As a native of Co Galway, many would assume the Tuam Mother-and-Baby Home was an institution on my radar as a child and as an adolescent.

The proximity of east Galway to Tipperary meant Sean Ross Abbey was a name that was more familiar to me than Tuam, Bessborough or St Patrick's Guild.

Indeed, the arduous journeys of some women destined for Sean Ross would sometimes be broken in the Midlands. The journey would often resume before daylight.

The local drama group visited the institution to perform their plays for the nuns, heavily pregnant women and others who had their babies taken from them.

The group would pack up and return home feeling they had given the women a break from the daily grind of the institution.

In hindsight, it's bizarre, but an unfortunate sign of the times.

I spoke to a priest who visited Bessborough many years ago.

He wasn't wearing his collar when he arrived at the train station in Cork. When the taxi driver picked him up at the station and discovered his destination, he commented: "You're either a priest or your mad."

A telling comment but a widely held view at the time.

These were institutions where women were incarcerated and hidden away, for "falling pregnant" out of wedlock.

Few spoke of the other party in the act, or about how the women may have been raped or victims of incest, some of them children.

The ethos and power of the Catholic and Protestant churches filtered through society, which led most families - in many cases aided by those with "standing" in the community - to send women away.

The ramifications are still being felt today as is evident following the publication of the Report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes Report.

It began a bigger conversation and the country heard from more mothers and their children who were born in the institutions, a sizeable number of whom were sent abroad.

The cruelty of the system continues to be borne out through those who, for example, were adopted from St Patrick's Guild.

At last count, just over 150 were adopted illegally, some are only learning now that the families they grew up with are not their birth families.

As RTÉ's Truth Matters campaign points out, what happened at mother-and-baby homes is a dark and shameful story which continues to have an impact on Ireland today.

Societal changes have resulted in the public coming full force behind the people who were wronged by the Church, the State and society at the time.

It doesn't mean the lives of the mothers and children in question are any easier today.

They continue to fight for redress, the location of burial sites, identification of the babies who are buried and answers about forced adoption abroad.

While efforts are being made in the Oireachtas through legislation to allow people who were adopted get access to their identities, it has been the result of tireless work by survivor and advocacy groups.

Public support is witnessed in the reaction to the decision by An Bord Pleanála not to allow building work to proceed at Bessborough.

This has been welcomed by the Cork Survivors Group, but they are still left questioning the whereabouts of over 900 babies that are unaccounted for.

They deserve to know.

It is further evidence that the legacy that we are dealing with today is due to the secrecy of the past.


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