Notes and Comment Blog

Only if there’s due process

Jun 5th, 2014 6:27 pm | By

Maajid Nawaz on Newsnight arguing with an Islamist called Ibrahim Hewitt who would love it if Britain became a sharia state and who won’t condemn or reject the stoning of “adulterers.”

There’s a bit starting at 4:30 where Maajid tries to get Ibrahim Hewitt to answer the question – “If there’s due process, stoning to death is ok?” – but the latter dodges and feints and Jeremy Paxman helps him get away with it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

An inquiry into the circumstances behind so many deaths

Jun 5th, 2014 5:57 pm | By

Good. The discoveries about the Tuam mortality figures are making a stink in Ireland. Good.

There is growing pressure on the Government to hold a full historical inquiry into the deaths of almost 800 children in a mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway between the 1920s and the 1960s.

There were numerous calls from TDs, Senators and councillors yesterday for a full inquiry following the disclosure that many infants and children who died in the home run by the Bon Secours order were buried in an unmarked plot.

Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan said yesterday that he was giving “active consideration to the best means of addressing the harrowing details emerging regarding the burial arrangements for children who died many years ago in mother and baby homes”.

Wait; focus, people. Throwing them out like garbage was bad, yes, but it wasn’t the worst thing. Letting them die was the worst thing. Not taking proper care of them was the worst thing. Taking money from the state to take care of them and not taking care of them was the worst thing.

Yesterday politicians from both Government and Opposition parties, including Galway East Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, called for an inquiry into the circumstances behind so many deaths in the home, as well as into the remains found in the unmarked plot.

There you go, that’s the one. It’s the so many deaths in the home, far more than the mass burial.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Round 3, or is it 4

Jun 5th, 2014 4:43 pm | By

Huh. The Global Secular Council’s contact person told me in her first replies (before the ones where she refused to tweet an apology)

I have instructed the Social Media team for future to take less liberties in this regard, and to run similar challenges by me before “tweeting” in defensiveness, rather than diplomacy.

I guess her standard isn’t exactly what mine is.


Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson

Seriously? You’re calling me “Ofie” now?

Michael DeDora @mdedora

. There is absolutely no excuse for this. I urge the to retract and apologize.

Bames Jillingham @FuperSuck

Why is everyone suddenly going crazy because Ofie has been called “Ofie” ?!?

Secular Council @SecularCouncil

Thank you for your support.

So much for instructing the Social Media team for future to take less liberties in this regard. And as for tweeting an apology – !

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jun 5th, 2014 12:23 pm | By

Here’s me “bullying” or “internet trolling” the Global Secular Council.

Secular Council @SecularCouncil May 24

Sorry you missed this, . We responded many times to Ms. Ophelia. We are many women, & more joining soon. www.secularcouncil/team

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson May 24

@SecularCouncil @VitaBrevi

Actually you didn’t. You typed words but they were consistently non-responsive.

Also, I don’t call myself “Ms Ophelia” – I don’t know what that’s supposed to be.

Secular Council @SecularCouncil May 24

@OpheliaBenson @VitaBrevi How would you like us to respond? Is there a way we could respond that would actually have you talk nicely w/ us?

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson May 24

Honestly, fairly, and substantively.

Secular Council @SecularCouncil May 24

We don’t believe our org is a mistake. We believe it needs expansion. That is in earnest!

Ophelia Benson @OpheliaBenson May 24

But then – again – why did you go public before expanding?


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Think global, tweet local

Jun 5th, 2014 10:00 am | By

The Global Secular Council is getting much much better at remembering that “Global” has to include people who aren’t from the US or the UK or even Sweden; much much better at following the news from other parts of the world and sharing voices from there.

Or, not.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jun 5th, 2014 8:41 am | By

Wow, the Global Secular Council and its parent the Secular Coalition for American sure is doing a great job of representing US secularists.


Secular Council @SecularCouncil June 2

Thanks, , for understanding we had been trying to answer Ofie’s questions, but had not been heard!


That’s what the harassers call me. Sometimes they vary it to Oafy, just like any 5-year-old.

And the Global Secular Council thinks it’s appropriate to follow their lead.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post by Leo Igwe: From a ‘Bird Woman’ in Nigeria to a ‘Genital Thief’ in Burkina Faso: Is Africa Returning to a Dark Age?

Jun 5th, 2014 8:18 am | By

Sometimes I ask myself : Are Africans returning to a dark age? Are we moving towards or away from enlightenment, from civilisation? These questions have become necessary if one is to put into context the magical and superstitious beliefs that are ravaging the continent.

Recent reports from Burkina Faso and Nigeria (not just about Boko Haram and the missing girls) have caused me to wonder as to where this African continent is heading in this 21st century. Africans, just like people in other regions of the world, entertain magical and mystical beliefs. They also hold spiritual and supernatural opinions. But the superstitious currents in Africa appear to be taking on a different dimension. I mean the situation is getting out of hand. African superstitions are so charged and threatening to the point that some may think that the people of this region are essentially a different sort of human being. But, of course, they are not.

