Tuam - This is our nation’s holocaust

Holocaust is a very strong word, isn’t it? And I’ll be honest I thought long and hard about whether or not it was appropriate to use in these circumstances.

I looked it up in the dictionary to get the exact meaning (beside the obvious historical meaning in relation to the mass murder of Jews and other ethnic minorities during World War II) and found it listed as ‘destruction or slaughter on a mass scale’.

I thought of the 793 bodies of children - from infants to the age of nine - uncovered in Tuam and the scandal which has followed. I thought of a friend of mine who stood at another mass, unmarked grave, in Belfast last week where she found the final resting place of her baby brother.

I thought of the reports I had read of unwed mothers being brutalised, having pain relief withheld during labour, denied the dignity of being stitched back together after childbirth ripped through their bodies. I thought of how they were denied antibiotics if they developed an infection.

I thought of the abuse - physical, sexual, mental - endured by a generation of Irish children whose only crime was to have been conceived. I thought of that pit in Tuam - of body on body. Tiny, fragile, beautiful faces. Locks of curly hair. Pudgy toddler legs. Grasping fingers. And I wondered how we as a nation can hold our heads high. Perhaps I am writing emotively - but this is our reality. When I think of these babies I think of my children, of my 10 year old, my five year old, of my one year old niece and her craving for affection and I feel sick to the pit of my stomach.

I thought of the country I had been proud of. Sure the Irish are great craic, aren’t they?

Sure the Irish are a holy people - and I have never in my life felt so angry, so betrayed and so disgusted with those complicit in these barbaric acts.

And I wonder how we are supposed to believe in a God, in a Church and in a people who could not only turn a blind eye to these misdeeds but who could actively promote and encourage such actions.

As a parent I wonder how I can explain such cruelty to my children.

When I put it all together in my head - there are words which, no matter how distasteful and how upsetting we cannot escape from. Atrocities were committed against women and our children. They were not perhaps wilfully murdered - but they were cast aside all the same.

This is our nation’s shame. This is our nation’s holocaust.