Please help me find my missing brothers
An open letter to the Irish Government.
I am writing this letter out of pure desperation. It is 2 am Irish time and I feel I’m at my wits end. I have done absolutely everything I can think of to find my missing brothers; I have written over 200 letters and emails and I have gotten nowhere. My kitchen has turned into an office, I am a one woman show, I have boxes and folders with every single letter copied and filed as proof of my search. This is my last-ditch attempt to try and find any shred of evidence regarding my brothers. Somebody, somewhere must know who they are and what happened to them. They are two of Ireland’s longest missing children, but very few people know that. I don’t know anyone who knew them. I am an only child. I don’t have a photo of them. All I have is certificates, and that’s it, that is all there is to prove they existed. I have created more paperwork writing to every Government Minister involved in the mother and baby homes scandal, every Garda Commissioner, the Attorney General, you name it. And what have I got in return? “Sorry we can’t help you”.
My brothers are attached to the 796 children who died in the controversial St. Brigid’s Mother and Baby home in Tuam, Co. Galway which was run by the Bons Secours nuns from 1925 to 1961. There has been a Commission established into the Mother and Baby homes, but I am not involved with them, and anyone I approach for help, directs me to the Commission, everyone is hiding behind the Commission which in my personal view is not doing enough to establish where my brothers and all the missing children are. Did the pied piper dance his way into Tuam over a forty-year period and take away 796 children never to return to their families? Did no one seen him spirit these children away without anyone raising a red flag? Or did the children die in the home and are they buried all over the land under a housing estate? Who knows? If the children are buried on the grounds, where are they? No one sat down and spent years writing up Death Certs unless children died or were illegally adopted.
Let me tell you all I know about John Desmond and William Joseph Dolan. They are my brothers, but we have never met each other, if they are alive, they don’t know about me, they may not even know about each other. They may not even know they were adopted. If they are dead, I don’t know where they are buried. I know there is a “small children’s grave at the back of the former mother and baby home in Tuam” where I was directed by Sr. Marie Ryan with the Bons Secours nuns when I wrote to her in 2013 but I don’t know where exactly their alleged plots are. They are known as the “Tuam brothers” while I am known as the “Dolan sister”. I will not identify myself at this stage, but I am willing to go anywhere at any time to meet anyone who has any information about them because the Irish Government and Police simply cannot or will not give me any answers.
I only learned about my brothers in 2013. My mother, Bridget Dolan from Clonfert in Co. Galway gave birth to my brother John Desmond in 1947 when she was 29. My mother was not married then, and just like Philomena Lee in the Oscar nominated movie of the same name starring Judi Dench, she kept her boys a secret. Did she suffer? Of course she did. I may not have known about her secret, but I knew my mother. She didn’t pass through this life without having her sons in her thoughts. I often wondered why she wouldn’t leave her tiny tenement flat in inner city Dublin, I later learned she told a family member she couldn’t go, because she had a boy in America who might come back looking for her. Those words play over and over in my mind. My mother must have been tormented. But like thousands of unmarried “sinners” like my mother, she got on with it, because she had no choice. Since I brought my story out in 2014, I have learned one or two people knew about “a boy who was sent to America” but I knew nothing until three years ago. While my mother has long since passed on. Hopefully reunited in another life with my brothers if they are there too. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery with my father William. I would give anything to be able to find my brothers to lay them to rest with the mother they only knew for a year of their lives, if they are in the next life.
John Desmond Dolan was born a healthy baby in the Tuam home on February 22, 1946 but died the following year on June 11, 1947, his death certificate describing him as a ‘congenital idiot’ despite the fact that he was born a healthy baby..
Three years later after my mother left the home, she fell pregnant again and her second child William Joseph was born on May 21, 1950 at Galway University Hospital, where she remained for around a month following his birth. My mother went back to the Tuam home with William, perhaps because the nuns knew her, perhaps because she felt safe there, despite the appalling conditions. The records for William’s date of birth were changed to April 20, 1950. He was also born a healthy baby.
However, he is registered in the Tuam home as having died on February 3, 1951 and yet there are no notes regarding a cause of death, nor any record in the National Register of deaths. I have reported him as missing person to the Irish Police in 2013, but on the18th November 2015 the Irish Police said they cannot “confirm he is dead”. Does this raise alarm bells? Of course it does. Does it keep me awake at night? You better believe it.
