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Documentary on babies taken from Irish mothers by the Catholic Church

A TV documentary by RTÉ takes a look into the heartbreaking world of ‘Ireland’s lost babies’ of the 1950s and 1960s.

The ‘lost babies’ were babies that were taken from young Irish mothers who had been deemed unsuitable to take care of their children by the Catholic Church.

These would often have been teenage mothers who had given birth to children out of wedlock. They were known at the time as ‘fallen women’.

Ireland's Lost Babies - Heartbreaking documentary about children taken from their mothers by the Catholic Church

These children have now grown up and their mothers would be approaching old age themselves. Many of the mothers and children have spent their whole lives searching for each other.

The story of one mother was made into the 2013 Oscar nominated film Philomena which starred Steve Coogan as author Martin Sixsmith and Judi Dench as Philomena.

Now the real Martin Sixsmith has produced a documentary in which he speaks to mothers who had their babies taken away from them in the 50s and 60s.

Sixsmith says: “Philomena’s story is just the tip of an iceberg. In Ireland, thousands of so-called illegitimate children were taken from their mothers and sent off for adoption.”

Many of the children were sent thousands of miles away to countries such as the US or Australia.

Another aspect of the story is that when the children grew up and tried to find their birth mothers they often found that the Catholic Church had little interest in helping them.

The mothers of the children have found it equally hard to find the babies that were taken from them.

In this documentary Sixsmith speaks to a number of mothers and children who fell victim to this ‘scandal that has affected so many lives’.

One woman who is now middle-aged and speaks with an American accent said: “I finally found the truth, that I was never unwanted – that I was never abandoned.”

The programme reveals that while in Ireland, the Church had deemed that a mother who had a child out of wedlock was not suitable to be a parent, they did little background checks on the adoptive parents in America.

Many of the American parents had been turned down as unsuitable in the US system, which was why they had come to the Irish nuns.

Take a look at the video below.

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  1. Organized religion does so much harm to the human race. A person can believe in a higher power but it is their prerogative to seek and have a personal relationship with said power. Don’t force your belief onto others!!

  2. Strange isn’t it there has never been any mention of the fathers involved in these sad cases. Were none of them ever interviewed? As is always the case it is the women who suffer.

  3. Sad. For. All these children sent to the four. Corners of the. World. I hope. God. Will give. Them. Strentg they. Need. I pray. For them. Slways. Priests. And nuns…. were beasts. To those innocent. Children. Fathers never mentioned….. many. Of themm married…… or even. Raped. These pooor. Girls…….

  4. Thank you Michael Sixsmith for agreeing to take Philomeana ‘s story those years ago.
    Keep doing the work you are and for giving a voice to these mothers and their babies no matter how many years have gone by.

  5. When is this on i would love to watch

  6. Clifton Palmer McLendon

    The Law of Chastity states that sexual relations are to be had only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully married to each other.
    If the mothers of these lost children had obeyed the Law of Chastity, the children would not have been lost.

  7. Catherine Maniace

    The Catholic church is and was all made up of people. People are flawed in many ways. Many of these people are very judgmental and critical of others. That is how this all started, with some of the representatives of the church judging others. I’m sure many had good intentions as well as those who did not. It was a different era and many things now considered abusive were common practice and considered acceptable for the time. In this era let us learn from the mistakes of the past and show each other love, forgiveness and understanding. Most importantly for the courage to accept the responsibilities of their actions and to correct the wrongs. To do this would bring so much peace to people of troubled hearts. Peace to all.

  8. That happened to my sister in NJ, when she was a teen. we are Irish. It was a home for unwed mothers, Catholic.

  9. when is this on as i cant seem to find it ?