I mean, India, Japan, China have their own superstitions. But they have a way of managing them so as to not allow these notions to hamper their scientific, technological and human development. The number thirteen is associated with occult nonsense in the US. But that has not prevented Americans from making breakthrough discoveries in science and technology. It has not stopped Americans from excelling in mathematics. Has it?

But in Africa, the situation is different. Superstition is so visible and widespread. Superstition is the greatest obstacle to development and progress in the region. This is because Africans have allowed themselves to be held back by irrational beliefs and associated harmful practices.

Many Africans express their magical beliefs in ways that make them a laughing stock internationally or reinforce the prejudice that Africans are primitive and credulous. Otherwise how does one make sense of a recent report from Nigeria that a woman turned into a bird?

In fact a local newspaper, the Punch, captioned the story this way: ”Police rescue ‘bird woman’ from Lagos mob”. ‘Bird Woman’? Well the story went like this. An elderly woman was accused of being a witch. She allegedly turned herself into a bird as a result of her witchcraft but something went wrong during her flight from a neighbouring city.

According to the report, ”she came from Ibadan for a meeting in Lagos but as they were returning home they missed their way and wasted so much time hovering in the area till daybreak. The woman claimed she fell because she was tired of flying”. And that transformed her back into a human being.

Is that not absurd? How on earth can a human being turn into a bird? But some people in Lagos are not asking such questions. For them it was not a fairytale. It was an act of an evil witch. An angry mob gathered and wanted to lynch the woman. But some police officers intervened and took the woman, or should I say the accused ‘bird woman’, away.

Many people in Nigeria and across Africa believe human beings can turn into animals. This claim is associated with witchcraft and magic. Many Nigerians believe witches can turn themselves into animals to carry out their occult operations. Birds are commonly believed to be witch’s familiars. Meanwhile no evidence is ever produced for these beliefs. Stories of people changing into goats, cats, or insects abound in Nigeria. But they are all based on hearsay, insinuations and received narratives, which Nigerians refuse to question, critically evaluate, or abandon. Not too long ago, the police in Ilorin in Central Nigeria arrested ‘a goat’. The goat was brought to the police station by members of a vigilante group. They claimed that the goat was a thief who was being chased but who then suddenly turned into a goat to avoid being arrested. Just imagine that!

When the police chief in the area was contacted, he said he could not confirm the accuracy of the story but stated that the ‘goat’ was now in custody. Tell me where else on earth could this happen today? Where in the contemporary world could the police arrest and keep a goat in custody? Did the police interrogate the ‘goat’? Did it eventually face charges? Was it brought to court?

You may have heard that some hunters in Bornu state have gone in search of the missing girls? They have joined the rescue efforts, not with satellite or drone technology but with magic charms ”amulets of herbs and other substances wrapped in leather pouches as well as cowrie shells, animal teeth and leather bracelets”. They claim these charms will protect them from the bullets of Boko Haram militants. Will they? If the anti-bullet charms are effective, why should Nigeria waste money buying bullet proof vests, vans and armoured cars for the police and the army? Why should Nigeria expend resources securing foreign military assistance? In fact why do we need up to 500 hunters with anti -bullet charms in the first place? Two or three of them should be enough to take on and defeat Boko Haram militants and rescue the girls.

Well, these superstitious absurdities are not only to be found in Nigeria.

In Burkina Faso a man was accused of using magic to steal the genitals of another man. The two men has some misunderstanding at a local resturant and this led to a fight. One of them claimed in the cause of the fight that the genitals had been stolen.

The accused man called the police for protection but before they arrived at the scene, a local mob had lynched him. Complaints of genital disappearance are common in other parts of Africa- in Nigeria, Ghana, Congo DRC etc. When men claim that their genitals have been stolen, it does not mean that the organ has disappeared. The organ is still there but the claim is that their sexual power has gone; that it has been magically removed. This complaint often leads to the accused receiving a beating or even being lynched. The belief is not only that some people can magically ‘steal’ the sexual potency of others or as is often claimed cause their penis to disappear, the ‘thieves’ are also accused of using the ‘genitals’ for ritual sacrifice which can make them rich or prosperous.

But there has never been any confirmed case of genital theft or penis disappearance. Claims of genitals stealing are often later discovered to be a hoax. But the belief remains very strong and often leads to murder or maltreatment of accused persons.

Now think about it. Where is Africa heading to with all these superstition-based abuses, absurdities and atrocities? Can Africans realize a civilized and enlightened society in this 21st century with this cognitive baggage, these pervasive dark age irrationalisms? But I must add that there is some light at the end of this dark tunnel of superstition. Many skeptics and freethought groups and activists are emerging in the region. Today, we have active groups in Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya etc that are campaigning against superstitious and irrational beliefs.

