“At least in The Handmaid’s Tale they value babies, mostly. Not so in the true stories here.”
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and newly released The Testaments, has compared the accounts of Ireland’s religious-run institutions recorded in the Republic of Shame to the strict and religious dystopian regime of Gilead. Written by Dublin Journalist Caelainn Hogan, who has written for the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and several other news sources, Republic of Shame combines the harrowing accounts of those within religious-run institutions in Ireland that incarcerated, punished and exploited ‘fallen women’. Shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the 2019 An Post Irish Book Awards, the book contains stories from survivors, those who headed these institutions as well as mother-and-baby homes, and priests and bishops in discovering the history of these homes.
Such include those the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, where only a few of 800 children’s remains were found in a sewage tank, sparking public demands to launch an investigation. Other institutions included the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, where 900 children were believed to have died, and the Magdalene Laundries, where the bodies of 155 women were found in a mass grave in 1993. Investigations are still ongoing and a final report into the deaths are due in February 2020.
The history of these institutions and the religious morality embedded within them and society is still relevant in the present day, following the Repeal the 8th Campaign and the legalisation of abortion in May 2018. It is a history, Hogan explains, that still affects survivors several years on yet always seems to be a history bathed in secrecy: “People separated through Ireland’s institutions are still searching for each other and are often still denied their records and birth information.” Only in the first few pages of the book are intimate histories of those at a small demonstration of dubbed ‘survivors’ of these homes revealed, such as a mother who wants to find her child 39 years on, and a man discovering he was involved in vaccine trials and suffered from malnutrition. The initial revelations are shocking and difficult to swallow.
Hogan’s presentation of these compelling stories reveals the haunting reality of these institutions. “The injustices and atrocities in Gilead have all happened somewhere at some time,” said Hogan, a stark reminder of the dark past that is hidden deeply amongst this island’s history.
The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.
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