A vigil for the hundreds of babies who died in Ireland’s homes for unmarried mothers will be held outside the Irish Embassy in London this week.
It will be the first time the city’s 180,000 Irish population will have an opportunity to express their outrage about the recent revelation that 796 infants died at one such home in Tuam, County Galway.
The vigil is scheduled for July 3 and it has been organized by a grassroots campaign group of Irish people living in London via their Facebook page. The group currently has over four thousand members.
Avril Egan, one of the group's London based members and whose mother once spent a year in one of the religious run institutions, told IrishCentral: “The point of the vigil is to call for a comprehensive investigation into all the mother and babies homes.”
Alongside her horror at the recent revelations from Tuam, Eagan has a deeply personal reason for helping to organize and attend the vigil she tells IrishCentral.
“My mum was in a mother and baby home in 1970 when she was 18. She went voluntarily because she was pregnant and didn’t want to shame her family. She told people – including her own parents – that she was moving to Dublin.”
But in fact she was actually in St. Patrick’s Mothers and Babies Home on the Navan Road outside Dublin. (The home was later discovered to have participated in pharmaceutical drug trials on the children without parental consent).
“She was gone for a year,” explains Egan. “She had a little girl. Most of those children were earmarked for adoption.”
Irish values at the time were more concerned with how things looked than how they really were, she says.
“If my older sister had been born just a decade earlier she could have ended up in one of those disease filled homes like Tuam where she could have ended up in an unmarked grave. The home she was born in (St. Patrick’s) participated in pharmaceutical trials until the year before she was born. She was so lucky.”
Egan, like many others who read about the Tuam deaths with horror, said the sheer number of mortalities encouraged her to take action.
“Like a lot of Irish people I felt powerless at first. I think its how we’re brought up. You just accept what’s happening and you feel you can’t do anything about it. But something really resonated with me when I came across the Tuam reports. It was like a penny dropped, I just thought you know what I’ve had enough of this. I’m not sitting back, I’m not going to do nothing."
That why Egan and others set up a Facebook page for people who had been following the Tuam story in June. “That was 21 days ago. It just happened we all felt more or less the same about the case. That’s why I speaking for the group as I’m talking to you.”
Part of the mission of the vigil will be to draw attention to what she calls the deficiencies in previous Irish investigations into Magdalene laundries so that the current one isn’t subject to the same mistakes.
“We want to ask that the government provide enough resources and that scope of the investigation is big enough.”
By conducting their vigil outside the Irish Embassy the group hopes to put pressure on the government, Egan says
“They have absolutely no choice but to conduct an investigation. But we want it to cover all the mother and baby homes, not just the one in Tuam. There has to be sufficient budgetary allowance. We want independent investigators for the extra element of objectivity. We also want criminal charges brought against people who are found guilty.”
Asked how many people she thinks will attend she is candid. “I have no idea. It’s interesting, we’ve contacted every publication we can think of and the only ones who have gotten back to us are outside of Ireland.
“I think Irish people have become a bit blasé about it,” she adds. “There have been so many scandals in the Catholic Church its almost like they’re jaded and nothing shocks them.”