Letter to Annie
Dear Annie Sherlock,
I’d love to know what came of you. How you lived your life. Where you lived. How long you lived, whether you got to live into old age or will be forever young.
I just know a bit about you, having come across what must have been a living nightmare you endured at the hands of the State and one of its shameful institutions for the unwanted and unloved.
I know because of The Saturday Record newspaper that printed part of your story – a very tragic one – way back in 1926 when your life was turned upside down, inside out and every which way.
‘Child’s Death in West Clare’, screams the headline in this paper of record. ‘Serious Charge Against Mother’, goes the sub-heading. How painful it must have been, to be accused of infanticide, killing your own child, a defenceless little girl you’d brought into the world, nurtured and nourished as she started out on her first few weeks of living.
You called her Mary, she was seven weeks old and had been born to you in Kilrush Nursery, where the Record tells us you were an ‘inmate’ for 12 months, having been sent to the institution from Ennistymon where you were born around 1906.
That you were considered an ‘inmate’, a de facto prisoner, just tells us now what an Ireland people lived in – a backward, bigoted rogue state where people were institutionalized at will, with Church and State working hand in glove to heap misery and persecution on so many considered to be on the margins, not worthy, worthless, forgotten, locked away.
How you must have felt when those forces came down on you – how lonely, isolated and alone you must have felt when the local garda superintendent, William Geary, representing the State, held you up as a murderer.
“I know that a fellow ‘inmate’ spoke on your behalf at the inquest into Mary’s death. Here’s what she said, as recalled by The Saturday Record: ‘On the night of 26th of March she retired to bed at about 9pm. She saw Annie Sherlock there with her child, who was at the time in perfect health. From 9pm until witness went to sleep Annie Sherlock did not leave her bed. Witness was awake at 5.30am and heard Annie Sherlock’s baby crying. She saw her sit up in the bed and take the child in her arms and feed it. Witness continuing said the lamp in the room had gone out during the night for the want of oil, but when witness awoke it was just breaking day. Annie Sherlock was lying on her left side, and the child beside her.
‘When Annie Sherlock was getting up her child did not stir. She then shook the child and called another inmate and said “Mary was dead”. All the girls came one the scene and one of them ran for a nurse. There was a little blood around the child’s nose. The mother was very fond of the child.’
This must have been soothing to you, just as the finding of the jury, on the back on medical testimony, that “they attached no blame to anybody” for Mary’s death.
You brought Mary to bed with you that night, instead of leaving her in a cot, because of the conditions in the nursery. It’s no wonder you did this, because from reading other reports I see that conditions were deplorable in the nursery, while another witness confirmed to the inquest “the place is not heated and in the winter months mothers take their children into bed.”
It was after that statement and the jury’s verdict that Superintendent William Geary intervened and said: ‘That verdict may be alright but it would not do the State. I will have Annie Sherlock arrested and formally charged before the District Justice.’
William Geary was new to Kilrush, having been appointed superintendent only six weeks earlier, but in 1928 he was dismissed from the force on the trumped up charge of “accepting £100 for information he gave to Republicans”.
Geary pleaded his innocence, but had to wait 71 years for justice when in 1999 the then Minister for Justice, John O’Donoghue, cleared his good name and gave him the justice he was campaigning for all those years when he read into the record of Dáil Éireann “this new Ireland wants to say sorry to him for what happened”.
Annie Sherlock from Ennistymon, I don’t know if you ever got justice. It’s the least you deserve in the new Ireland.
And, everybody who was in Kilrush Nursery deserves the same justice.
And that’s why the records of the Clare Board of Health in the County Archives section of Clare County Council is key to justice being done and your story being heard.
Those records have to be opened up to public scrutiny, to journalists, to researchers and to investigators as part of any statutory inquiry.
It’s what you deserve Annie Sherlock, what your daughter Mary deserves, what everyone who passed through the doors of Kilrush Nursery from 1922 to ’32 deserves.
Clare needs to hear your stories.