Saturday 22 February 2020

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Magdalene victims inspire new exhibition

Thursday, 22nd August, 2019 8:53am

John Barry

A new exhibition honouring those who suffered in Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, mother and baby homes and industrial schools, opened this week in UCC. ‘Stay with Me’ is a group art exhibition which brings together the work of 20 artists and survivors compelled to create art in response to the tragic story of the Tuam Babies.

The exhibition included installations, paintings and sculptures, as well as printed poetry and jewellery. The largest piece of artwork, by Bonnie Kavanagh, was a hanging installation consisting of 796 clay hearts.

The exhibition also included four large baby blankets, which were knitted by 300 men and woman around the world to create 800 squares for the corresponding number of Tuam Babies.

One of the contributing artists was Sheila O’Byrne, who in 1976 at the age of 19, was sent to St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on Dublin’s Navan Road. Last year Sheila was reunited with her son after 42 years.

One of the organisers of the event, UCC lecturer Dr Rachel MagShamhráin said: “While this issue has received extensive media coverage, the emotional impact of this recent history is hard to communicate. It is here that artistic responses have a function, and this is the exhibition’s mission.”

Galway historian Catherine Corless was the guest of honour at the public launch of the exhibition which opened on Monday in the Aula Maxima in UCC.

Research by Catherine Corless on the Tuam Mother and Babies home led to the establishment of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation.

In 2017, the State Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes reported that its excavation in Tuam had found “significant quantities of human remains” in a 20 chamber underground structure. That commission’s fifth interim report, published in April this year, revealed that thousands of children died in mother and baby homes, and few received proper burials.

‘Stay With Me’ was envisaged by Alison O’Reilly, a journalist who broke the Tuam Babies story with the assistance of journalists Donal O'Keeffe and Philip Boucher-Hayes.

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