Monday, 27 June 2016

Tuam Spirit Babies - The Dancer of Reconciliation

I have a set of cards called The Shaman's Oracle by John Matthew and Will Kingham, in their words: 'The Shaman's oracle works in a simple and direct manner: it integrates the primal beliefs and rituals of our first ancestors with the needs and forces that govern our lives today."
I just picked out this card and this what it says:

"I am the dancer of reconciliation. I dance between those who have grown apart, between tribe and tribe, person and person, nation and nation. I seek out those who are estranged and restore the balance that has been lost. To all who feel crushed beneath the weight of dissolution and separation, I offer the opportunity to restore the shape and form the broken bonds. I also bring means of righting old wrongs and grievances through which process we may grow stronger."
The Dancer of Reconciliation
Without reconciliation we can spent a great deal of time in a no man's land of strife and disillusion. We reconcile ourselves to many things in life without realising it - trivial things that go wrong at home or work, or cannot change - loss, death, shifts in fortune at many levels - is an essential stage of learning on our lie's journey. The Dancer of Reconciliation stands as a force of restoration, a healing presence that offers us insight to understand the true nature of our grievances and the power to mend them.    
Balance restored - Anger dissolved - Restitution of wrongs - Inner certainty - Resolving doubt and confusion -  Strengthening bonds-  Bringing harmony -  Peacemaking ‪#‎Tuamspiritbabies‬

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Tuam Spirit Babies - Burial

Up until the last few posts, I've kept this blog more as a generic documentary of school visits  etc... I haven't really put down any of my personal experiences and thoughts and I don't want to personalise things too much with this project either as it's about how injustices were done to women and their children and the magnitude of how that still affects us all, until they are fully recognised with the love, dignity and respect they deserve. However, there is one link which I have to share and I think that it is in our sharing of an experience that we come to a place of understanding and compassion. 

A beautiful family group photographed on Thursday just doing what comes naturally

White is definitely a theme for this project
One of the strongest memories I have is sitting on my mother's knee asking her about our family in South Africa (she never really liked to talk about them much.) I began asking her about her mother who died of a brain haemorrhage when she was only 49 (my mum was 4 - the youngest of 8 children.) She didn't remember much except standing at the open grave during the funeral watching the coffin being lowered into a big black hole and wanting to jump in after it. She told me she felt such a tremendous pull and someone had to physically restrain her.

They lived in a town called Franschhoek (vineyard country) at the time and my grandmother (Dorothea September - September being a slave name) was buried in the main cemetery of that small town. Only a few years later, during the apartheid era, this place was ethnically cleansed and the whole family along with many others were uprooted and forcibly moved to Cape Town where they still live. 

This is a very prominent feature still on the hillside and assembled by my grandfather
In 2006 we decided to take our children to South Africa to meet their relatives (we haven't been able to go back since, so they've only been once.) We spent most of the time in CapeTown but one day we decided to do a day visit to Franschhoek. My grandfather was a Dutch Reformist minister there, so we visited the church he preached in and saw the stones he put up on the hillside and some of the monuments he helped construct - all very tangible and visible signs of his presence in this town. We decided then to pay respects to my grandmother and visit her grave but to our amazement couldn't find her headstone anywhere. Later that day, when we caught up with my cousin, I asked her about the grave and she told me in no uncertain terms, that the whole of Franshhoek had been ethnically cleansed; including the grave yard. All the bodies had been exhumed and DUMPED!!!!

As you can imagine, this has a profound affect on me. 

Before this point I didn't really have an appreciation of burial. No one close to me had died and cremation seemed like the practical option but over the years as I have attended more and more funerals and the gravity of what it means to have a dignified burial and a place where loved ones can come and visit after (often years or generations later,) I now realise deeply what that means and that someone who might have spent time in a mother and baby home who has no notion of who they are, needs, at a very basic human level, to know if there is someone belonging to them at the site. They need to make their connections and also be given the chance to respectfully mark their time on this earth with a grave that they
and future generations can also visit. 

You cannot silence the children from the graves. 
They find ways to communicate with us and their voices will only get louder until we finally pay attention.

The record of human settlement in Tuam dates back to the Bronze Age when an area adjacent to Shop Street was used as a burial ground. The name Tuam is a cognate with the Latin term tumulus (burial mound). The town's ancient name was Tuaim Dá Ghualann, i.e. the burial mound of two shoulders. 

It's interesting how an expert survey of what is thought to be the burial site of 796 babies in Tuam has uncovered two areas of interest where anomalies in the soil indicate likely human activity beneath the surface. 

