Book review: "The Adoption Machine" by Paul Jude Redmond - The Republic of Ireland, from the year it received it's independence in 1922, set the global standard for the mistreatment of single women and girls aged from 12 to 48, as well as the neglect or cruel mistreatment of their babies

The shocking infant mortality rates, year after year, decade after decade confirm the claim. Our outwardly directed displays of Catholic piety cost these poor women their liberty, their offspring and in thousands of cases their lives.

They were stigmatized and then disappeared, spoken to as if they'd committed treason, then locked away in these forbidding and prison like Mother and Baby Homes were they were often stripped of their identities and forced to work for free.

Approximately 100,000 Irish girls and women lost their babies to enforced separation since 1922. Think of the grief of that loss for just one mother, over one lifetime, then think of them all.

Nuns caring for babies at a Mother and Baby Home.

Nuns caring for babies at a Mother and Baby Home.

Three of the most notorious Mother and Baby Homes in the country had such high mortality rates it staggers the senses. St. Patrick’s, Sean Ross Abbey and Bessboro all had mortality rates that ran up to fifty percent and higher in various years from 1925 to 1947 and even up to eighty two percent in Bessboro.

In his passionately well written new book The Adoption Machine: The Dark History Of Ireland's Mother And Baby Homes And The Inside Story Of How Tuam 800 Became A Global Scandal author Paul Jude Redmond, who himself was born in the Castlepollard Home, carefully lays out the appalling history of this decades long abuse of power by both Church and State, whose perfect storm of religious judgement and official neglect led to the mass incarceration and death of tens of thousands of Irish women and children.

Nuns photographed with children at a Mother and Baby Home.

Nuns photographed with children at a Mother and Baby Home.

What so many reports miss but what Redmond reminds us here is that the Homes were often very profitable. Vast sums were generated through the selling of irish infants to wealthy adoptive parents abroad who were often prevented by law from adopting in their homelands.

Irish infants were also provided as live test subjects to pharmaceutical companies eager to conduct new drug trials without the need for any consent from their birth mothers. Given the scale of the abuses, and the pitilessness of them, it's perhaps not surprising that the Irish public whistled right past these Mother and Baby Homes until they were finally closed and in some cases demolished.

In another year when we are once again debating the rights that we afford Irish women to make their own reproductive choices, the long shadow of what used to happen to the girls who “got into trouble” is back to haunt us again, as is the screeching morality that once corralled these women to their doom.

Redmond calls the Mother and Baby Homes what they undeniably were, “a cross between a maternity hospital with no doctors and nurses and a low to medium prison.” That previous generations of the Irish knew all this was going on and still permitted it to happen tells us everything we need to know about how Ireland differentiated between male and female sin, then and now.

The site of where the 796 babies were found at Tuam.

The site of where the 796 babies were found at Tuam.

Social class is a thorny subject that the Irish generally prefer not to discuss, yet it also played its part in the brutalizing of these poor women. Rural and urban working class women pregnant outside of marriage were considered an especial moral contagion by the professional classes who quickly signed their warrants.

Redmond frequently reminds us of the isolation and helplessness of their condition, hidden away from the world to give birth unseen and uncared for. A child born into a Mother and Baby Home himself in the 1960's he brings an insightful personal perspective to the book that compliments his hard work to secure an investigation into the Tuam burials.

With an eye for native hypocrisy Redmond reminds us that the burial sites for neglected infants and children are often refereed to as Angel Plots. These were places where, he writes, “hundreds of babies and children had been buried just a few feet below where we walked around...more horrors.”

Neither the government nor the Irish public have shown any appetite for truth telling, whether that be to compensate, commemorate or contemplate what happened to tens of thousands of these Irish women and their babies.

A sign of protest placed outside Ireland's government buildings.

A sign of protest placed outside Ireland's government buildings.

But Redmond's book successfully breaks that long national silence and he even tells you what to do if you have been a victim of that system yourself because, he writes, an ugly truth is always better than a beautiful lie.

Merrion Press, $29.99.

Protest art on a wall in Dublin calls attention to the ongoing illegal adoption scandalFlickr