But will the emerging trend of skeptical activism overwhelm the rage of dogma, superstition or magic? Only time will tell.

Leo Igwe

Leo is on a speaking tour in the US next month: details here.




(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Leo Igwe in the US next month

Jun 5th, 2014 7:51 am | By

Leo Igwe is doing a speaking tour in the Ohio-Indiana-Chicago-Michigan area in July. Don’t miss this if you are in that rectangle!

July 11-13: SSA conference in Columbus
July 14: CFI of Northeast Ohio
July 15: Freethought Dayton
July 16: Humanist Community of Central Ohio in Columbus
July 17: CFI Indiana in Indianapolis
July 18-20: FBB conference in Chicago
July 21: CFI Michigan/Society for Humanistic Judaism in Birmingham, MI
July 23: CFI MIchigan in Grand Rapids

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jun 4th, 2014 5:42 pm | By

A word of advice. If you’re attempting to write a panegyric in defense of someone who is useful to you but a blister on the heel of many other people – the first thing you want to pay attention to is verisimilitude. You want to make it believable. You see what I’m getting at? You don’t want to say “my friend is a saint, and for this saintliness he is roundly punished.”

You don’t want to say that because right away you’re going to get doubts and questions. “Huh?” people will say. “Why would that happen? Why would anyone punish your friend for saintliness?”

And then they’ll start to wonder if you’re just blowing smoke, and then you might as well have saved yourself the trouble.

You’re welcome.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

When the philosopher sees it is rewarding to get out of the armchair

Jun 4th, 2014 4:43 pm | By

Patricia Churchland responds crisply to Colin McGinn in the New York Review of Books. (Colin McGinn. You’d think he’d go quiet for awhile, wouldn’t you, to let people’s memories fade.)

Other scientific disciplines are also extremely important in understanding the nature of the mind: genetics, ethology, anthropology, and linguistics. Philosophy can play a role too, when the philosopher sees it is rewarding to get out of the armchair. Some philosophers, such as Chris Eliasmith, for example, have truly made progress in computationally modeling how the brain represents the world.

Nevertheless, there are nostalgic philosophers who whinge on about saving the purity of the discipline from philosophers like me and Chris Eliasmith and Owen Flanagan and Dan Dennett. What do the purists, like McGinn, object to? It is that their lovely a priori discipline, where they just talk to each other and maybe cobble together a thought experiment or two, is being sullied by…data. Their sterile construal of philosophy is not one that would be recognized by the great philosophers in the tradition, such as Aristotle or Hume or Kant.

I get the feeling she doesn’t have a lot of patience for the salvation of disciplinary purity.

The view for which McGinn is known is a jejune prediction, namely that science cannot ever solve the problem of how the brain produces consciousness. On what does he base his prediction? Flimsy stuff. First, he is pretty sure our brain is not up to the job. Why not? Try this: a blind man does not experience color, and he will not do so even when we explain the brain mechanisms of experiencing color. Added to which, McGinn says that he cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be a bat, or how conscious experience might be scientifically explained (his brain not being up to the job, as he insists). This cognitive inadequacy he deems to have universal epistemological significance.

McGinn of course doesn’t see it that way, and says so, but I enjoyed Churchland more. (Misandry!)


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Trying to wriggle out of it

Jun 4th, 2014 11:21 am | By

But, we are told, it wasn’t the church, or it wasn’t the church alone, or the church was just following orders adhering to the norm, or it was poverty and wars and the drink, or no one else wanted these children and it was very kind of the church to take them in, or you’re just a pack of bigoted secularists so you are. An avowedly Catholic blog runs through them all, one after the other.

The story of the home run by the Catholic sisters of the Bon Secours has hit the UK press after a resulting Irish media storm.

It has predictably whipped up anti-Catholic outrage and sentiment amongst the small clique of Irish secularists who seem to inhabit Twitter, lurking to pounce on anyone who dares to say anything less than condemnatory about the Catholic Church in Ireland.

It may be predictable, but is it wrong? I can’t see the wrongness. The Catholic church had and continues to have huge pretensions to tell everyone in Ireland what to do in great and intrusive detail. Why should they not be held to a very high moral standard? Why should wholesale cruelty to and neglect of children the state hands over to their care for a fee not be greeted with anger?

The blogger goes on to squander many paragraphs on comparative irrelevancies – the mass grave, the septic tank, the unconsecrated ground, and only then get to the real issue: the neglect and the monstrously high death rate. She gets to it to minimize it.

The death rates from neglect, malnutrition and preventable diseases easily treated with antibiotics are undoubtedly shocking. No-one seeks to excuse them. With that in mind, the death rates in Tuam seem to be consistent with the death rates of illegitimate children throughout Ireland as a whole, which were 3 or 4 times that of legitimate children and double the death rates of illegitimate children in England and Wales.

