Home: Part One shows how theatre can heal

Credit: The Abbey Theatre

Home Part: One was an opportunity to to clarify and amplify the survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes and provide them with a sense of healing, according to an organiser and a survivor.

The production was premiered online by the Abbey Theatre this St Patrick’s day.

The Abbey describe Home: Part One as a “direct response to the report on Mother and Baby Homes, focusing on the testimonies of survivors.”

Survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes as well as actors and public figures stood on The Abbey stage and read these testimonies as well as some documentation and reports relating to the Mother and Baby Homes.

Singer Mary Coughlin performed intermittently throughout the three-hour production, amplifying the stories of these survivors.

It was important for the Abbey to put these voices on stage, says actor Jody O’Neill who was on the editorial panel for Home: Part One, to “find the truth from the survivor’s point of view.”

She explains that when the report came out in January 2021 and survivors expressed their dissatisfaction, an idea quickly emerged to present a response to it this St Patrick’s Day.

The testimonies address the mistreatment that mothers and their children experienced both in the homes and outside of them. Themes of abuse, neglect, lies, loss of identity, religious bureaucracy and racism.

One such testimony that was read on the stage, the actor illuminated by a single spotlight, was that of Laura Murphy.

Murphy’s mother gave birth to her in a mother and baby home and following the publication of the commission’s report and the state apology made by Taoiseach Micháel Martin, she wrote an open letter.

The letter called on the Taoiseach to retract the part of his apology that placed blame on Irish society. 

In her open letter Murphy shows how her own family story refutes the statement from the Taoiseach. Her mother’s family did not want to put her into a home or give up the baby but they were convinced by the Church to do so.

Laura Murphy reading an extract of an open letter to An Taoiseach Credit: Laura Murphy

According to Murphy “neither the commission, nor the report fully represented the testimony that [survivors] gave” and she described what is happening to survivors now as a “retraumatisation”.

She believes that the Abbey’s production is helping survivors twofold. 

“It’s giving the survivors a voice – a voice which was once again taken from them and distorted. And it’s giving them a platform to speak their truth, it’s allowing for their actual testimony to be put on the public record in a way that they feel comfortable with, and in a way that represents them,” she explained.

“As a result of that, it can in some way help them and support them through this period of retraumatisation because the government don’t seem to be coming to the table with anything by way of support on this matter.”

Regarding the decision to label this production part one, O’Neill said: “I think the knowledge was there from the beginning that it was not going to be it.” By labelling this production as part one, it leaves the option open for the Abbey or other groups to go on and continue this story, she explained.

According to O’Neill this production can add to the discussion around the Mother and Baby Homes by providing survivors with representation, acknowledgment, and validation.

“When people have been called liars and when their testimony has been refuted and when their testimony has been destroyed and then not destroyed – that’s really demoralizing,” said O’Neill.

This production also highlighted the abuse that survivors endured because of or during their stay in these homes, something which the commission’s report said there was no evidence of.

“I think the really important thing that the Abbey did last night was they did put evidence of abuse on stage,” said O’Neill.

“If the state apology and the commission of investigation had done the job that they were set out to do, there would probably not be such a need for a production like this,” said Murphy.

Home: Part One is available to watch on the Abbey Theatre’s YouTube channel.

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