I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Unquiet Graves, Unsettled Accounts

Unquiet Graves, Unsettled Accounts

Jeremy Kearney
Coercive Confinement in Post-Independence Ireland: Patients, Prisoners and Penitents, by Eoin O’Sullivan and Ian O’Donnell, Manchester University Press, 320 pp, £19.99, ISBN: 978-0719095450 Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing. – Bob Dylan “They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” I first read these final words of Patrick Pearse’s oration at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa (and maybe learned them off by heart) in an extract from the Exploring English Prose anthology in school in the 1960s. For some reason they have stuck with me ever since, maybe because of the simple rhetorical device of the repetitition “the fools, the fools, the fools” or more likely because of the power of the idea, to my youthful mind, that a country holding graves of the dead could not be at peace without freedom. I was reminded of this speech again recently by the controversy over the apparent mass grave for dead babies at the mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours sisters in Tuam. Research by a local Galway historian, Catherine Corless, had identified 796 children, from newborn babies to a nine-year-old, who had died in the home between 1925 and 1961 and were probably interred on land nearby. However in this case no Irish revolutionary leader had delivered a passionate eulogy to a large crowd of mourners; instead there was only an empty field and a disused septic tank. This time the public unrest was not because of a lack of political freedom but rather because this revelation highlighted yet again the lack of personal freedom caused by the informal incarceration of many adults and children within Ireland’s system of coercive confinement. This system, which was developed and expanded, as well as funded, by the newly independent Irish Free State, included not only mother and baby homes like the one in Tuam, but also Magdalene laundries, industrial schools, reformatories, county homes and psychiatric hospitals. It is…

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