Ireland was in the grip of poverty, as  Anglo-Irish Catholic tweep @dillydillys has pointed out, rural Irish society was ruthless compared with our comfortable armchair perspective. Life was tough during the lean years of the economic wars between Britain and the Free State.

No. It’s notorious that in the Industrial “Schools” the nuns ate the very best food while the children ate small amounts of cheap nasty horrible food. This is not just a matter of national poverty. The church had money, because it extorted it from the people. The church got rich and accumulated real estate. The church got money from the state for taking care of the children and babies in question. Also, as I mentioned, the church takes itself to be the moral authority for all of Ireland and all the world; it doesn’t get to fall back on the low standard that applies to Just Humans Doing Their Best In Hard Times.

This is not to deny abuses or shocking treatment, but to point the blame solely at the church alone is too simple.

Reports from 1929 show that a special maternity ward for the unmarried mothers was added to the Home in Tuam. The reason for this is that married women and paying customers at the local district hospital in Connacht were unwilling to share their hospital facilities with the ‘misfortunates’. They wanted segregation. This proposal was opposed by a priest, Canon Ryder who wanted to find accommodation for these mothers in other hospitals.

This moving of the mothers to a separate institution lacking trained staff and facilities would have undoubtedly contributed to infant and maternal mortality rates.

Society and state wanted these women to disappear and colluded with the Church who were willing to provide institutions. A sanctioned burning of library books portraying unmarried mothers in a positive light took place in Galway in 1928. A ratepayers meeting in  Portumna said that no additional burden should be placed upon married parents who already had enough to do with the raising on their own children and that the state must step in to act.

And what was the chief source of those attitudes? The Catholic church whose “teachings” pervaded all of life in Ireland at the time.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Keep Health Care Safe and Secular

Jun 4th, 2014 10:58 am | By

Here’s a much-needed campaign, run by CFI.

Yes, do.

Right now health care is beset by two plagues:

  1. The imposition of religious dogma on health care, resulting in limited access to and even the denial of medical services;
  2. The shameless marketing of sham remedies, sold as “natural” or “traditional” cures, often accompanied by the rejection of scientifically proven treatments.

We need to come together to fight for health care based on sound, scientific principles.

We need a campaign to keep health care safe and secular.

Keep Health Care Safe and Secular is harnessing the talent, intelligence, and enthusiasm of people who want to ensure that our health care is focused on effective remedies and proven outcomes. We’re educating the public, the media, and policy-makers about the threat of misinformation, dogma, and quackery. And we’ve created this website to provide you with the information you need and the actions you can take, right now, to help keep health care safe and secular.

This is your health. This is your life. This is your campaign.

Separation of church and health care, stat.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post by latsot: Tools people can use to level playing fields

Jun 4th, 2014 9:58 am | By

Originally a comment on To hell with making sense, eh?

Ah yes, Wimmin’s Lib. Burning bras. Damn uppity women jumping in front of the king’s horse. Patronising sitcoms. Patronising sketch shows. Bluff, honest CEOs explaining why they can’t possibly pay women the same as men because babies, menstruation, hormones and they’d only spend it on fashion and hair anyway.

I spend half my time being genuinely shocked on remembering that we live in the 21st century and the other half being even more surprised that we obviously still live in the fucking 70s.

I grew up in those exact fucking 70s in the UK. The very concept of feminism was widely and blandly treated as a joke. Why, feminists didn’t even shave their armpits! They wanted non-sexist language! They frowned upon rape! Ridiculous, I know, but we men indulged their little fancies. We gave them a weekly pittance so they could indulge their fascination with gossip by visiting their non-threatening friends on the way back from doing the shopping. And all we asked in return was our dinner on the table and couldn’t you just put a nice frock on once in a while despite working, looking after the children and looking after me as if I myself were a child? We as a nation rolled our eyes at their silly attempts to be like men and smugly congratulated ourselves for indulging feminism by mocking it on a societal level. We sure as shit spent more time creating media that portrayed feminism as infantile than we did actually, you know, listening to complaints, raising our consciousness or adjusting society so it was fair.

And here we are four decades later and though many things have changed for the better, the prevailing attitude seems to be exactly the same. It reminds me of those experiments – also done in the 70s (and earlier) – where people wore special glasses that split their vision in half. The subjects had difficulty commanding their limbs to do various things.

There’s an idea some people have that their brains are split in half because they feel they have to accept what they know is true (women are people) while simultaneously pining for the days when it was acceptable, even desirable in society, to treat them like they weren’t.

I think those people blame women for their brains being split in half. Their brains aren’t split in half, though. Get over that cognitive hump – men – and everything is better. Dawkins made two good points right at the start of The God Delusion: the concepts of Raising Consciousness and I Didn’t Know I Could. It’s an astonishing shame that he doesn’t apply either of those excellent concepts to himself.