  10. When I left school in the North of England, I became a Nursery Assistant in a Catholic Orphanage. I was 15 years old and the year was 1965. Many babies were brought to the home just a couple of weeks old and some were even only days old. I was responsible for bottle feeding them and looking after them under the nuns supervision. The work was extremely hard, as we also did the cleaning, washing and ironing. I lived in at the time as we had to be up very early to see to all the little ones. Many of the tiny babies were adopted quickly. The older children and those with disabilities weren’t so ‘lucky.’ The children stayed in the home until they were 5yrs old. Those children were then transferred to another home. I was told they were sent to begin their schooling. I’ve often wondered over the years were these children sent abroad to America, like they were in Ireland. As in those days young women were looked down on in this country too. Maybe ALL Catholic homes of that era should be investigated? I have to say that where I worked and during the time I was there, I never witnessed any abuse of the children by the nuns. They were well fed and looked after, though most just wanted a Mummy. My mum came to visit me one day but had to leave, as she was so upset. During her tour of the home,several children ran up to ask her was she their mummy! It was heartbreaking and she never visited there again.

  11. This didnt only happen in the 50 and 60 it also happened in the 80 i was and still am an unmarried mother 31 years later but beleive me the nuns and priests tried everyway to take my son, i left ireland and went to jersey but found out i was pregnant so i was deported back to Ireland when i refused to give my son up to the church i was sent to the nuns in Ireland i had a friend in the home in Donnybrook whos son was took of her and she was sent to the laundry house i never saw her again so beleive me it didnt just happen in 50 and 60

  12. Nancy Kelly and Bob Justin…this also occurred in Spain. There may be other countries as well.

  13. This is the reason I am no longer a Catholic!!!!!!!

  14. When will this documentary be shown.Will I see it on BBC as I don’t have rte.

  15. Katie Fitzgerald

    It was a total disgrace the way these young girls were treated, the Catholic Church sold those babies to families in America the church called the payment donations,the nuns who ran these convents were brutal and used the girls as work horses , it was shameful so called brides of Christ could batter these young girls to a pulp for disobedience, many of these young girls died from exhaustion poor diet the list is endless, the priests attending these convents for so called religious purposes abused the girls also I could go on and on a out this but find it too traumatic to even think about these poor girls and the lives they had at the hands of nuns and priests thank the changing times things are better in this present day girls no longer have to feel a shames of having a child out of wedlock

  16. My mum had a boy when she was 15 yes. He was sent to the states. What we were told was that his adoptive grandmother came to the house in Cork and brought him out there. He had a good upbringing. In her middle 20s she was attacked, which resulted in another son who was put up for adoption from Roscrea. He was not so lucky. He was sick and a doctor from Dublin was begged to take him in, which resulted in him running away at the age of 12 and lived on the streets and getting into trouble. We have meet our brothers. But my mother is so bitter and broken by her experience she won’t talk properly about what happened. It’s like she is still trying to block it all out. It’s sad.

  17. Maureen Michaels

    I believe in my Heart that this should be sent to the pope. I wish he would just know about it being that some catholic laws he does not believe in. I have cousins in Clare but we have lost contact years ago in around 1997 or so. I have been trying to reach them. In fact one of them named Brian is adopted. I don’t know how but my family adopted him. He has to about 50 or younger. Bright ginger hair and freckles like some of us.

  18. Sheila Klabonski

    No one mentioned that the Irish nuns charged for each adoption. So it wasn’t any different than bartering of slaves.

  19. Wendy L Thompson-Russo

    You may very well have a valid point; however, the issue I see is that these young women & men were never given the opportunity to make that “CHOICE” for themselves! The Catholic Church had & has “NO RIGHT” to dictate & decide the fate of their congregation. They can guide & they can offer support; however, their position does not permit denying an individual’s right to choose! It is made up of a hierarchy of men (which I find unnatural, & I am an Irish/Polish Catholic) who are human beings who are fallible, who make mistakes, who break their vows and who are just as capable of any shortcomings as the rest of us. They do not have any right to break up a family, judge anyone based on personal orientation or, condemn anyone for their beliefs in the name of “God”.

