I encountered two sisters of Baby Marion Howe, the latter of whom was found dead at Goldebridge in 1955. It was a few years ago at their house in Dublin. They were so keen to speak to me because of also having been in Goldenbridge. Although, I did feel helpless in not being able to give them information pertaining to their little sister, as I too, at around that time would have entered the institution as a wee tot. I was not the better after coming out of the house. It was so heart-breaking listening to the sisters’ recall the loss of their beautiful sister. I had visited them with a survivor from another institution, who was very disturbed. Consequently the conversation was continually hijacked by her, as opposed to being rightfully concentrated on that of the tragedy of the Howe’s wee sibling. That was the raison d’être of invitation after-all! My head was spinning around so much in the aftermath at hearing the story first-hand. The survivors’ interruptions didn’t help. In hindsight I now see that wee Marion’s tragedy triggered off painful stuff for the survivor who suffered an indescribably miserable life in two industrial *schools*.
The following Vatican Crimes Report on the tragic death of Baby Marion Howe speaks for itself. It’s so harrowing even to read it as too many reminders of that god-forsaken hellhole re-emerge. She was such a pretty child and judging from the photo she looked so well-cared for by her parents.
Vatican Crimes Report:
On May 17th 1955, Christina Howe dressed her beloved baby daughter Marion in her best frilly lemon dress, combed her freshly washed blonde hair, adding a kiss curl to the top, before giving her a last kiss and cuddle. Marion, a happy bouncing baby, waved goodbye, calling out ‘dayday’ to her mother and one of her sister’s, Mary, in the normal baby vernacular of a bright child just discovering language.
She was then handed over to the ‘care’ of the nuns in Goldenbridge Industrial *School*; where she was due to spend the next two weeks while Christina recovered from an illness in hospital. Christina never saw her baby daughter alive again; for after only four days in the nun’s care, the nuns claimed baby Marion was dead. She was only eleven months old and perfectly healthy baby.
Marion’s father Myles was working in England in the 1950’s, supporting his wife and five children, when Christina was taken ill and sent into hospital to convalesce. With their grandmother caring for the other children, on the suggestion of the Almoner of Meath Hospital- who assured Christina her youngest baby would be well-cared for by the Sisters of Mercy – she agreed to send Marion to Goldenbridge Orphanage for two weeks while she got better. On May 21st just four days after Christina sent her baby to Goldenbridge, Myles received a telegram in England informing him that his baby daughter was dead.
Myles Howe realised immediately that something terrible had happened to his daughter, so went straight to Kilmainharn Garda (local police) station to file a complaint. ‘The police told him to come back in a couple of days,’ says Frances. ‘When he went back he was told it was just an unfortunate accident and to let it go. In those days the law just wasn’t on their side. People had no voice.’
In the grief and pain of losing their baby, Myles and Christina went to Goldenbridge two weeks after her death to try and get some answers. They were not looking to cause trouble; like any parents they only wanted to understand why their beloved child had died. However when the door was opened on the bereft couple, Sister Xaveria, the nun in charge, responded to their heartfelt pleas by waving her hand in a gesture of dismissal, saying ‘it was only a baby’ before the door was closed in their faces. That any human being could treat grieving parents with such callousness beggar’s belief, but she did, and the Howe’s were forced to go home distraught; no closer to the truth of what had happened to their adored youngest child.
The death certificate stated that baby Marion had died of acute dysentery infection, (with no mention of bums) but the couple never saw a post mortem report, police report or hospital report pertaining to their daughter. Broken-hearted they had no choice but to get on with their lives for the sake of their other children, and although they did, much had changed:
‘Our parents never trusted anyone to look after their kids,’ remembers Frances. ‘We went to adifferent school away from all our friends as they didn’t trust us to be educated by nuns. Our mother used to say if she had pockets in her apron big enough, she’d mind us all in them.’
Baby Marion was a constant presence in their lives, with Christina including her in their thoughts and celebrating her birthdays without fail; talking about her, wondering who she would look like if she had lived. But there was also sadness: ‘We would see our mother upset,’ recalls Frances with tears in her eyes. ‘We’d ask her what was wrong and she would try and hide it, but it was always there, that sadness.’ Mary, the sister who waved goodbye to Marion on that day in 1955 has no memory of the rest of her childhood, so badly traumatised was she by what happened to her sister. But somehow the family retained their faith and Christina would tell her children that their baby sister’ was anger up in heaven, with God’.
In 1996 when the police re-opened the case, the Sisters of Mercy told them that there had never been a Marion Howe in their care. There was no record of her arrival in Goldenbridge so it was only when the police discovered her name in the ‘sick book’ (beside the entry, ‘leg burnt/ history of vomiting’) after a search of the orphanage, that they finally admitted baby Marion had been in Goldenbridge.
Do we need to ask ourselves why the sisters would go to such lengths to conceal the truth, or do we already know the answer? The Howe’s discovered that people would not, or could not, speak out. ‘We put out an appeal in the newspapers in 1997, asking people if they remembered anything,’ explains Frances, ‘but people were afraid to talk. They still are.’
Baby Marion’s case went before the courts in 1997. It was to be a test case, the outcome of which would either open, or close forever, the floodgates for all the other victims of institutional abuse in Ireland. Before trial the Howe’s agreed to settle the case out of court for the sum of £20,000. While the money never mattered, Christina Howe, who had fought the case while ill with cancer, saw the settlement as the only way of ensuring that other victims of institutional abuse got their chance to be heard in court.