Sorry, I’m ranting again but LATSOT MAD, pink trousers ripped, and I hope you’ll excuse it. My work is about making tools people can use to level playing fields and it’s so frustrating that I can hardly tell the attitudes of today from those of forty years ago.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Thursdays with water

Jun 4th, 2014 8:58 am | By

Gwyneth Paltrow thinks water thinks you are thinking about it, and that it can tell when you are thinking mean things about it versus thinking nice things about it.

Gwyneth Paltrow loves nothing more than imparting life advice to her followers, and while that advice has dabbled in the pseudoscience before, it’s rarely been as totally off the rails as the May 29th edition of her newsletter goop. Paltrow begins:

I am fascinated by the growing science behind the energy of consciousness and its effects on matter. I have long had Dr. Emoto’s coffee table book on how negativity changes the structure of water, how the molecules behave differently depending on the words or music being expressed around it.

Oooh ya that is fascinating; no wonder she’s fascinated by it. The energy of consciousness – I wonder if she’s also fascinated by the consciousness of energy? That’s fascinating too. They’re just fascinating. Energy – wo, fascinating. Consciousness – mmm, fascinating.

And she has a book. Just goes to show, doesn’t it.

She then turns the newsletter over to her health guru, Habib Sadeghi, who continues:

Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto performed some of the most fascinating experiments on the effect that words have on energy in the 1990’s…In his experiments, Emoto poured pure water into vials labeled with negative phrases like “I hate you” or “fear.” After 24 hours, the water was frozen, and no longer crystallized under the microscope: It yielded gray, misshapen clumps instead of beautiful lace-like crystals. In contrast, Emoto placed labels that said things like “I Love You,” or “Peace” on vials of polluted water, and after 24 hours, they produced gleaming, perfectly hexagonal crystals.

Masaru Emoto, the water whisperer of whom Paltrow and Sadeghi are so fond, has a bit of a following in New Age-y circles, and was featured favorably in the popular 2004 documentary What the #$*! Do We Know!?Few scientists have tried to debunk his claims since they’re so self-evidently ridiculous. “Have I tried to reproduce Mr. Emoto’s experiments? No, and I don’t intend to,” writes Caltech physicist Kenneth Libbrecht, an expert on snow crystals. “As we liked to say back on the farm in North Dakota — it’s good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out!” Libbrecht’s best guess — and the logical explanation for Emoto’s findings — is that he’s selecting pictures of crystals that fit his findings and rejecting those that don’t.

Well how else would you conduct research on the energy of consciousness and vice versa?

The closest replication of Emoto I found was done in Skeptical Inquirer by Carrie Poppy, who focused on an “experiment” of Emoto’s wherein he poured water over cooked rice in three separate jars, one labeled “Thank You,” another labeled “You’re an Idiot,” and a third without any label.

Read the rest; it’s hilarious.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To hell with making sense, eh?

Jun 3rd, 2014 4:31 pm | By

This is what I mean. kellym linked to a bit of Twitter harassment of Pamela Gay, so I took a look at the guy doing the harassing, and this is that guy.


one can speak either yes and no about everything… My social views: I am against racism, homophobia, capitalism, fundamentalism, and feminism

This is what I keep saying. People who recoil in horror at the very idea of being racist or homophobic…proudly declare themselves opposed to feminism. That’s what I don’t get.

Racial equality; good. Sexual preference equality; good. Gender equality; ewwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Is it just obvious? Racial equality, meh, he doesn’t have to do anything. Sexual preference equality, meh, he doesn’t have to do anything. But gender equality – omigod that might get right up in his very own personal face!!!

Just shitty selfish shittyness, is it? Just feeling threatened? Just not being worried about his white privilege or his straight privilege but worried as fuck about his male privilege?

I don’t know. To me it’s like those Which Of These Things Is Not Like The Others? thing that kids used to do – there’s a bear, a lion, a pineapple, a tiger, and a wolf.

Or it’s just a random collection. I’m against sugar in pasta sauce, plaid trousers, global warming, bedbugs, feminism, and the Ford Motor Company.

I don’t know. For that list to make sense, it should go: I am against racism, homophobia, capitalism, fundamentalism, and sexism. The way it does go, Ivan is just flattering himself. “I’m right-on except when it might cut into my special extra advantages.”

Maybe he knows that, and that’s why he takes the trouble to pester Pamela Gay.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Catherine Corless: Synopsis of her research on Tuam Mother/Baby Home

Jun 3rd, 2014 3:57 pm | By

Catherine Corless has a synopsis of her research on that Facebook page but it’s hard to read in the FB format. I made an easier to read version.

The Mother/Baby Home Tuam

The Mother/Baby Home in Tuam was opened in 1925 and was run by the Bon Secours Sisters to cater for unmarried mothers and their babies.