It's staggering how history repeats itself or re-presents something for us to view from another vantage point in order to for us to pay attention. 

The Mail On Sunday 

‘The first anomaly is on the left of the site, a box-like structure, which measures five metres by five metres underground.
‘To the right of the site, at the wall, there is a larger anomaly, which is an area of ground which measures 12 metres in length and three to four metres wide.
‘The results would indicate that this is not natural. It could be that something was put in the ground
and covered up.
‘Our results show that these are not areas of stones and we would recommend, given the emotional
feelings of the people in Tuam and the situation and history, that a trench-slit be carried out by another company in that area.
'There are two anomalies on the site. Both are not natural and are not normal. Something happened there in the ground'
Kevin Bright, TST Engineering
‘A trench slit is a lot more sensitive and goes around four to five feet deep into the ground without upsetting the land. 
'Bones could be spread out there… but they would need to be all together to determine straight away that it was bones.
‘You could do four or five slit trenches along them at 50cm. This is our recommendation for the next step, absolutely.
‘The second anomaly area is almost 36 metres squared. We are not able tell you where the bottom of the anomaly area is from a surface scan, it could go very deepdown. I have only the measurements of the top of the anomaly.
‘We can’t say what’s underneath and that would be normal for a test like this.’
The test was done with the full cooperation of the Children’s Home Graveyard Committee in Tuam and historian Catherine Corless. ‪#‎Tuamspiritbabies‬

From the Mail on Sunday

She said last night: ‘I still believe they are in that ground. I’m delighted the Mail on Sunday carried out the tests because no one else has done it and I want to know the truth. That’s all that matters because the children deserve it.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Tuam Spirit Babies - Roses

Still blooming in November

This white rose was still blooming late into November last year. It's significance has been far reaching. It keeps surfacing when the focus on premature death in babies and children is there.
Here's a cobbled together look at the significance of the white rose at this time and it's significance to this project.  

*I met a lady this afternoon (lovely Edel) who'd been thinking about the little 5"x 5" white keepsake that I have invited people to make for the exhibition in Tuam on All Souls Day (November 2nd.) We didn't discuss roses at all but she told me she was out for a walk only a few days ago in Tubber where she lives and a white dog rose caught her eye but what drew her attention even more was the dried up rose hip beside it and a squashed flower under foot. She mentioned the aspect of potential and the crushing of life. Such potent imagery and amazing confirmation when you know something bigger is at work and you have very little to do with it except observe and listen.Thanks Edel! *     

It represents purity, innocence, sympathy, chastity, secrecy, unconditional love and feminine energy also reverence, humility and worthiness.

They are often used in bridal bouquets and are a symbol of spiritual love, unity and new beginnings. White roses are also used in sympathy arrangements at funerals and maybe given to parents to celebrate the birth of a new baby.

A 12th century Persian poet wrote, “Mystery glows in the rose bed, the secret is hidden in the rose.” Not surprisingly, the rose has long been recognized as the western equivalent of the eastern lotus as a symbol of the unfolding of higher consciousness. 

The white rose symbolizes the pure, innocent and unselfish love of Mother Mary - the (virginal aspect of her) 

Wild rose (the bach flower remedy)is prescribed for people who have given up, who have stopped trying to solve an unwanted situation in their life, who believe that it does not matter or that their fate can not be changed. These people have got stuck on one of the rose thorns on their life path. The remedy of the Wild rose will help them to become lively and enthusiastic again and to reach for the rose at the end of the journey.

The rose has represented the expanding awareness of life through the development of the senses. Six-petaled varieties indicate balance and love; seven-petaled varieties indicate transformative passion; and rare eight-petaled roses indicate regeneration, a new cycle, or a higher level of space and time.

Carl Jung discussed the archetypal underpinnings of love between people in terms of the rose: “The wholeness which is a combination of ‘I and you’ is part of a transcendent unity whose nature can only be grasped in symbols like the rose or the coniunctio (Conjunction).” 

Because of its association with the workings of the heart, the rose in alchemy has come to symbolize secrets of the heart or things that cannot be spoken or an oath of silence in general. In the folded structure of the rose, the flower seems to be concealing a secret inner core. “Mystery glows in the rose bed and the secret is hidden in the rose,” wrote the twelfth-century Persian alchemist Farid ud-din Att.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Tuam Spirit Babies - Swallows and Roses

Since my mother passed away on March 3rd this year, swallows and roses have been a recurring theme. They pop up to be noticed constantly and this year our garden has been rich in both. All the rose bushes are drooping, laden with pungent flowers and despite not having a nesing place, swallows soar across the land daily.


