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The Julia Devaney tapes and the Tuam Children's Home

  • 06-11-2021 9:59pm
    Registered Users Posts: 410 ✭✭brianhere

    A few days ago Ray D’Arcy aired a long interview with Catherine Corless on the much maligned – and slandered – Tuam Children’s Home. In it they made particular use of some old cassette tape recordings:

    In approximately 1980, Rebe Millane, a native of Tuam who sometimes contributed to national newspapers and who later wrote a book on faith healers, seemed to want to write a book on the Tuam Home and for which she interviewed a local gardener called Julia Devaney. Julia had been in the Home from the time it was in Glenamaddy until it closed in Tuam in 1961 and hence is obviously an interesting witness to life in it, and which she explained to Rebe on cassette tapes which still exist. These have been used by a number of scholars working on the Home including, originally, Catherine Corless.

    Catherine Corless prepared long extracts from the tapes – this is usually described as a full transcript but in this interview she clarifies that she took down only ‘relevant’ sentences by Julia – which were published in the Tuam Herald and later in the Mail on Sunday but in the opinion of some, these extracts misrepresent Julia’s generally positive attitude towards the Home, and the nuns in particular.

    The truth is that the tapes do oscillate a bit across contradictory attitudes towards the Home, sometimes in concert with the questioners frequently negative approach to the Church, but a blanket statement that these tapes somehow prove the cruelty of the nuns towards these children is clearly wrong. Yet that is exactly what is being said, not just in the past but now the tapes were played, with that view in mind, even in this recent RTE interview. The interview can be listened to here: and I will try and reply to some of the issues that were raised there, using the tapes to illustrate some points.

    Firstly a simple point about the graveyard. If you listen to Ray D’Arcy and Catherine Corless in that interview you would definitely get the impression that the corpses of the deceased members of this Home were somehow dumped in a place where, sort of accidentally, the locals created a kind of memorial garden or shrine. But a simpler way of looking at it is that this area is just the graveyard of the Home, recognised as such while the Home was in existence and recognised now. This is what Julia says about it: 

    “Sure they had a little graveyard of their own up there, its still there, its walled in. A little graveyard.” (Tape 1 38:45, Graveyard still there.mp3 .)

    She says its still there, so its the same place we are all talking about since, therefore why the great drama in finding children’s corpses in what everybody knows, and always knew, is the graveyard of the Children’s home?

    They also talk at great length, D’Arcy and Corless, about the supposed theological failings of the time. The implication being that society back then, influenced by the Church, treated these women and children as sinners and outcasts etc etc. But Julia Devaney doesn’t say that at all, quite the opposite:

    Rebe: “Did the nuns regard them, did they regard them or treat them [the mothers], as kind of sinners?”

    Julia: “No, no they did not. Oh no no no they did not.”

    Rebe: “There was no condemnation?”

    Julia: “No, no, no Rebe, in fact they were, in fact they were very very nice to them, never never cast anything up to them or said anything like that hard to them at all. Oh no, never [her emphasis]. Oh never trampled[?] on them as sinners at all. They didn’t make Mary Magdalen’s out of them or anything like that.” (Tape 1 40:06, Did not treat them as sinners.mp3 .)

    They also played a portion from the tapes which seemed to suggest that there was no affection for the children, but this is not a very fair summary of the tapes. For example the staff, who were mainly people who had been reared in the Home themselves, were very fond of the children according to Julia:

    “All them that were reared in the Home they loved them children. They loved them. I suppose they kinda, they had their own day do you know. They knew what they missed. All the children, all the ones that was reared in the Home that was looking after the children were very good to the children, but the mothers that came in were not nice to them.” (Tape 13 32:30, Staff loved the children.mp3)

    That hint at the end there is something Julia talks about a lot, that the staff and nuns were actually trying to protect the children from some of the mothers of the illegitimate children, who could be cruel on occasion. At one point Julia describes how they, some of these mothers, “...used to belt hell out of them...”, meaning the children:

    “The only cruel half of us down there was these mothers that had those illegitimate children, they used to belt hells blazes out of the children...[Some locals even came into the Home to complain about this, because they could hear them, and threatened to report them]...they used to belt hell out of them...[especially in one toilet area]...they used to crucify them children, they used to CRUCIFY THEM!, now. [her emphasis.]” (Tape 3 15:55, Mothers beating the children.mp3)

    On the D’Arcy show they replayed some of this audio from the tapes, but never stated that it was the mothers that Julia was referring to, creating the impression in the vast majority of listeners, I suspect, that the nuns or staff were responsible.

