ROSCREA’S former Mother and Baby Home, located at Sean Ross Abbey on the periphery of the town, has become known internationally as a very dark chapter in the area’s local history - but a very poignant and emotionfilled open day at the long closed facility this week has marked the beginning of a positive chapter in the personal stories of many people who travelled to Roscrea to be there.
“We were overwhelmed by the number of people who came to Roscrea to visit Sean Ross - they travelled from Scotland, England, all over Ireland to be there for what was a very emotional experience for a lot of people,” Michael Donovan, who with his colleague Teresa Collins, organised Monday’s open day.
Mr. Donovan, who has become the outspoken champion locally about facing up to a deeply uncomfortable chapter in Roscrea’s modern history, told the Tribune the day marked “an opening of doors, after years of doors only being closed.”
“It wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of the new owner, Tony Donlan, who is sensitive to the stories of the people and wants to help,” Mr. Donovan said.
Mr. Donovan, Chair of the Roscrea Sinn Fein Cumann, has intensively campaigned for the rights of people who were affected by the Sean Ross Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, which operated from 1932 to 1970 and saw babies born in Roscrea being sent abroad, mostly to the United States, for adoption.
The few remaining records for Sean Ross adoptions are held by the HSE and in 2013 the international hit film Philomena, recounted the controversial adoption of Michael A. Hess, born Anthony Lee, at Sean Ross Abbey in 1952.
The graves of an unknown number of mothers and babies are located in an unmarked area and Mr. Donovan has campaigned for the plot to be examined after he witnessed bones unearthed near the site while working there in the 1980s.
In Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea there is a designated child burial ground in the grounds of the institution and the Mother and Baby Homes Commission undertook a geophysical study of the site earlier this year and subsequently a test excavation of the site and the results of this excavation are currently being examined.
Records contained in a file contained in the archives of the Department of Health titled 'Children and Mothers in Special Homes Annual Returns,' reveal that between 1960 and 1967, 634 children were sent for adoption to the US and UK from Roscrea.
Results of geophysical surveys and excavation work carried out in Roscrea will not be published until February 2020 and survivors of the institutions have been critical of the long wait.
Many of those survivors joined large numbers of local people who attended Monday’s open day and expressed their frustration at the slow, drip-feed of information, while also acknowledging the opening up of the former Mother and Baby Home as a major turning point in their search for answers.
“One man who had travelled all the way to Roscrea from the United Kingdom broke down in tears when he set foot inside the place and it marked the closing of an important chapter in his life he said.
“There was a lot of tears on the day, it was very emotional, but a very rewarding experience for everyone involved,” Mr. Donovan told the Tribune.
Earlier this year the religious order which ran the Sean Ross facility put a large portion of the St. Anne's campus where the facility is located up for sale, however the cemeteries in which children and sisters are buried are not included in the sale and will continue to be maintained by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Mr. Donovan told the Tribune he hopes the facility’s doors can be opened to the public again on June 5th next year to coincide with annual commemorative ceremonies.