June 4, 2014
The news from Tuam is for many people a shocking reminder of a past which has, in recent years, become all too familiar.
People, understandably, suffer outrage fatigue when confronted with ever more evidence of just how harsh and unforgiving Ireland was not so long ago.
The mass grave uncovered by the detective work of a local woman in Galway should be seen in the context of its time in a poor, benighted country in which some people still living could remember the Famine and its horrors and an era in which intellectualism and progressiveness were considered a social threat.
It was not just the Church and its religious organisations who were solely to blame for Irish society in the first half of the 20th century – although they must take their share – but ordinary people who had been conditioned by a closed, insular, protectionist society to think in such a way.
With that knowledge and sense of context it would therefore seem entirely appropriate and overdue to, once and for all, clear the air and have a proper inquiry – not a gravy train for Ireland’s barristers and solicitors – into the deaths, circumstances behind, and names of the corpses in that Tuam septic tanks.
A sort of truth and reconciliation tribunal, if you will, to reconcile Irish society with itself.
And with that in mind – and the memory of our own recent intolerant, reactionary, religious zealotry – Ireland, and Irish people, should perhaps lend support to those who find themselves the victims of religious hate crimes close to home, in Northern Ireland, and – more pressingly – those trapped in a far more nightmarish version of such a fundamentalist religious society such as in Sudan or Pakistan.
Then the kind, good humour of people like Philomena Lee can be a better testament to Irish people than the bigotry seen in Northern Ireland and the obscene detention camps in Ireland for refugees from such regimes.