Currently running on Wednesday nights on TG4 is a riveting new documentary series, Finné (Witness ), made by Galway’s Magamedia, which shows the human side of Irish stories that have made the headlines over the past 50 years.
Presented by RTE’s courts correspondent, Orla O’Donnell, Finné uses searing first-person testimonies and next week’s episode, to be broadcast on Wednesday September 19 at 9.30pm, tells the profoundly moving story of Peter Mulryan, who recounts his upbringing in the Tuam mother and baby home and his subsequent quest to find his mother which led him to Galway’s Magdalene laundry.
Peter candidly describes the harsh, unloving milieu of the mother and baby home. He was then fostered out to a farmer when he was just four years old, and was often beaten. As an adult he learned that his mother was still alive and in Galway’s Magdalene laundry. What gives his story much of its power is that, despite the cruelty and pain he endured as a child, he grew up to be a person of great warmth and lovingness.
His story is told with skill and sensitivity by award-winning director Louise Ní Fhiannachta. “It was a privilege to make this,” she tells me. “The Tuam mother and baby home story has had a profound effect not only in Ireland but has sent ripples around the world. I wanted to really get to know Peter and to engage with his story on an intimate level. I met Peter and his lovely wife Kathleen in their home and just to sit there and have Peter trust me to tell his story in the way that I did meant so much to me.”
'It will take a lot of time for us to heal but at least we are talking about it now and that is a positive thing'
One of the most heart-rending aspects of the story is how Peter found his ageing mother in the Magdalene laundry and his tentative establishment of a relationship with her. “That’s the real story for me,” Louise declares. “Despite all of Peter’s hardship and suffering here you have a man who has great warmth, who welcomes you into his home and is very forgiving. He sings in the local choir and has won all-Ireland handball titles and fell in love and found a happy life and managed to have a relationship with his mother. He has a fantastic, warm personality and is one of the heroes to emerge from the Tuam mother and baby home story.”
While Peter’s story is the centrepiece of the documentary, it also looks at the wider issues surrounding the Tuam mother and baby home, and has trenchant contributions from Catherine Corless and Fr Micheál MacGréil. “When you visit the site where the 796 babies were interred in a septic tank it is overwhelming and you think about how our State and our Church were responsible for their deaths,” Louise observes. “The documentary raises a lot of those questions as well. We ask big questions about illegal adoptions and Catherine Corless speaks very assertively on that matter. I think this kind of culture was going on wholesale in Ireland. We’re a very damaged nation. It will take a lot of time for us to heal but at least we are talking about it now and that is a positive thing. The more we keep a lid on these things the darker and more shameful they become.”