Belfast Telegraph

Vigil for Tuam babies as Liam Neeson joins fight

By Stewart Robson

The sister of a six-month-old girl buried beneath Tuam mother and baby home in Co Galway has accused the Catholic church of "sweeping away the victims", while thanking actor Liam Neeson for his support.

The remains of some 796 children are buried in an underground septic tank below where the Bon Secours-run home once stood.

As Pope Francis conducted mass for an estimated 500,000 worshippers in Dublin's Phoenix Park yesterday, Annette McKay along with hundreds of relatives of victims, held a vigil more than 130 miles away.

Ms McKay's sister Mary Margaret O'Connor died from whooping cough and heart failure while in the home with her mother Maggie.

Visiting from Bury in England, the councillor told this newspaper of the "electric" atmosphere as a procession made its way from Tuam town hall to the old site.

Ms McKay said: "We got to the site and worried about how we were going to read out the baby names and, in the end, we decided that the best thing to do was to give people 10 or 20 cards and for them to shout out the names.

"It was absolutely magical because suddenly all of the babies' names were being heard.

"It was beautiful and people were aware of how sensitive it was. Children and older people wanted to read. Young mums too, as well as survivors."

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Ballymena-born actor Neeson had called for moves to help identify the babies' bodies. He said: "The Irish government, aided by the Catholic Church and especially the nuns' order, the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours, must not shirk the responsibility of giving these souls the dignity and respect of identification."

Ms McKay said the A-list actor "is on the side of the just".

"If you've got a voice as big as Liam Neeson's and you're willing to speak for the children that have no voice then use your voice Liam, shout at the top of your lungs."

Ms McKay's mother was one of more than 30,000 Irish mothers who were subjected to cruelty from the Catholic Church. Ms O'Connor was raped by the caretaker of another home before moving to the home in Tuam.

Forced adoptions of babies born in non-marital relationships were commonplace. In tribute to those who died, hundreds of pairs of shoes and a piece of porcelain artwork depicting baby shoes were left at the site.

"Something that was inhumane became human," said Ms McKay. "It was very moving."

Addressing worshippers at Phoenix Park yesterday, Pope Francis said: "We ask for forgiveness for all those times in which many single mothers were told that to seek their children who had been separated from them, and the same being said to daughters and sons themselves, that this was a mortal sin. This is not a mortal sin. We ask for forgiveness."

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