    Finally there is one other point about the D’Arcy interview. There Catherine Corless makes great play of facts she has from a ledger that she got when somebody was clearing out a shop in Tuam. It isn’t a shop ledger – despite the impression you might get from this interview –, because she mentions it in her book and it clearly contains facts only internal to the Home, so presumably its a stray ledger from the Home. In any case it mentions the nuns ordering sherry and tobacco etc, which of course could be true in small quantities, to entertain guests or whatever and is no big deal. What is not true is that the Devaney tapes support any idea that the nuns were living it up on Council money, which is the impression that interview left. Here for example is Julia and Rebe talking about the condition of the nuns:

    Rebe: “What kind of way did they live like, were they as cold or as, you know, had you have this misery in the convent in the same way as there was in the rest of it?”

    Julia: “It was smaller built you know. Where they used to dine was about this size. You know, the nuns. It was smaller built and they had an open fire like that.”

    Rebe: “Yes, well they must have been cold enough too at times so because an open fire in very bitter weather, unless they had a huge one –”

    Julia: “They had no central heating or anything like that, and they used to live on the third storey above then, the third storey. And they had no fires up there because there would be no fire grates like dogs fire grates [?].”

    Rebe: “They hadn’t much comfort either so –”

    Julia: “No, many time now they told me that in the frosty morning you’d see palms on the glass –”

    Rebe: “They hadn’t much comfort either –”

    Julia: “No no –”

    Rebe: “They had nothing themselves either –”

    Julia: “No, no.” (Tape 9A 6:08, Condition of the nuns.mp3 .)

    You can listen to these audio files by downloading the zip file linked below.

    Post edited by brianhere on



  • Registered Users Posts: 2,527 ✭✭✭Yellow_Fern

    The Tuam story is such a fake scandal. So much of the story like the sewer claims is untrue. What is true is poor health outcomes. How the attribution of blame has been immensly warped. For some reason society has deemed it that the poor health at the home is purely the responsibility of the sisters, but not the medical staff appointed by the local authority ti care for the children or indeed the lay staff like Devaney. Society needs a villain I guess.

  • You need to ask yourself why the women were in the homes. The neglect, leading to the babies dying, most likely predated their entering the home. The War years were tough on the general population, due to rationing and lack of food. Not all we’re lucky enough to be able to grow their own.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 14,989 ✭✭✭✭Beechwoodspark

    I don’t know the details but from the first time I encountered corless in the media I’ve felt there’s something off about her...

  • Registered Users Posts: 23,246 ✭✭✭✭Dyr

    Be fun to watch the virtue signallers conditioned by the media turn up on this thread to huff and puff.

  • Registered Users Posts: 20 Sibyl_savant

    The closest thing to an analysis of the issue was by Jacinta Prunty, an actual academic, Our Lady of Charity in Ireland; The monasteries, magdalene asylums and reformatory schools of Our Lady of Charity in Ireland 1853-1973. The rest of the Irish academic world has done no serious, credible research on the issue.

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  • And when it is mentioned, the mentioner is castigated for not believing all the unverified accusations laid at the feet of the Church and State of the time.

  • Registered Users Posts: 20 Sibyl_savant

    If you're referring to me, as you are answering my points, I have never portrayed the Church as "saints". The Church in Ireland, after all, is part of Irish society and i have put the blame firmly on society. In that sense you have completely misunderstood and misrepresented my point. You have no clue what was considered a "duty of care" during that period.

