13 Aug 2022

Queen’s and Ulster University academics ask for Derry input in study on history of mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland

mother baby home ireland
Academics from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University are asking for input from Derry people as they lead a new research project examining the history of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive agreed to the establishment of an Inter-departmental Working Group to review the evidence relating to Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries. This project has been commissioned by the Department of Health since the Executive acknowledged that there was limited knowledge about their operation in Northern Ireland. Professor Sean O’Connell, from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Leanne McCormick, from the School of Arts and Humanities at Ulster University are leading the research team on the 12 month project. The researchers will examine archive records held by the state, churches and relevant voluntary organisations with the primary task of preparing a detailed report on the day-to-day operation and practices within Northern Ireland’s mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries. The report’s findings will inform future deliberations about a possible public inquiry on this subject. The research project will also have an oral history element and the research team is appealing for any volunteers who would like to share their story. This includes people in the Derry area. Professor O’Connell said: “Derry/Londonderry did not have a mother and baby home, but the Good Shepherd Sisters operated St Mary’s. With a working life span stretching from 1922 to 1994, it included a convent, residential accommodation and a laundry. We need answers to questions such as how residents came to enter this institution, what living and working conditions were like and the average period residents spent in the home. “In addition, we know that over the course of the past century, hundreds of Catholic women made the journey from their home to Marianvale (Newry) or Marianville (Belfast), the mother and baby homes run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. Meanwhile Protestant women travelled to have their babies in homes such as Hopedene Hostel, the Midnight Mission and Thorndale House (all Belfast) or others such as the Coleraine Welfare Hostel.” Dr McCormick commented: “We are encouraging women who experienced life as a resident of a mother and baby home and/or a Magdalene laundry to come forward and share their stories and participate in this important study. We also welcome input from those professions such as social workers and medical practitioners who may have knowledge and experience of these institutions that may be valuable to this study. “In coming forward for a research study of this kind, we understand these experiences are deeply personal and may be distressing not only for the individuals involved but also their wider family circle. We can reassure any participants that the research will be conducted in a sensitive manner and that there will also be support systems in place for those who choose to come forward to share their personal testimony. The identities of all interviewees will also be anonymous and will not be revealed without their written permission.” The research team also want to record interviews with anyone who worked in a mother and baby home or a Magdalene laundry in Northern Ireland, or who gained knowledge of these institutions because of their work. This could include those working in the following categories at any point before the 1990s: - Members of religious orders - Clergy - Social workers - Family welfare officers - Individuals employed by adoption agencies - Doctors - Nurses - Midwives - Health and safety inspectors For more information on the project, please visit: Pictured above: Children in the care of nuns at a mother and baby home in Ireland.

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