This was an era in our history when pregnancy before marriage was deeply frowned upon by church, state and family. The unfortunate woman who found herself in this predicament was quickly sent to an institution such as the Mother/Baby Home out of sight of prying neighbours and relatives.

The Bon Secours Sisters were a nursing congregation who had come from Dublin to take charge of the hospital wing of Glenamaddy Workhouse, which catered for the destitute, old and infirm, orphans and unmarried mothers. These Workhouses had been instigated by the Irish Poor Law since the 1840’s, but now after the Treaty, the Irish Free State reformed the whole system and put in place administration on a county basis, so that separate arrangements were made for the aged and infirm to go to County Homes, and for the unmarried mothers and orphans to go to institutions.

All Workhouses were closed, but it was decided that the one on the Dublin road in Tuam would be chosen as a Mother/Baby Home. The Home building itself was in a good structural state but needed quite a bit of repair. The Sisters and some of the mothers and children began the task of clearing and cleaning, and by the end of the year 1925, all were ready to move in. Dr. Thomas B. Costello was the Medical Officer for the Home and the Rev. Peter J. Kelly, a grandnephew of the former Archbishop of Tuam Dr. John McEvilly, was chaplain.

The building belonged to Galway Co.Co. and they were responsible for repairs and Maintenance, and a capitation grant was paid to the nuns for the cost and upkeep of the mothers and babies, and for the salaries of doctors. A maternity wing was added some time later. The travel writer Halliday Sutherland visited the Home in the 1950’s and it is worth quoting his review of the Home:

“The grounds were well kept and had many flower beds. The Home is run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours of Paris and the Reverend Mother showed me around.

Each of the Sisters is a fully trained nurse and midwife. Some are also trained children’s nurses. An unmarried girl may come here to have her baby. She agrees to stay in the Home for one year. During this time she looks after her baby and assists the nuns in domestic work. She is unpaid. At the end of the year she may leave. She may take her baby with her or leave the baby at the Home in the hope that it will be adopted. The nuns keep the child until the age of seven, when it is sent to an industrial school. There were 51 confinements in 1954 and the nuns now looked after 120 children. For each child or mother in the Home, the Galway Co.Co. pays £1 a week. Children of five or over attend the local schools. The whole building was fresh and clean.”

Haliday Sutherland, however, did not interview any of the resident mothers or helpers. Had he done so, he would have got quite a different story to the one he was told. During my researching the Home, I spoke to some mothers who gave birth there and their account of their confinements speaks of long unattended labours without sight of a Sister or midwife, it was only during the birth that a nurse was in attendance with only the help of an untrained resident. The doctor gave one examination when the mother was first admitted and that was the last they saw of him. No drugs of any kind were ever administered to help with pain, no kindness ever shown. Only mothers who had the ability to pay £100 for delivery services were allowed to leave after the birth. It was a condition that all others must wait a full year in the Home filling domestic duties, cooking, cleaning, minding the babies and children and tending to the gardens. The mothers did not have the choice of keeping their babies as outlined by the writer Halliday Sutherland. Seeing that their confinement in the first place was a hush-hush affair, no family would allow a daughter back home with a baby, as Irish Catholics in those days were in fear of a much distorted doctrine by the Catholic Church that the unmarried mother had committed a heinous crime. It is also to be remembered that the man who had fathered the child was never villainized or held responsible. Neither did the Irish state at that time offer any support for the unmarried mother.

The late John Cunningham, former editor of the ‘Connaught Tribune’ spent his early days in the Tuam Home, as his mother died in his infancy, and in an article which he published in the ‘Connaught Tribune’ April 1998, he speaks of the cruelty of the system which allowed the separation of babies from their mothers. In his article entitled ‘Emotional minefield of the rights of mothers and adopted children from the Ireland of yesterday’, John relayed the conversation he had with a woman who had spent most of her life in the Home: ‘What were the young women to do? Many weren’t wanted at home, they were ostracised by society. In those days a young woman could not become pregnant and stay at home. It was as simple as that. I saw the devastation when they were parted from their children. They nursed the child and looked after it for a year and then they went one way and the child stayed to be adopted or to be boarded out a few years later. I don’t know if any of them recovered from the heart-breaking parting. It was heart rending’.

For the children who were not adopted from the Home, they attended the Mercy Convent N.S. or the Presentation N.S. once they reached the age of 5. They were brought down to the schools in a line and always left a little earlier in the evenings, to ensure that there would be no integration with the other pupils. The sound of their heavy clogs making their way up the Dublin road is a memory that resonates with most people. After they made their first communion, many of the children were fostered out by families. There was an allowance per week from the Government at the time, and a yearly clothing allowance, provided to those families for the care of the children. Unfortunately, there was no vetting system in place to check on the suitability of those families to take those young vulnerable children, and many of them were sent to uncaring unscrupulous families who spent very little of the allowance on them. Many of the children were treated little better than slaves, but had to remain with the families until they reached 16 years of age after which many of them emigrated to England in the hope of a better life. Some of the children fared a little better, with the foster family accepting them as one of their own, and some even inherited the farmsteads they were sent to.

