Former resident of Irish Mother & Baby Home and Industrial School addresses the false media narrative.
A public lecture in Tuam last October given by historian Brian Nugent on the third edition of his ground-breaking work “@ tuambabies: A Critical Look at the Tuam Children’s Home scandal” (available on www.lulu.com) saw a number of former residents of the Homes step forward in support of his research that counters a false historical narrative that has emerged in recent years. One such man was Eamon Costelloe who had been raised by the Sisters of Charity in St. Patrick’s Boys School, Kilkenny.
Born the second youngest of nine children in Boher Buí, near Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, Mr. Costelloe’s mother died when he was two years old while she was working on the family farm, and a short while later his father became ill and incapable of looking after his family. Mr. Costelloe, along with other young siblings, were put in the care of different orphanages and industrial schools across Ireland. Eamon himself was sent, along with his younger brother Noel, to St. Patrick’s Boys School, Kilkenny from 1935-43 which was run by the Sisters of Charity, under a similar arrangement as the Home in Tuam.
Mr. Costelloe has fond, happy memories of his time in St. Patrick’s. He stayed there until the age of ten, when the boys were transferred to an industrial school in Salthill, Co. Galway. In the 1970s, he returned to visit the Sisters as an adult to talk to the nuns who had looked after him. They showed him his original cot and one of the nuns even gave him a photo she had kept of him that was taken when he was four years old.
Mr. Costelloe recalls that the boys were treated well both at the orphanage and the industrial school. Despite it being during the “Emergency”, the war years, the boys were “well treated as regards the basics of food, drink and had warm accommodation.”
Eamon felt the nuns in the orphanage were actually very motherly – “the Sisters loved every baby” – and some of the Christian Brothers and teachers in the Industrial School were equally caring, like the superior Brother O’Keefe, and Mr O’Donnell, who Eamon kept in touch with.
The Sisters loved every baby.
At St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Salthill, Galway, Mr. Costelloe was trained in the tailoring trade until the age of 16. This school was run by six resident Christian Brothers and other teachers coming from outside. Some of his teachers, Costelloe notes, were overly reliant on corporal punishment. In 1949, at the age of sixteen, he was given a job as an apprentice tailor with Kenny’s tailors in High Street in Tuam.
During these years Ireland suffered from an economic depression, and Mr. Costelloe was not paid the wages that were due to him. When he sought help from the Christian Brothers, he was disappointed that there was no network or support system to help him and that he felt he was “out on his own.” Fortunately, a family member living in Birmingham invited him to join him as an apprentice tailor there. He soon opened his own tailoring shop, and became so skilled he even made a suit for Mohammed Ali!
Mr. Costelloe is astounded at how false the media portrayal of the state-run orphanages and industrial schools managed by religious orders is. All his siblings did quite well after their respective times in care, and were given solid vocational training, with his sisters becoming nurses in England and his brothers becoming successful in their different pursuits.
Inspired by Brian Nugent’s comprehensive refutation of the “Tuam Babies” narrative, as it has come to be known, Mr. Costelloe was aghast to see a recent display in Collins Barracks Dublin that stated that babies were “presumably buried in a septic tank.” He wrote to the manager of the Barracks: “I respectfully ask that the record be corrected so that the reputations of these Sisters are no longer being tarnished by this untruthful public display in Collins Barracks.”
In response, the manager of the Barracks distanced himself from the display, saying it was not an historical museum exhibition, but merely an art installation dealing with the artist’s own reflections and that the word “presumably” did not mean it was a fact. He concluded the letter by stating he appreciated that Mr. Costelloe’s experience of the Sisters of Charity was a positive one.
Mr. Costelloe has a tremendous devotion to Our Lady and is a daily Mass communicant who prays often for the souls of the Sisters who devoted their lives to look after boys like him. He prays often for the souls of the Sisters who devoted their lives to look after boys like him.