The documentary “This World: Ireland’s Lost Babies” unearths further truths about the 40,000 to 60,000 babies who were involuntarily given up for adoption, many to the United States, from Catholic mother and baby homes in Ireland, during the 1950s and 60s.
Presented by Martin Sixsmith the documentary alternates between Ireland and the US to tell the tales of the parents and children who were separated by the Catholic Church. Sixsmith is the journalist behind the tale of Philomena, which was later made in to a movie by Steve Coogan. His latest hour-long documentary examines the appalling treatment of the Irish women who became pregnant outside marriage and also the adopted children, who were farmed out to parents who had little vetting.
These babies were handed over to these unknown families. The children often chosen from a primitive mail order catalog and the Catholic Church often receiving a sizeable donation. They were selling babies by mail order to the people in the US.
A striking personal account from the documentary comes from Mary Monaghan, who was born in a mother and baby home in Ireland and sent to America by the nuns, adopted by a predatory pedophile. Now, aged 64 and living in Massachusetts, Monaghan told Sixsmith how she suffered years of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder after being adopted by the family of William O’Brien, a violent pedophile. Eventually Monaghan was reunited with her mother Therese, who has since died.
Perhaps the Catholic nuns believed they were sending Monaghan to a better life in the United States. However, O’Brien was never checked. Monaghan questions why nothing was ever done to help her and why no one investigated O’Brien’s sick desires. It emerged that only Mrs. O’Brien had been investigated and she was a kind and decent woman who passed all the checks carried out by the adoption agency. Her husband went entirely unchecked and the toddler was handed into his care, 5,000 miles away.
Speaking in the documentary she said she “does not remember a lot” about being separated from her mother by the nuns.
She added, “Even though you're so young, you still have feelings. You remember being ripped away even if you don't remember the physicalities of it.”
Her new family, the O’Briens in California, appeared perfect for the child to start a new life. William was a businessman and well-respected. Her new mother was a kind and decent woman.
Monaghan said, “She was indeed a nice person.”
Her new father was a different story. She spoke about her early years with the family.
She said, “When I first got there, I would often be ill.
“I would have all kinds of allergies and break out because I was allergic to the food.”
Monaghan continued “My memories [of childhood] are terrible.
“I was physically punished for not being able to eat.
“If I did what a little child does and wet the bed, then I was literally put in the toilet. Then the sexual abuse started and it just progressed.
“I had to be kept in my little routine as it were, so I tried to break away. It was all systematic. It was very serious pedophile thinking.”
Monaghan was alone. Her new family kept up appearances and she had no one to turn to.
“I could not perceive of any way of doing something and I had to protect myself. Because if I had said something and it had come to light, then I probably would not have lived another day.
“And that is not an exaggeration. He had the world fooled.”
The abuse continued until Mary was old enough to stand on her own to stand on her own two feet and she fled. However, her traumatic childhood and her battle to find her real mother left her scarred.
Also the very idea that the Catholic nuns simply handed her over for adoption without the proper investigations being carried out haunts her.
She said, “I think if they did proper vetting, I wouldn't have been placed in that household," she says. "How do I feel now? Well, it's been a lot to overcome.
“I still have flashbacks sometimes and I still struggle with substance abuse occasionally. And I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
When Monaghan was 52 she finally had the chance to meet Therese, her birth-mother, in London.
“Well, that was quite a moment when we first met,” she said.
“I went up to her and I hugged her and she froze. She literally froze. So it came through to me that I needed to tread lightly.”
Monaghan said her mother carried the shame of being an unwed parent to her grave. She died in 2010. However, during the ten years they had together it was clear to Monaghan that she was still a “secret” and her mother had never admitted the truth to her family.
She said, “It was very clear that I was to keep my mouth shut. That I was a secret. That I was a long lost cousin. I did play along even though it was hard. But some people did guess.”
Monaghan added “It's just unfortunate that she had to take so much shame to her grave.
“It just isn't right.”
You can watch the full documentary here:
Other tales of neglect and cruelty are also included in the documentary. Kathy Deasy was sent to her adoptive family the US at the age of five. She was adopted to keep the family’s biological daughter company. However, when the daughter turned 18 and was sent to college Kathy was kicked out of the “family” home. Her adoptive parents then sold the house and moved to California to be closer to their other daughter.
She told Sixsmith, “It was horrible to say goodbye because they’re the ones who said hello to me!”
Added to these horrific personal accounts the apparent ongoing righteousness of the Catholic Church and the macabre discovery in Tuam, Galway of, allegedly, the remains of nearly 800 infants buried in a mass grave next to a former nun-run home, the documentary makes for wretched viewing.
However, Sixsmith ends with a glimmer of hope that the Tuam discovery and the inquiries launched since may be the beginning of some kind of closure on this grim chapter in Irish history.