A former Dungannon woman who was sent to Australia from a care home when she was a child has told the North’s Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry that she suffered feelings of “abandonment and isolation”.
The 63-year-old woman was transported to Australia in 1955 when she was aged four from Nazareth House home, Belfast, which was run by the Sisters of Nazareth.
The woman, who asked to maintain her anonymity, was one of approximately 130 children who were sent to Australia as part of a child migration programme between 1922 and 1995.
She said that soon after arrival she was fostered to a family who wanted to adopt her but that wasn’t allowed, the nuns told her, because her mother had not given permission. She took the name of the foster family and had a happy childhood. In the family she was “nurtured as a daughter and a sister”.
Others of her siblings were also sent to Australia. They had a “hard life” and compared to them her life “was a blessing”. The witness said she made contact with them when she grew older but that she had no real feelings for them because it was “too late to build a relationship”.
Later however when she was researching her background on visits to Ireland she learned she had another younger brother, who was living in Lisburn, Co Antrim. They subsequently became good friends.
She also was told that her mother, a Catholic, had become involved with a Protestant landowner who, she believed, was her father and father of her brother in Lisburn. She said her mother, whom she had never met and who died in 1999, was placed in special care under the mental health act.
The witness said that when she became engaged feelings of “abandonment and isolation came to the surface”. There were problems over her Australian citizenship “which caused her further emotional pain”. She finally ended up with an Irish passport.
The witness said she and her husband had four children, one of whom died when young with a son dying aged 26. In 1983 she had an amicable divorce from her husband.
The witness said she wanted an apology and compensation from the Sisters of Nazareth. What particularly angered her, she told the inquiry, was that the nuns viewed her and her siblings as “numbers” rather than real people.
“They weren’t really concerned about me, my history and what happened to me,” she said. “That’s the bit that gets to me to this day, that there is no empathy from the nuns about people like me.”