    Also please don't forget that whilst you say you don't absolve your own ancestors and the rest of society you do go back to the issue of attacking the easy target, the Church. The narrative, as you call it, against unmarried mothers was worldwide including countries without any significant Catholic population. It included England after all (the problem with those who 'involve' themselves in telling us about Irish social history is they've no knowledge of the social history of other countries). And all the talk about unmarried mothers omits the point that during the period we're talking about Ireland had very very low, much lower than England, levels of births outside marriage. The taboo was associated with raising children without both parents and inevitably in poverty. Even today single mothers are more likely to live in poverty and depend on the state. Saying they "used" the women, (who exactly, bishops? priests? the Legion of Mary?) as cheap labour of course ignores the fact the women contributed, however little, to their own upkeep. You also seem to think every institution was exactly the same, there was great difference between mother and baby homes and laundries. You seem to not know the difference and maybe more importantly, not care. Anti-Catholics can't have it both ways, you can't moan that the Church was against women working and then suggest the Church (who exactly) exploited women for work.

  • Registered Users Posts: 12,153 ✭✭✭✭Igotadose

    Anti-Catholics can't have it both ways, you can't moan that the Church was against women working and then suggest the Church (who exactly) exploited women for work.

    Really? The RCC are above hypocrisy? That's news! An organization that supports child rape isn't hypocritical when preaching about goodness and sanctity?

    As for who did the exploiting, wasn't there a commission in Ireland that found the laundries profited from their slave labor and now continue to owe reparations? Fined billions, barely paid any of it? That church?

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,557 ✭✭✭uptherebels

    There is no point in trying to talk to the church apologists. To them the church's failings is the fault of everyone but the church.

  • Registered Users Posts: 38,823 ✭✭✭✭Gatling

    Oddly enough this appeared in the independent ,

    Now we've been led to believe that thousands were buried in the tuam homes septic tank ,

    Apparently the figure is more than 10 and could be less than 100 in total , they are looking to expand the dig to other areas,

    Some say that a Toyota Hilux can travel through tunnels ......

  • Registered Users Posts: 12,153 ✭✭✭✭Igotadose

    No, Father lied to you when he told you thousands. No one who can do math (so, if you went to an RCC school that might be a bit of a stretch), knows that 796, the number that the spawn of Satan Catherine Corless documented, is 'thousands.' The best thing about science, is that it freely admits when it got it wrong. And, it's now what, 7 years on? Why is it taking so long to do this excavationt? Where's the coroner's inquest, wasn't that supposed to happen by now as well? Oops. RCC doesn't want, FF/FG do their bidding.

    And, if it's more than ten, but less than 100, it's o.k. they're in a septic tank, amiright?

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  • Registered Users Posts: 38,823 ✭✭✭✭Gatling

    The point is we were told thousands ,

    Evidence suggests possibly more than 10 and likely less than 100 ,

    Shocking or well no it was hyped up beyond belief ,

    Some say that a Toyota Hilux can travel through tunnels ......

  • “Thousands” sounds better than “tens”, or “some”

  • Registered Users Posts: 38,823 ✭✭✭✭Gatling

    Absolutely definitely grabs the headlines ,

    It actually sounded like the reading of a horror story , witnesses seeing skeletals remains all over the area , skeletal remains stacked from floor to ceilings,

    And we get 10 remains and possibly less than 100 out of thousands ,

    Something wasn't right ,now's it's all going to be a convenient conspiracy theory and cover up

    Some say that a Toyota Hilux can travel through tunnels ......

  • Registered Users Posts: 38,823 ✭✭✭✭Gatling

    @Brayden Dirty Hoe So it's a slow process and you've basically claimed that as Corless lying or something when that clearly isn't the case.

    Didn't claim anyone was lying but I'm going by what has been repeatedly reported in the media ,I didn't make up thousands this is what was reported,floor to ceiling with human remains of children ....

    So .....


    Some say that a Toyota Hilux can travel through tunnels ......

  • Registered Users Posts: 38,823 ✭✭✭✭Gatling

    Some say that a Toyota Hilux can travel through tunnels ......

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