With the horrific stories of the adoption scandals in Australia and Spain and the thousands of women across the world who succumbed to the nuns in these horrific homes, my story is unique in the sense that both my parents were involved with religious orders. My mother was in a Catholic run Mother and Baby home and went on to work in the laundries while my father William was in an Industrial school in Co. Kilkenny with my uncle. They had a sister Mary “Mollie” who was “sentenced” to St. Brigid’s Industrial school in Loughery Co Galway when their mother died from TB and she too sadly died of pneumonia aged 13, on 1st November 1918 again there is no grave for my aunt. Why am I writing this letter now? This week a former Health Service Executive Director publically stated that the intelligence unit of the HSE uncovered a lot of paperwork while researching for the Magdalene Homes. The information which stated death certs in the mother and baby homes may have been falsified by the nuns in order to accommodate wealthy American families who came to Ireland to adopt children has brought the whole thing home for me. There are around 60,000 Irish adoptees in Ireland and abroad who do not have the right to access their files. There are thousands of files lying in attics and basements in homes across the country, the files have not been handed over to the government. Paperwork is scarce but what’s available is pointing in the direction of corruption and baby trafficking. And what is being done? Why is this not a National scandal?
Having learned about my brothers accidentally while I was researching my family in Barnados, I wrote to the Government and uncovered the Tuam home inspection reports from 1947 which described the condition of several babies in the home – including John Desmond. He was described as ’13 months, a miserable, emaciated child with a voracious appetite’.
I was born five years after William Joseph. I often wonder, how on earth must my mother have felt when she held me in her arms on the day I was born? Was she thinking of me? Or was she thinking of William and John? Did she feel blessed she could “keep” me now she was a married woman? Was she afraid I too would get sick and die? Or would I be taken from her? Or did she thank her lucky stars she finally had a child to call her own. Did she ever tell my father about the horrific life she had? Did he know she had two sons before me? Knowing my father, who was a good man, he did know and would have supported my mother. But she never mentioned anything to me about the boys she sadly left behind in “disgrace” in that god forsaken hell hole in Tuam.
I have written to every government Minister past and present about my brothers. Before the scandal of the 800 babies buried in a mass grave in Tuam appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday on 25th May, the story that made international headlines, I had already reached out to Senior Government ministers for help. Had I only started my research after that story broke, I doubt I would have received any information about the Home.
I have remained focused on my own research in relation to my brothers and I have worked alongside local historian Catherine Corless who uncovered the names of the 796 children who died in Tuam and the five mothers. I am not affiliated with any adoption groups, but I do see the bigger picture. This is not just about me, it’s about thousands of people, but I can only talk about my story. I can only tell you what I know. Having been at the centre of the “800 babies buried in a mass grave” story in the Mail in 2014, myself and Catherine Corless have continued to work on our research doing all we can to keep the story out there. I have no faith in the Commission who recently began an excavation at the site of the Tuam home. However, having reported both my brothers to Gardaí as missing or dying in circumstances I believe are warranted as “criminal” I am disgusted no Police liaison officer was ever appointed to keep me updated on any findings at the site of where my brothers may or may not be. No one rang and said “a dig is about to take place”. This graveyard was unofficial, the land belongs to Galway County Council, the children were buried there – or not it may seem – after all anything is possible, yet the Council has nothing to say on the matter. Some people believe those who are buried where unbaptised, but I have two Baptismal certificates for my brothers. An inmate called Bina Rabbit was signing death certs and birth certs, but she had no medical experience and there are no medical certification records for any of the 796 children. The last “inmate” to leave the Tuam home was a lady called Julia Carter, she gave an interview to a local Galway woman before she died and her stories of the home would make your toes curl. It’s hard sometimes to accept all of this happened, but yet again Ireland is full of “dark secrets”. I love my country, I just don’t like how they treated single mothers and little children that were termed “illegitimate bastards”(this was the exact words of a former inmate of one of these hell holes as he described them ).
Last year I wrote to the Attorney General to request under Section 24 of the Coroner’s Act 1962 that an inquest be held into John Desmond’s death.
In order for that to happen, his body would have to be found, and an exhumation would be necessary. But the request was refused, stating that I should wait for the Commission of Inquiry to review the matter. What is the Commission doing? I have nothing to do with them. I am doing my own work and no one wants to know. Therefore, I want to put my story out there because I am never going to give up hope. If anyone knows about Bridget Dolan and her missing boys and if anyone knows my brothers, if they are still alive, please, can you please tell them their sister in Dublin loves them and would love them to come home.
The Dolan sister