When it came to putting the order of service together for my mum's funeral (it took two excruciating weeks before she was laid to rest.) We had plenty of time (on a positive note) to think about relevant readings, photographs, music and images which might be appropriate to include in both a booklet and the ceremony.

My mother was from South Africa, she left in 1963 during the apartheid era and never returned but one of the the first symbols to arise was the swallow; it being a migratory bird and it also pretty much sums up what was my mother's personality; both dramatic and playful. When I looked further into the emblematic and symbolic aspects of the swallow, many other themes surfaced.

Warren Photographic

1. Freedom and hope.

2. It represents love and care towards family and is a sign of enduring love.

3. Its association with sailors and the sea (if a sailor drowns it is said the swallow will carry the soul to heaven.) They tattooed them on themselves before and at the end of a journey - on the wrists. ~ If a sailor saw one, then land was inevitably in sight.

4.In the UK, swallow tattoo's on a man's neck or hands mean time spent in prison hence the term 'jailbird.' 

5. Swallows can stand for white supremacy or power.

6. Swallows have mother bird symbolism - it stands for fertility and renewal of life. Romans believed that swallows were a totem bird to mothers in sorrow as it was said that swallows embodied all the young, innocents who died before their time and the love goddess Venus. They believed it was extremely unlucky to harm a swallow.

The Birth of Venus -Botticelli

7. The Egyptian goddess Isis was thought to change into a swallow at night.

8. In Persia they considered the swallow to signify the separation of friends and so represented loneliness.

9. Swallows were often represented carrying a peach blossom branch to denote Spring and change.

10. To some it signifies the return home after a long departure

Unknown illustrator
All the above is relevant to my mother (she also told us she felt like a prisoner on occasion) but as time has passed, I've also noticed the correlation of their appearance in association with this 'Tuam Spirit Babies' project and the relevance of their symbolism to the mothers and children who lived in the 'HOME' and what that has come to mean us all.

The first day I went to visit Catherine Corless (the historian and genealogist who broke the news about the burial site in Tuam) I pulled over at the side of the road, after I'd been to her house, to answer my phone. Out of nowhere, a flock of swallows began swooping back and forth, back and forth over and around the car. Quite mesmerising, it went on for several minutes until the call was over and I began to drive again, the action continued for a short while even whilst the car was in motion.

On a second visit to her house a swallow pretty much guided the way once I got to the outskirts of Tuam and was firmly on the Dunmore Road.

Crows were the only bird presence at the old Bon Secours Mother and Baby home site though...

Roses are constant too, they're everywhere but more on that another day.  ‪#‎Tuamspiritbabies‬

Tuam Spirit Babies - Wiki history

Some more interesting historical facts about Tuam from Wikipedia.

Tuam (/ˈtjuːəm/ tew-əm), IrishTuaim ([t̪ˠuəmʲ]) is a town in Ireland and the second largest settlement in County Galway. It is situated west of the midlands of Ireland, approximately 35 km (22 mi) north of Galway city. Human existence in the area dates to the Bronze Age while the historic period dates from the 6th century. The town became increasingly important in the 11th and 12th centuries in political and religious aspects of Ireland. The market based layout of the town and square indicates the importance of commerce.


