Elaine recollected that, when Dr McCabe would visit, everything would be lovely and clean. The beds would be dressed to perfection and the children would receive eggs twice a week for a few weeks prior to the visit by the Medical Inspector.
In her evidence during Phase III, Sr McQuaid described an instance that occurred in the 1950s, when a member of staff beat the children with a hairbrush. She was reported by one of the senior girls to the Resident Manager who subsequently dismissed her. The evidence of Elaine was that one abusive lay worker who beat the children with a hairbrush remained for the duration of her placement and would not have been due to be retained in any event.
Elaine was born in a home for unmarried mothers and transferred at the age of three years to St Joseph’s, where she remained until she reached 16. When her first child was born, she began to search for information about her own mother, a quest which continued on and off for 30 years, with the help of her children. At the end of her search, in the mid-1990s, an elderly nun in St Joseph’s produced from her papers a letter written by the witness’s mother 50 years earlier, and this letter was sent to her along with other papers released on threat of court proceedings. This letter was a source of comfort and reassurance, and eased the sense of abandonment experienced by the witness down through the years. She explained: Well, my belief is that I was transferred to St Joseph’s Orphanage in Dundalk and my mother was never told. The only reason I know she was never told was because later on in 1946 she writes to the convent and she is looking to know where her daughter is. She is wanting to know would they mind if [she] sent me a little something ... I just believe that she should have been told ... It is the only letter. But she is quite upset about it, she‘s heartbroken in that letter. There is one line in it that says “next thing I know the baby is gone”. That jumps out any time I read it.
Elaine was resentful that society had enforced the separation of mother and child because of its intolerance of illegitimacy. She was also told erroneously that her mother was dead. In fact, she died much later and could have seen her grandchildren. She recalled being told that her mother was dead and experiencing no reaction. She said, ‘What do you do? I mean I’d never had a mother up to that. I didn’t cry or I don’t remember crying. They were just words’.
Sr Sienna who had been Resident Manager had meticulously retained papers relating to the witness, including this letter. Elaine was grateful that the Sister had preserved them but was frustrated when she would not hand them over. Only the threat of court proceedings forced their production. There was no understanding that children needed and were entitled to information about their families. She said: Originally when my first baby was born, and that would have been in the mid 1960s, I had gone back to the orphanage because the orphanage was still open and I was literally told to get on with my life. I wasn’t told who I was or anything like that. I did want to know because I had a child then and motherly instincts must have told me I had a mother and she must have had some feelings too.