A woman from the state of Washington has joined hundreds of Americans adopted from Ireland who have met with a stonewall when trying to acquire information on their birth mothers from the Catholic institutions that oversaw their adoptions.
Carmel Walter, from Oak Harbor, Washington was inspired to find out more information on her birth family when she became a grandmother. She had always been told by her adoptive parents that she had come to them from Ireland.
After years of searching for further information, however, including trips to Ireland to scour public records and question the organizations that oversaw her adoption, she is no closer to finding out any more about her mother.
Now she has gone public in her search for her mother's identity.
“The fact is all these children like me were deported from their own homeland. We weren’t allowed to grow up with our own culture. That the Catholic Church had that much power they could throw out their own shame is terrible.”
Born Carmel Mary Moore on March 13, 1950, Walter knows that she was signed over to Reverend Mother Rosemonde McCarthy of Sacred Heart Convent, Castlepollard, Co. Offaly on September 3, 1952, by her mother Josephine Moore. She was two years old.
The Sacred Heart Home, Kinturk, Castlepollard was a mother and baby home run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and in use in use from 1935 to 1971. In 2014, following the Tuam revelations, it came to light that as many as 500 babies were buried in a similar mass grave at the Kinturk home and that over 200 young children were adopted by American couples.
Within two months of being signed over Walter was in New York meeting her new American parents Betty and Dave Baird, who had flown in from California to meet her off her eight-day voyage across the Atlantic.
The only reminder that Walter has from her early years is the black and white photo from the passport with which she made her way to New York.
“I came with what I wore on my back. I was wearing two sets of clothing. I had a little rubber elephant that squeaked and a straw cloth doll,” she explains, stating that she still holds dear the doll that was her companion on that journey.
“I don’t know. I want to know these things.”
While Walter has worked hard for years to find more information about her mother Josephine, her efforts have been fruitless due to the lack of information forthcoming from the Sacred Heart Convent and the nuns who run it. The 67-year-old has accumulated as much information as possible about her birth but with a common name such as Moore, and simply being listed as a “domestic,” there is little to narrow down the search any further.
“Moore, that name I learned is as common in Ireland as Smith and Jones are in the US,” Walter says.
“Everyone was called a domestic in those days.”
The Washington-based Irish-born woman had never felt inclined to go looking for her birth family until her retirement. She had had a very happy upbringing with the Bairds, who were refused an adoption in the US because the system believed that they moved around too much.
“Which is funny because they were the most stable people in the world,” she claims.
“My (adoptive) parents never hid anything from me. It’s just that they weren’t told anything.”
Not only did Walter’s adoptive parents not hide any of the facts of her adoption from her, but they actually assisted her in her attempt to find her birth family. Her adoptive mother even funded a trip to Ireland in 2005 so Walter could search for relevant documents.
“We spent two weeks. I spent a whole week doing research at different records offices. It took me years to piece this all together,” Walter states, explaining that they discovered Josephine had spent 38 days in the maternity hospital but there are no records as to why she had such a long stay.
They also discovered that she continued on to an orphanage where she spent two years, presumably until around the time that Walter was adopted by the Bairds.
Walter was told that the records from the maternity hospital had been destroyed by a fire in 1968. When she sought more information as to why her mother stayed so long Walter says the nun she asked responded, ‘Well, you know the girls had to work off their debt.’
“The fact is I was truly blessed to get two wonderful parents. I guess that’s why I put off so long looking for my natural parents,” said Walter, expressing further curiosity in knowing if she has any siblings and a desire to know the medical history of the family.
“The fact is all these children like me were deported from their own homeland. We weren’t allowed to grow up with our own culture. That the Catholic Church had that much power they could throw out their own shame is terrible,” she continued, referring to the church policy of the time that saw unmarried pregnant women demonized and cast out as “moral degenerates.”
The policy resulted in the creation of the Mother and Baby homes, currently being investigated by the Irish government after a string of scandals that revealed mass graves and fictitious death records as well of hundreds of cases of forced adoption and mistreatment of women, all supported by the Irish state.
The plight of these Irish women and their search for the truth regarding the children they were forced to give up was highlighted several years ago by Philomena Lee who spent years searching for her son. Her story was also chronicled by the film "Philomena," which emphasized the lack of assistance from those who ran the Mother and Baby Homes, the failure to aid those mothers and adopted children who are trying to find each other again.
A Commission of Investigation is now heading an inquiry into these abuses.
H/T: Whidbey New Times