The record of human settlement in Tuam dates back to the Bronze Age when an area adjacent to Shop Street was used as a burial ground. The name Tuam is a cognate with the Latin term tumulus (burial mound). The town's ancient name was Tuaim Dá Ghualann, i.e. the burial mound of two shoulders.
The name probably refers to the high ground on either side of the River Nanny, overlooking a probable fording point over the River Nanny (or Corchra). In 1875, a Bronze Age burial urn was discovered in the area by workmen, dating from c.1500 B.C.[7] An early glass photograph still exists.
The history of Tuam as a settlement dates from the early 6th century. Legend states that a monk called Jarlath, or Iarlaith, who was a member of a religious community at Cloonfush some 6 km (4 mi) west of Tuam and adjacent to the religious settlement at Kilbennon. Jarlath's life became uncertain as he wished to travel. Eventually, Jarlath's abbot, Saint Benan told him to "Go, and where ever your chariot wheel breaks, there shall be the site of your new monastery and the place of your resurrection". Jarlath's wheel broke at Tuam and he established a monastery there, known as the School of Tuam. As was typical with early settlements in Ireland, religious sites became established first and towns grew around them. Likewise, Tuam grew up around the monastery and has kept the broken chariot wheel as its heraldic symbol.
In 1049, when Aedh O'Connor defeated Amalgaid ua Flaithbertaigh, King of Iar Connacht, the O'Connor Kings became Kings of all Connacht. O'Connor then built a castle at Tuam and made it his principal stronghold. This event was directly responsible for the subsequent rise in the importance of the town. Its position dominated the Iar Connacht heartland of Maigh Seóla. It was however in the 12th century that the town became the centre of Provincial power during the fifty-year reign (1106–1156) of Turlough Mór O'Connor, (Tairrdelbach mac Ruaidri Ua Conchobair). He also brought Tuam its most prominent status as seat of the High King of Ireland which he achieved by force of arms during his long career.
At the Synod of Kells in 1152, the centre of government also became the ecclesiastical centre, as Tuam was erected into an Archbishopric, with Hugh O'Hession as the first Archbishop.
Turlough Mór, as High King of Ireland from 1128–1156, was a great patron of the Irish Church and it was due to his patronage that Tuam became the home of some masterpieces of 12th century Celtic art including an Bacall Buidhe. Turlough was succeeded by his son Ruaidrí (Rory), the last native High King of Ireland. In 1164, Ruaidrí had a "wonderful castle" erected, with a large courtyard defended by lofty and massive walls and a deep moat into which the adjacent river was diverted through. This was the first Irish built stone castle.[8] A small part of the castle still stands. Following the destruction of the first Cathedral in 1184, Rory O'Connor left Tuam and retired to Cong Abbey, where he entrusted the Church valuables from the Cathedral at Tuam into the care of the abbot. This left Tuam as a small settlement and it wasn't until the early 17th century that it began to grow in importance again.
Throughout history, Tuam has been an important commercial centre with fairs and markets being an important part of commerce in the region. One of its fairs dates to 1252 when Letters Patent were granted to Archbishop MacFlynn by Henry III. Other fairs were authorised by Charters granted by James I and George III.[9]
In July 1920, the town hall and other properties were burned down by armed Royal Irish Constabulary men, after two had been killed in an ambush by the Irish Republican Army near the town the day before.

The Borough of Tuam[edit]

On 30 March 1613, Tuam received a royal charter from James I which enabled the Tuam Parliamentary constituency to send two representatives to Irish House of Commons until its abolition in 1800. The town was laid out as a market town to its present plan with all the streets converging on the central square. The charter also established a formal local council with an elected sovereign and 12 burgesses. The sovereign was sworn into office at the site of the "Chair of Tuam" which is believed to be situated within the remaining tower of Rory O'Connor's castle. A monumental "Chair of Tuam" was unveiled in May 1980 by the late Cardinal Tomás O'Fiaich.[10]

The High Crosses of Tuam[edit]

High Cross of Tuam

Headpiece of the High Cross of Tuam
The High Cross of Tuam was erected in 1152 possibly to commemorate the appointment of the first Archbishop of Tuam, Archbishop Áed Ua hOissín(Hugh O'Hession). An inscription at the base calls for "A prayer for O'hOisín; for the Abbot; by whom it was made". It is reputed to have been the tallest of the High Crosses of Ireland, but its artistry is scarred by the absence of the top portion of the main shaft.[9] The sandstone Cross was originally erected in proximity to the earliest Cathedral erected in the town, a part of which still remains and is incorporated into St Mary's Cathedral (12th-century red sandstone chancel arch in Irish Romanesque style which is a National monument). The original High Cross or Market cross may have been erected close to what is now the Market Square and High Street.
When the first Cathedral collapsed after being destroyed by fire in 1184, the High Cross was dismantled into pieces, each under different ownership. The archaeologist George Petrie discovered the base of the High Cross c. 1820 and later discovered two other pieces in other locations. The High Cross contains a portion from another High Cross, the ringed cross-section on top. In addition to the Market Cross, it is likely that there were at least four other carved stone crosses from the Connor's reign in the town. An area close to the town Square, known as the Shambles, which continued to function as a market place until recently, was at one point the location of the Market Cross until 1721.[11]
The Cross was brought to Dublin for the Great Exhibition of 1852. However, prior to its return to Tuam, a disagreement arose between the two Churches. Catholic Archbishop Dr. John MacHale claimed the Cross rightfully belonged to Catholics, with Dean Charles Seymour of the Church of Ireland asserting a Protestant claim. Agreement was reached with the Cross erected half way between both Cathedrals and positioned so that it was visible from all main streets of the town. It was situated in the Square in the town centre in 1874.
By the late 1980s, it was evident that the decorative stone carving of the Cross was deteriorating due to weathering and pollution. Experts thought that there was a danger from traffic passing nearby. After lengthy discussions, the Office of Public Works removed the monument from the Square in April 1992. Following cleaning and minor restoration, the High Cross was re-erected in the south transept of St. Mary's Cathedral, where it is now situated, in proximity to its original location. St. Mary's Cathedral also houses the shaft of a third Cross fashioned from limestone. It is thought that all of the High Crosses would have marked the boundaries of the monastic section of Tuam.