  20. Margaret Potter (Peggy )

    I was born in Bressbrough in 1948””I left there when I was about 2years old I was brought to America by friends of my biological mothers family and adopted when I was around 5 I was never told that I was adopted until the age of 20 ,My story is somewhat like the stories I have heard but I had a good life ..MY story is more about what my biological parents went through as I was adopted as a favor to my biological grandmother and raised as such .Being sent for periods of time to stay with different relatives of my adoptive parents and sent to boarding school for my high school years ….to the nuns ……..I was told to leave them when they told me about my biological parents and after meeting them …..My story is a long twisted one that started out in Bressbrough…My biological mother reaction to to meeting me ,my father reaction .relatives of both families ..and since I was a secret ,my extended family findinf me thru Facebook it’s is just another mother baby tradgety of the Catholic way of thinking in Ireland of unwed mothers ..the fathers (some but few )and the handling of young mothes in places like Bressbrough ……..

  21. No, this also happened in the United States where approximately 6,000,000 babies were adopted in the 20 years post WWII. Read “the Girls Who Went Away”.
    Catholic Charites told my parents I was an Irish Catholic baby and I learned several years ago I am not only not Irish, my bio father’s lineage is unknown but believed to be Meditteranean and dark. My bio mother was Polish and English. I am brown haired, brown eyed, light freckles and a very definitive red brown undertone to my skin.

  22. This is an example of the Catholic Church again deciding the fate of it’s faithful without understanding the damage they have done irreparably to the family unit. I am Catholic and Irish and have always felt that the Catholic Church says they speak for God on earth but do they. How can an organization say they speak for God when they commit these atrocities to children and families. They have for centuries decided the fate of the faithfulness without penance for their own sin yet ask for the faithful to stand in line for their own penance. The catholic church is rife with pedophiles yet they dictate to us that we believe they speak the truth of God. How can an organization continue to collect monies from the faithful yet condemn the very people they collect from. My God lives in everything and does not expect payment for faith nor does he see sin in procreation as everyone has a soul that should belongs to God not a man whom addresses himself as a
    Representative of God on earth. When will we see ourselves as representations of our creator and not subject ourselves to these people that think they can decide and judge our fate no one should have that control over our destiny only the one we meet once we pass from This world no one else’s judgements should matter. We should never turn our lives over to someone else’s decisions even if they are a self proclaimed representatation of God or not as they will not judge us. In the end only our faith shall judge our lives as they were lived in this time.

  23. My grandparents came to the USA around 1868. I didn’t find out until my mother was in a nursing home and close to the end of her life that my grandmother was pregnant when they left Ireland. I believe my grandfather left first and my grandmother followed shortly after so as to not be too obvious. They met up in Boston and then married. The child wasn’t healthy and didn’t survive. After moving west, they went through more attempts at having a family. My mother was the only surviving child.

  24. Could you please post what Statement the Catholic church has now about this period in this case… Whas is this happened only in Ireland … ?!

  25. We are judging 1950’s by 2016 standards and that is simply not accurate. These women would have been shunned by society at large. When I was little we would have women come live in our home while they were pregnant. Once they had their baby they would go back home. Had they stayed in their own communities they would have been shunned. Remember, there was no daycare back then, no help, no services available to these young women.
    It’s really easy to paint a horrible picture by a few bad examples but I would think many children went on to much better lives than their moms could give them at the time.

  26. Geraldine pastore

    I was born in Ireland in 1964 and even then I remember young girls being shunned from their homes if they we’re pregnant and not married. The poor mothers in that documentary, what a terrible time they had in those homes. I can’t even imagine thier pain and suffering having thier babies taken away. So sad I cried watching it.

  27. Thank you for showing the issues from different know what the mother’s thoughts and feelings were and how their children may react.
    It is very emotionally complex and definitely tragic the RCC continues to keep truth veiled in secrecy.

  28. MaryHelena Windsir-Cripps

    I was born to my unmarried mother in the mother and baby home in Roscrea in 1949. I myself had my first child in Castlepollard. I read not adopted because my grandmother insisted I be brought home to the family. My son was not adopted. I married his father in the church at Castlepollard and we immediately flew with him to England

  29. Robin Conkel-hAnnan

    Just another example of how monstrous the hierarchy of the Catholic church is.. They have been abusing and misleading people since the church’s inception and not just in Ireland..

  30. that is so sad the lost babies of ireland

  31. This was very moving. I would have never dreamed that this could have happened. I was brought up Catholic and the nuns were always so pious.

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