The Home was closed in 1961 as it had fallen into a dilapidated state. The children who had remained there were sent to the Industrial School in Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath. The Home and grounds remained vacant for a number of years, except for the rear building which was used by ‘Bontex’ who made school uniforms.

In the early 1970’s the whole building was demolished to make way for a new housing estate. When I started my research into the Home, I spoke to some of the residents who had moved into this housing estate on the Dublin/Athenry road, and they indicated that there was an unmarked graveyard in an area at the rear of where the Home once stood. It was believed that it was an angels plot for unbaptised babies, but further in my research I discovered that in fact, many children and young babies were also buried here. I was astonished to find that there was no formal marking or plaque to indicate that these children were buried there. I decided to contact the Registration Office in Galway to check for deaths in the Home. I was dismayed to find that in fact the number of children who died in the Home during its existence 1925-1961 numbered nearly 800. I now have all those children’s names, date of death, and age at death, which will be recorded into a special book.

It just did not seem right that all those children lay there unnamed and forgotten. Hence, I made contact with the Western Traveller and Intercultural Development (WTID) and a committee of interested people emerged, all with the view that some sort of Memorial should be erected in this children’s graveyard in dedication to their memory. Our committee is named: ‘The Children’s Home Graveyard Committee’.

We introduced our Project to erect a Memorial to the children, to the Tuam Town Council at one of their meetings, and got a unanimous decision that they would help us with some funding when they get their 2014 Grant Allowance. The Heritage Council have also promised to help but have cautioned us that Heritage Grants have been cut for 2014. Our fundraising is ongoing as it will take a large sum to complete the whole Project, i.e. to erect a proper Monument, clear the pathways into the graveyard, and to maintain the area with flowers and shrubs etc.

A St. Jarlath’s Credit Union account has been set up for anyone who would like to contribute to this very worthy Project.

Catherine Corless

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All over Ireland

Jun 3rd, 2014 3:34 pm | By

Here (a public page on Facebook) you can find an interview with Catherine Corless by Mark Patterson on Radio Ulster May 27.

The children were segregated from other children in the classroom.

He’s asking why she cares, when she doesn’t suspect “foul play.” For some reason neither of them is really talking about the neglect, the malnutrition, the conditions in which infection could spread easily.

At 11:50 they agree that there must have been such “homes” all over Ireland.

There’s a Facebook page Mother/Baby Home Research.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A new level of motive-attribution

Jun 3rd, 2014 12:32 pm | By


Damion Reinhardt:

Originally Posted by Brive1987
The current tag team efforts against DJ, with no real objective other than to get him fired or grind him into resigning sums up why I loathe the SJ brigade.
Agreed! They really seem to hate his guts, for some reason. Elyse even took a poll of whom they hate the most and he was right up there with Professor “Dear Muslima” himself.

Originally Posted by Brive1987 
Only consolation is that both the CFI and JREF Boards must have become inured to the relentless calls for the sacking and discipline of their CEOs.
It does seem to be a constant refrain. I’d go so far as to wager that Women in Secularism has become an annual sacrificial atonement at this point, an offering of flights and hotels and booze to appease the pantheon of wrathful bloggesses.

Yes it’s all for the free booze, or it would all be for the free booze if there were any free booze, which there isn’t. Or it it would all be for the free booze if there were any free booze and I loved inhaling large quantities of booze, which I don’t. Or it it would all be for the free booze if there were any free booze and I loved inhaling large quantities of booze so much that I was willing to travel 11 hours eastbound and 14 hours westbound for a total of 25 hours within 4 days just to get it.

25 hours. To get…what? Maybe $15 worth of free booze (which wasn’t on offer at all, don’t forget)? I don’t think I can drink more than that over three evenings. 25 hours of acutely uncomfortable travel for $15 worth of free booze which actually wasn’t provided anyway?

I did get some nice hotel lotion. They had nice lotion, the Alexandria Westin. But they’re just those tiny little tubes. I wouldn’t have spent 25 hours of travel time to get them.

Also? I’m not a “blogess.” Blogging isn’t more of a guy thing. I’m every bit as much allowed to blog as Damion Reinhardt is (and I’m better at it, too). I don’t need a special feminized ess word to name what I do as opposed to what normal, male people do.

Also? That’s so fucking insulting to women such as Taslima Nasreen, Barbara Ehrenreich,  Katha Pollitt, Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, Soraya Chemaly, Lindsay Beyerstein, to name only a few of the brilliant women who were speakers at that conference.

It’s also fucking insulting to CFI.