Coat of arms[edit]

The red Latin cross is representative of Tuam's importance as an ecclesiastical centre. The double green flaunches at the sides, represent the two hills or shoulders of Tuam's ancient name, Tuaim Dhá Ghualainn. The two crowns recall the High Kings, Turlough and Rory O'Connor who were based in Tuam. The broken chariot wheel being a reminder of the foundation of the monastic town, when St. Jarlath's chariot wheel broke. The motto of the town, Tuath Thuama go Buan, translates as Long Live the People of Tuam.[12] ‪#‎Tuamspiritbabies‬

Monday, 20 June 2016

Tuam Spirit Babies - Tuam (Burial Mound)

Sometimes an issue gets under your skin and it's impossible to shift it until it's addressed. This is my experience with the Tuam Babies scandal. It infiltrates my dreams and meditations constantly, it screams for my attention. I have to do something about it..‪#‎Tuamspiritbabies‬

Catherine Corless, the local historian and genealogist, who discovered the awful findings about the Bon Secours Mother and Baby home in Tuam in 2014 said this for IrishCentral.
"First I contacted the Bon Secours sisters at their headquarters in Cork and they replied they no longer had files or information about The Home because they had left Tuam in 1961 and had handed all their records over to the Western Health Board.” 
Undaunted, Corless turned to The Western Health Board, who told her there was no general information on the daily running of the place.
“Eventually I had the idea to contact the registry office in Galway. I remembered a law was enacted in 1932 to register every death in the country. My contact said give me a few weeks and I’ll let you know.”
“A week later she got back to me and said do you really want all of these deaths? I said I do. She told me I would be charged for each record. Then she asked me did I realise the enormity of the numbers of deaths there?”
The registrar came back with a list of 796 children. “I could not believe it. I was dumbfounded and deeply upset,” says Corless. “There and then I said this isn’t right. There’s nothing on the ground there to mark the grave, there’s nothing to say it’s a massive children’s graveyard. It’s laid abandoned like that since it was closed in 1961.”
Because of Corless’ efforts we now know the names and fates of up to 796 forgotten infants and children who died, thanks to her discovery of their death records when researching The Home’s history. 

I went to visit Catherine Corless last Tuesday (June 14th 2016) and I'll visit her again tomorrow (June 21st 2016) at her home in Tuam - more on this another time.   

On Thursday June 16th I finally got to visit the site at Tuam with a friend (after two previous failed attempts) - it's quite tricky to find. Naturally, we both found it to be an eerie place; bang in the middle of a council estate with flocks of crows swooping back and forth constantly. The ground was undulating underfoot.

Flocks of crows

We both left with a lot more questions than answers:

1. Why has nothing happened to this site in the two years since the discovery?

2. We know there's a judicial inquiry, isn't that usually for the survivors of atrocities? 
What about the deceased - what happens to them?

3. Before it's incarnation as a Mother and Baby home in 1925 and despite opposition from town people who wanted to see it used for industrial purposes, the building was previously a workhouse which was occupied by British military during the war of independence and later served as a barracks during the civil war. On April 11th 1923, six members of the Republican forces were executed after the raid on the Headford barracks. Mother Hortense McNamara (she who ran the home from 1925 until 1951) was instrumental in the erection of the plaque which stands aloof from everything else around it. This wall was part of the chapel that existed at one time.The importance of burial and memorial obviously did feature on her radar but it still leaves a lot of other questions unanswered.

Does the preservation of the site mean the actual place where the men were shot or the environs too? The plaque below is erected on a wall just outside the playground which is clearly inside the site in question but rises up awkwardly from the ground and is extremely oddly shaped.

"This memorial is dedicated to the memory of Mother Hortense McNamara of the Bon Secours sisters who ensured the preservation of this site."

4. Why won't the gardai treat this as a crime scene?

5. How do the people feel living in the houses surrounding it? What are their experiences?

6. What do the children using this playground think about it also being a possible burial site?

7. Why was the home really closed down?

8. What actually went on here?

9. Will the commission of investigation yield satisfactory results?

And so the list goes on but I'll leave them for another day.

A mound in any other playground might be seen as normal but does this area cover anything beneath? Cess pits etc... did exist on this site originally. Is this mound covering one of them and any remains below?

Deposits leaking from the wall forming a skeleton shape

Memorial plaque to six men gunned down in 1923

Grotto still being attended to daily

Map of the area in question