Survivor: Stormont mother and baby apology ‘must be sincere’

Michael McHugh, PA
·3-min read

A woman whose son was taken from her at one of Ireland’s mother and baby homes after she was transferred across the border has said any Stormont apology must be sincere.

Maria Arbuckle, 58, from Londonderry, was 18 when she had her child, Paul, and he was removed for adoption soon after his birth in Dublin.

She has not seen him since.

Almost 40 years later, Ms Arbuckle said: “It was like someone pulling your heart out while you are still alive.”

She had been “abandoned” by her own parents, she was told by social workers, and grew up in care.

She spent time at St Joseph’s training school in Middleton, Co Armagh, before being transferred to St Patrick’s in Navan Road, Dublin, in January 1981 to have her baby.

She said her only choice had been to put Paul up for adoption, adding: “To this day I do not know him.

“They sent me to sign the papers in the social worker’s office.

“They brought the baby to see me for one last time.

“I signed the papers and I walked out of the door and tried to commit suicide.”

Former residents of mother and baby homes have come forward to tell researchers their stories of being transferred across the border from Northern Ireland to the Republic.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill met Irish Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman earlier this month to discuss the sharing of information.

Ms Arbuckle said: “I feel like I am in limbo, because all the southern survivors are all from the south that went into the homes.

“I seem to be on my own, where I was transferred from north to south.”

St Joseph’s was run by the St Louis order of Catholic nuns.

There was a convent in the grounds and a small chapel.

Ms Arbuckle said the home consisted of four blocks and the girls were locked inside at night.

They were given two outfits for summer and two for winter, if they had no family to provide extra supplies.

She recalled: “You were forced to eat food that you did not like.

“Other than that, you were kept warm and fed.”

Punishments involved being locked in an office or being rapped with keys by the nuns.

There was a lot of bullying between the girls, Ms Arbuckle remembered.

She now lives in Lincolnshire in the East Midlands.

She said she hopes Stormont ministers take her concerns seriously.

“They need to realise that, as children, we were not treated good.

“Some of us probably were better off, or feel better off, in homes and in children’s homes than at home, but then others suffered a lot more in children’s homes than they would have done at home.

“They need to apologise.”

She said Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin’s words of apology earlier this month were not enough.

“They do not know how we feel, they did not have children taken off them.

“They do not know what it is like to carry a baby for nine months and give birth then have him taken off you.”