Belfast Telegraph

Child care home memorial unveiled

The short lives of 222 children whose deaths at a Protestant mother and baby home were hidden for decades have been recognised with a special memorial.

A headstone carrying the names of babies from the Bethany Mother and Child Home who were buried in unmarked graves in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin has been unveiled at a new plot.

Details of all the youngsters who died at the mother and child home have also been posted on the campaign group's Facebook page in the hope relatives may identify a lost child.

Derek Leinster, chairman of the Bethany Survivors group who spent about three years and 10 months in the home as an infant, said the survivors' quest for redress from the state will not end with the memorial.

He said: "Children were disregarded as nobodies. Someone who could be cast aside. That was not right. And I was one of those children. I was left to die at three years of age. It was a miracle I came out alive."

The Protestant-run Bethany house for unmarried mothers and their children was in operation from 1921-1972. It was first based in Blackhall Place, Dublin and later moved to Rathgar.

A Church of Ireland service and unveiling of the headstone at Mount Jerome was attended by representatives from all the major Christian churches in Ireland.

Niall Meehan, whose research helped uncover the extent of the unmarked graves, said the day was about bringing dignity to the deaths of scores of children, a right every person is entitled to.

He said: "The memorial gives recognition to the children that they were denied in their short lives. They were destined to be forgotten.

"It gives them the minimum that everyone gets when they die, their names on a headstone. And it means that if there are any families who come across the names they may find they had a relative who died - that will give the children who died something else, it will give them a family which they were also denied in their short lives."

The 6ft memorial stone is Kilkenny limestone with designs carved into it including toys to signify a lost childhood and trees the length of time the campaign for recognition has taken. State funds helped to pay for it.

A plinth around the stone carries poems from Mr Leinster, and a verse from survivor Patrick Anderson-McQuoid who wrote: "Over time, As natures seasons multiply. You are all remembered. You teach us in your absence, That over time, Love never dies."

The Church of Ireland service included a piper's lament and music from organist Coleen Andrews, a survivor of another Church of Ireland home, Westbank House in Bray. Other Survivors and their families from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Australia and Portugal attended.

Mr Leinster said the memorial is as much about awareness as recognition of forgotten lives.

He said: "Relatives may not be aware that a member of their family is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. They may now become aware of that fact and will have somewhere to grieve. In that way, the forgotten children may at last gain the recognition and the family they always deserved."

Mr Meehan, head of journalism and media at Griffith College Dublin, added: "Today is not a day for apportioning blame but for taking responsibility. These children were abandoned like thousands of others in Irish society and destined to be forgotten. Today is a day for them to be remembered and to be recognised.

"The children may also at some stage gain a family. That would be the best outcome of today's unveiling of the memorial stone with the children's names in Mount Jerome Cemetery."

The Bethany group claims to have documents proving state officials ignored evidence of neglect and record numbers of deaths in the home in the late 1930s.

In 2010, the group, with the help of Mr Meehan, discovered 219 unmarked graves in Mount Jerome of children from the home.

The Government determined last year that former Bethany inmates would not get state compensation similar to the survivors of Magdalene laundries or clerical abuse because they did not suffer sex abuse, brutality or forced labour.

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