I met an extraordinary man last week, only he doesn’t really believe he’s so extraordinary. Neither does his country. Its leaders need to meet him.
In recent months, he has found a voice he never realized he had. Now in his 60s, he has learned how to tell his story and speak out against injustice.
This man spent much of his childhood in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, a place which is now notorious all over the world.
It took him an awfully long time to learn to love and take care of himself.
It’s not easy to care about yourself when you are told you are inferior to others.
When you walk to school in hobnail boots and you are forced to sit apart from the rest of the class.
When you are beaten for the most minor of transgressions, not given enough food, and branded with labels like “home baby” and, worse, “illegitimate”, because your mother committed an alleged terrible crime just by bringing you into the world.
It’s not easy to let go of the baggage when you live in a rural community.
Oh, look, there’s your man, the “home baby”. The one who was adopted because his mother, shockingly, never got married, or the one who arrived late and didn’t smell too good at school.
It’s the kind of baggage you carry with you into adulthood.
Like when you go to the dance and the girl who was so friendly last week never wants to look your way or speak to you again. She’s heard the rumors, you’ve been branded.
Or when you go to the pub and you realize that nobody else there tonight has been classed as “illegitimate”. You might just feel like drowning your sorrows or, worse, finding a way of permanently ending the pain.
He told me what it was like to feel inferior in a rural community in North Galway, to feel that he was not worthy especially of finding a wife because society had told him all through his youth that he didn't deserve to be loved like everyone else.
And, yet, in recent months his life has changed.
This man has begun to find his voice. The global headlines generated by the “Tuam Babies” scandal have allowed him to talk about his sense of injustice and even do media interviews for the first time.
He wants justice for the 796 and he wants people to listen. He’s full of praise for Catherine Corless, the local historian who first told the world the truth about what happened in that terrible home.
By making it clear that the truth about the "Tuam Babies" was worth fighting for, she made him see the value in his own life.
This survivor says he’s one of the lucky ones because, eventually, he was shipped out to a lovely foster home.
His childhood was not all bad, although he can’t say the same for many of his old friends and contemporaries.
In Tuam, he has helped to set up and organize a support group for survivors. They find great comfort from meeting up and talking and healing and he’s found that he, of all people, has the gift of being able to express their pain.
He doesn’t want much, he says. Just some recognition that a terrible wrong was done to him and the other children in homes around the country, in the name of the Irish State.
It would help if those in authority would reply to his letters or answer their phones.
For months, since the start of the year, he’s been trying to get the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to come and visit his little group of survivors down in Tuam.
It wouldn’t be a huge burden on the Taoiseach, the Irish Prime Minister, to take a little detour from the road to Castlebar on his way home some weekend.
Just to sit with the survivors and to hear their stories, the stories they were afraid to tell for most of their adult lives.
But when he rings, the phone goes dead. Or a faceless official makes a non-committal promise that he or she will get back in touch. But never does.
He knows the abuse, the denigration, the labeling didn’t happen on the current Taoiseach’s watch but it was done to him and his friends with the collusion of the Irish State.
It wiped out his self-esteem to the extent that he could not hold his head high in the local pub and he just wants to sit in a room with a few other survivors and tell the Taoiseach what that was like.
How he didn’t kill himself or drown himself in drink.
He wants some acknowledgment of the pain that he and others went through and the huge transformation he had to go through to be able to stand and talk to a reporter in a Galway park on a Sunday evening.
His friend had a little sister he never knew about, who may or may not have been buried in a septic tank. He’d love the Taoiseach to come to Tuam and just listen to their honest words.
They are not going to be able to turn back time but it might help the healing process if the most powerful people in the land would sit and listen and acknowledge the hurt caused.
He watched a new scandal erupt in Dublin last week, involving nuns who have been awarded a national maternity hospital despite their refusal to pay adequate compensation to the victims of childhood abuse.
He watched the Taoiseach visit the White House last month and give a wonderful lecture about immigration to US President Donald Trump.
And he wondered how he could make his way across the Atlantic to Washington D.C. but not sit in his car and take a short trip down to Tuam.
After more than half a century of pain and needless shame, is that asking too much?
Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook
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