and off for two years outside Leinster House in protest over the way she and others victims had been treated.

But most of all, the powerful feeling was that the silent march was a profound moment of validation for a generation of forgotten children, finally able to tell their stories.

"Today's march means people believe us," said Teresa Murphy, who spent 16 years in an industrial institution in Co Tipperary.

"All of these years of suffering in silence, with loneliness inside us. Now, at least, we can speak out."

She held a pink child's shoe aloft, to symbolise the lost childhood of others who passed through industrial schools, as she looked through the railings of Leinster House. "We were worked to the bone, with no education . . . When you weren't on your knees scrubbing, you were on your knees praying."

Her friend Mary Smith (56) from Newmarket, Co Cork, also felt overcome with emotion - but was mindful that nothing will bring back her lost childhood.

"I always thought I was alone, I put on a front that I was happy, that I was okay, but I've never felt part of society," she said.

She was admitted to an industrial school shortly after being born.

"This won't bring back my life, and no money will be able to compensate us for what we went through. I will never see the face of the mother who brought me into the world . . . There are no records of who she was - that can never be recovered."

Francis McCabe (46) held a handmade yellow banner with a cross and a slogan in the air which boldly stated: "This cross is hard to bear, will the Church and the State face up to hurt they caused?"

He says he is still recovering from the physical and emotional abuse he suffered in an institution in Dublin in the mid- to late 1970s.

"We're here to stand up and be counted. People might not have believed us in the past, but they do now."

The victims' long march was also an opportunity for thousands of people to express their solidarity with the abused.

One of them was Laurie Ennis from Portarlington, who came with her daughter Libby (24).

"I came up to Dublin today because I feel very strongly about this. You see the walking wounded in the town, who suffered abuse and it was never dealt with. The numbers talking about abuse in day schools on the march here today is just phenomenal.

"What went on was so shocking and we need to acknowledge what happened," she said.

Denis Hanrahan (65), from Glasnevin, Dublin, was another participant who wore his white ribbon with pride.

"This was a hugely symbolic day, bringing everyone together to protest about what happened and to call for justice," he said.

"I saw physical abuse in my school growing up, but what went on in the institutions was truly shocking."

Gerry Dignam (65), who only knew of the horrifying reputation of industrial schools as a child, says he never realised the real scale of abuse until the Ryan report emerged last month.

"A huge crime has been committed here and the people responsible need to be made responsible.

"Those involved have to be named and shamed. I'm reading a book on the 'Irish gulags' and it should be prescribed reading in schools.

"The pope says he is distressed and so he should be. The religious need to give up their control of the education system now."

Despite the powerful symbolism of the march, many victims felt the heavy burden they carry with them will never lift.

They are still dealing with homelessness, alcoholism or a multitude of other problems.

Elizabeth McCarthy (60), from Charlemont Street, who was placed in an institution near Stillorgan, is battling with alcoholism.

"I ended up drinking as a result of what happened and I'm still dealing with it.

"If you spoke about any of this as a child, you'd get a clatter, so we had to bottle it up."

Jimmy Mulhall (58) from the north inner city spent time in Artane and Letterfrack. He says he tried as hard as he could not to take his frustration out on loved ones around him.

"I lose my temper like that. I take it out on my family sometimes . . . but you keep trying to control it."

For Bernadette Casey, who attended Goldenbridge between 13 and 18 years of age, the damage will never be amended. "I support all of this today, but it won't change my life. I don't know what love is," she said.

"I got very sick and depressed when the report came out, listening to it all. I had been off my tablets.

"Now, I feel a bit sad and uncomfortable, to be honest. We're like herds of cattle - we're marching, but what for? Whatever happens, we have to close this ourselves."


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