Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, c. 1950
The discovery, in 2014, of the bodies of nearly 800 babies and small children hidden in a septic tank on the grounds of a Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, led to a series of exposés of conditions in the religious-run, state-sanctioned institutions, and the culture of sexual shame and secrecy instilled in them.
A mix of memoir and historical research, this talk traces an Irish family history of pre- and extra-marital pregnancies from the 1890s to the 1950s, asking what we may learn from the different ways in which pregnancies were kept secret. It suggests that the state institutions enabled the bureaucratisation of secrecy, and asks what the manner of keeping and betraying secrets (in intimate, private, or public settings) can tell us about how history is passed on.
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