Other than that, good call.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The Hitchcock moment

Jun 3rd, 2014 12:17 pm | By

Oh yay, CAFE volunteers tell you why EQUAL RIGHTS are so great and why they are for EVERYONE and not just some…like…you know…women.

Pay special attention at 15 seconds in – see that guy in the blue shirt next to the guy in the fedora? Handing out leaflets? That’s Justin “oh no not Justin Trottier but a different Justin altogether” Trottier. Justin Trottier, is who that is.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The report described the children as “emaciated”

Jun 3rd, 2014 11:02 am | By

More on the mass grave discovered on the site of a Mother and Baby home for “fallen women” in County Galway in Ireland.

Catherine Corless, the local historian and genealogist, remembers the Home Babies well. “They were always segregated to the side of regular classrooms,” Corless tells IrishCentral. “By doing this the nuns telegraphed the message that they were different and that we should keep away from them.

“They didn’t suggest we be nice to them. In fact if you acted up in class some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies. That was the message we got in our young years,” Corless recalls.

They were outcasts. They were shunned. They were treated like dirt. They were treated like dirt by the nuns. So much for the Catholic church’s endless efforts nowadays to present itself as Caring and Compassionate.

In the few surviving black and white photographs taken at the site no child is smiling. Instead they simply frown at the camera, their blank stares suggesting the terrible conditions.

A local health board inspection report from April 1944 recorded 271 children and 61 single mothers in residence, a total of 333 in a building that had a capacity for 243.

The report described the children as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” The report noted that 31 children in the “sun room and balcony” were “poor, emaciated and not thriving.” The effects of long term neglect and malnutrition were observed repeatedly.

Just observed, and recorded. Photographed, written down, and then forgotten.

Children died at The Home at the rate of one a fortnight for almost 40 years, one report claims. Another appears to claim that 300 children died between 1943 and 1946, which would mean two deaths a week in the isolated institution.

In The Home’s 36 years of operation between 1926 and 1961 some locals told the press this week of unforgettable interactions with its emaciated children, who because of their “sinful” origins were considered socially radioactive and treated as such.

One local said: “I remember some of them in class in the Mercy Convent in Tuam – they were treated marginally better than the traveler children. They were known locally as the “Home Babies.” For the most part the children were usually gone by school age – either adopted or dead.”

It was Corless who ripped this particular bandage off, because she went looking.

“First I contacted the Bon Secours sisters at their headquarters in Cork and they replied they no longer had files or information about The Home because they had left Tuam in 1961 and had handed all their records over to the Western Health Board.”

Undaunted, Corless turned to The Western Health Board, who told her there was no general information on the daily running of the place.

“Eventually I had the idea to contact the registry office in Galway. I remembered a law was enacted in 1932 to register every death in the country. My contact said give me a few weeks and I’ll let you know.”

“A week later she got back to me and said do you really want all of these deaths? I said I do. She told me I would be charged for each record. Then she asked me did I realize the enormity of the numbers of deaths there?”

The registrar came back with a list of 796 children. “I could not believe it. I was dumbfounded and deeply upset,” says Corless. “There and then I said this isn’t right. There’s nothing on the ground there to mark the grave, there’s nothing to say it’s a massive children’s graveyard. It’s laid abandoned like that since it was closed in 1961.”

It turned out that was because the babies and children were treated like so much garbage, or like the corpses the Nazis piled up in such numbers. They were just dumped in a hole, and that was that.

The certificates Corless received record each child’s age, name, date – and in some cases – cause of death. “I have the full list and it’s going up on a plaque for the site, which we’re fundraising for at the moment. We want it to be bronze so that it weathers better. We want to do it in honor of the children who were left there forgotten for all those years. It’s a scandal.”

Corless believes that nothing was said or done to expose the truth because people believed illegitimate children didn’t matter. “That’s what really hurts and moved me to do something,” she explains.

During its years of operation the children of The Home were referred to as “inmates” in the press. It was believed by the clergy that the harsh conditions there were in themselves a form of corrective penance. The state, the church and their families all failed these women, Corless contends.

“Inmates” – because their mothers were unmarried!

“I do blame the Catholic Church,” says Corless. “I blame the families as well but people were afraid of the parish priest. I think they were brainwashed.  I suppose the lesson is not to be hiding things. To face up to reality.

“My fear is that if things aren’t faced now it’s very easy to slide back into this kind of cover-up again. I want the truth out there. If you give people too much power it’s dangerous.”

Living and dying in a culture of shame and silence for decades, the Home Babies’ very existence was considered an affront to Ireland and God.

When all along it was the church that was an affront to Ireland and its people!

It was a different time, some defenders argued this week, omitting to mention that the stigmatizing silence that surrounded The Home was fostered by clerics. Indeed the religious orders were so successful at silencing their critics that for decades even to speak of The Home was to risk contagion.

796 babies and children who died in misery and loneliness.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)