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‘Babies for Sale’…the danger of spectacle vs. news

July 19, 2018 0 Comments

Once again, we in Ireland are distracted from the critical issues of the day – by the spectacle of outrage at historic wrongs.

Where’s the outrage at our government’s failure to cope with current crisis after crisis?

Does anyone in Ireland share what I experienced in 2012 when I first read about our shock and horror at this headline ‘news’? And then again 2013? And headlines again this year?

Not about the actual news. Rather about the fact that it was and is “news” to no one.

But, if it really was news to you in 2012, 2013 or this year, ask yourself – Why?

Memory is imperfect – so let me frame mine with context. I knew that babies were for sale in Ireland in 1961 or 1962 when this photo was taken.

This black and white image frames my understanding of Ireland in the early sixties.

By 1965, we’d moved to Manhattan so I can say with certainty – this realisation predates that. And my recollection is that it was at least a couple of years before – when I was 7 or 8. (Context again, my Grandfather died in 1960, my grandmother in 1961.)

The desk was my father’s. It wasn’t really a ‘working desk’, it sat in our living room – you know, that rarely-used room (even in America).

My only memory of my father sitting at it was after church, so on a Sunday. My grandmother sat in that white club chair to the right, my grandfather next to her in an unseen wing chair. I can now surmise that it was for a once monthly (perhaps quarterly?) bit of correspondence on my grandfather’s behalf.

The letters were sent to Ireland.

The stationery – Cranes, I think, was thick and bordered and it came out of a box. This fascinated me. It was curious, I suspect, because to my young self – boxes meant presents.

With a brief letter which I have a vague sense that my grandfather was prompting him to write, another tissue-like envelope was enclosed. It contained “a dollar”.

Or what I assumed was a dollar – as that was the only denomination I’d ever seen mailed to me in birthday envelopes from my Aunt and Grandmother.

So whether it was a $20, $50 or $100 bill – it matters not. What my very young self knew, was that people were poor in Ireland and this was for Grandpa’s family.

Another time, I walked in – from school or play – I don’t recall, to the hurried exit of our next door neighbour – Mrs. Curry.

She brushed past me, and I thought it odd. She was a grown-up, and she had been crying.

I asked my mother – “Why is she crying?”

In whatever age-appropriate language my mother used – she told me that Mr. & Mrs. Curry couldn’t have a baby and that made Mrs. Curry upset.

I was baffled. By the time I was six, I was quite expert on the subject of where babies came from – and the unfortunate circumstances of my own arrival.

My best school friend was Donna Cavagnaro. The year before, she’d delighted in informing me that she was adopted. She was special. Her parents came and picked her out. My parents had to take what they got!

So I declared, “She shouldn’t be upset she can pick out a baby, like Donna!”

And my mom told me that’s exactly what they planned to do. They were saving up to get a baby from Ireland.

Now, whether it was those envelopes I’d seen being sent, or perhaps she’d said something specific, I don’t know. I do know my distinct impression was that you bought babies in Ireland. Before 1965.

There were several other adopted children in my Marymount, first through fifth-grade classes. I knew of one girl who, with her brother, came ‘from Ireland’

And until moving here in 2008, I thought nothing of it.

“Taking the Soup”

I had a lot to learn when I “blew-in”.

First, after my grandparents died and my parent’s split (not sure I ever put that together before), there was no “Irish” influence in the household. It was just that of my mother’s Italian family. Hence, I was pretty unprepared for life here.

I thought I’d moved to Ireland, I live on the Cooley Peninsula. It turns out, it’s not actually Ireland. It’s a place known ominously as, “the border”.

Oh, I had a vague notion you didn’t wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day – but not much beyond that.

So this expression “took the soup” was utterly new to me.

I knew some Carlingford folk who were Catholic. The long deconsecrated Church of Ireland serves as the historic centre here. On a shortcut through the cemetery grounds with another American blow-in – I was surprised to see a cluster of headstones bearing a family name I knew. I mused aloud, “That’s odd, they’re Catholic aren’t they?” She, in a fairly ugly tone, responded – “Well, they must have taken-the-soup“.

I guess my expression said it all – so she explained just what was involved in trading away your soul to feed yourself and your family. I nodded.

Deep down, I was flummoxed. I’m a mother. If feeding my children involved a conversion or worse – I’d not have hesitated – in the 19th century or now.

And this was the first of many lessons I continue to take on board in coming to understand life in this place of unforgiveness.

This recent headline drives home the reality that every day, in 21st Century Ireland.

Irish people willingly continue to “take the soup”.

Primarily in swallowing a litany of untruths sold to them by a government-controlled press – but even more heinously in the way we fall for historic scandals dug up and recycled to serve as spectacle. They suck up hours of airtime and column inches, distracting us from the relevant truths at hand.

That 2012 headline, well known to me in 1962, was rolled out again in 2018 – just to distract from the week’s news about Maurice McCabe, Vicky Phelan, Emma Mhic Mhathúna, Stephen Teap and more evictions. 

Weeks later we were still distracted by it while the Oireachtas Banking and Finance Committee was hearing testimony about a 31 billion euro spend to save the money and skins of corrupt bankers and politicians.

We are unwilling to hear the truth about how austerity, homelessness, evictions, trolley counts and dying mothers are the price we are paying for the government’s protection of those well-heeled enough to be protected by crony politicians, and shielded by a silent and colluding press.

The Irish Media is not a fit pillar of this Republic. If it were – you would have known what I knew – 55 years ago.

Call, email, write or Tweet your TDs and Senators. Find a directory to their contact details here.


For a powerful insight into the consequences of an ignorant public, consider the work of Gemma O’Doherty, a well known Irish reporter and Seamus Maye. He ought to be equally well known – but as a soft-spoken and tireless campaigner with a unique experience of Ireland’s big business, politics, law courts, media and corruption/”legal” corruption, he gets less coverage than he should.

Both were part of a TEDxLongford panel of “Changemakers” on 29. June 2018.

An article on the subject can be found here.

A video of the presentations can be found here, shortly.

For a further look at the absurdity of calling the St. Patrick’s Guild revelations “news” in 2018, consider what was known in 2010 – “In the wake of the Ryan and Murphy reports…”. Little or no action followed.



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