‘Our mother said that if she couldn’t help those children in 1955, she’d help them now’ remembers Frances. ‘She died six months and seven days after the trial. And she died with a broken heart, never knowing what had happened to her baby.’ Myles also died never knowing what happened to his much loved daughter.
Incredibly the Sisters of Mercy never admitted any liability for what happened to baby Marion; nor did they apologise for her death. Instead they apologised: ‘IF there had been a lack of caring or compassion at the time.’ That says it all – even with their backs against the wall the Sisters of Mercy did not have the humanity to stand up and acknowledge their own failings.
Today, 54 years after baby Marion’s death, her family- whose grief and pain at the loss of their sister is still palpable- has yet to discover the truth about what happened to that beautiful baby girl during those four days at Goldenbridge. This shadow has affected every aspect of their lives. ‘Our own children are also touched by this’ explains Geraldine Howe, who also works within this close-knit family to find the truth. ‘My own nine-year old daughter told me she was sick of this project. I was always doing, and asked ‘why those people couldn’t tell the truth so that we could then go the police, who live up by aunty Frances’. All our children are deeply affected.’
This is not about compensation or money. The Howe’s are quick to reiterate that they only want the truth. They now hope that they can get permission to have baby Marion’s body exhumed in a last attempt to find out why she died, so they can finally put it behind them and get on with their lives. That these crimes against the most vulnerable in our society – our children – remained hidden for so long is, in itself, a crime; that the Howe family should be still forced to fight for the truth is an indictment of our society- government, religious and secular- as a whole. In this so-called era of accountability and openness their story is a harsh reminder that there are still many dark secrets lurking in the history of our state; secrets that it seems, will never come to light.
• The Howe family desperately need information pertaining to those days in May 1955. If you were in Goldenbridge Orphanage, working with the babies or as a resident, or if you have information that you think may help, please call: (305) 433-6966 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any information will be treated in the strictest confidence.
THE family of a baby girl who died three days after she was admitted to the notorious Goldenbridge orphanage in Dublin is calling for her exhumation to investigate the cause of death.
Frances Howe, sister of 11-month-old Marion, says her parents were left “devastated” after the death of their youngest daughter in 1955.
“Marion’s birth cert says she died of dysentery, but when my father went to the hospital to see her she had a bandage on her head, burns on her legs and holes the size of a silver dollar coin,” says Ms. Howe.
Marion was placed in Goldenbridge after her 29-year-old mother Christina had fallen ill. As her own mother was already looking after her other four young children, Christina agreed to leave Marion with the Sisters of Mercy until she was well again.
The placement was meant to be just for two weeks.
Three days later, word was sent to Marion’s father, who was working in England at the time, that she was dead.
“My father went to the police but he was told a few days later it was an ‘unfortunate accident’ and to forget about it,” says Ms Howe.
Christina and Myles Howe never received a satisfactory explanation as to how their daughter died and spent their lives wondering what happened to Marion.
Now, her family is calling for the exhumation of her body to resolve what they believe to be the unanswered questions surrounding her death.
“We want a forensic examination to find out the exact cause of death. We have seen no hospital records, no postmortem results, just a death certificate to say the cause of death was dysentery,” added Ms. Howe, who says her mother always knew something bad had happened to Marion.
“My mother used to say if the police had listened to what our father was saying in 1955 it could have saved an awful lot of children from being abused. We just want the truth about what happened.
“If there is anyone out there who knows what happened to Marion, an 11-month old happy baby with blonde hair and blue eyes who was in Goldenbridge in May of 1955, please get in touch with us. We are not looking for compensation, we just want answers.”
Read more at the Irish Examiner
The Mirror (London, England), 11 October 1997 by Neil Leslie
The elderly mother of tragic Goldenbridge baby Marion Howe claims her daughter’s death at the hands of nuns was “nothing short of murder”.
Distraught Christina Howe has revealed for the first time that she believes her 11-month-old toddler was assaulted with a hot poker.
She was speaking after receiving a £20,000 payout from the Sisters of Mercy and an apology over the death of baby Marion. But she said the payout was no substitute for an explanation of her child’s mystery death.
It is 42 years since Marion died but pensioner Mrs Howe sobbed: “I just can’t forgive them.”
Speaking at her home in Dublin last night, she said: “What they did was murder, that’s my view of it anyhow.
“I am still very angry and I still don’t know the truth. That was all I wanted to know, the truth. Money didn’t matter. But now we will never know because there are no witnesses. It’s an awful burden. I will never get over it.”
She revealed that the nuns had initially offered £7,500 for her and her husband Myles to drop court action against them.
“They offered us that money a few months ago. It was an insult really. But we didn’t want the money, we just wanted to know what happened to our lovely little girl.
“She was such a beautiful baby. I had 16 children and 10 are alive and I just look at them now and wonder which one would she have been like.
“It’s heartbreaking. We will try to put it behind us now. My husband is still too upset to speak to anyone about it.”
Christina wept again as she recalled why her little girl was taken from her all those years ago. She said: “I was sick. She was only supposed to be there for two weeks but she was dead in four days.
“Some of my older daughters remember. Mary, who was around four or five, recalls her being taken away in the pram and saying ‘Day Day’.
“Little did we know it would be the last ‘Day Day’ we ever saw her alive.
“We are still angry. The nuns never even told me what happened at the time.
“They rang my husband who was in England and told him not to bother coming home, that they would look after everything.
“They wondered why we were so upset and told us: ‘It’s only a baby’.
“But our little girl was lucky because she had parents. What about all the little ones that didn’t. How many more have been buried like that?”
Christina believes horrendous burns to her baby’s legs were caused with a hot poker. “I always said it was a poker because of the shape of the holes. She was only 11 months old.
“It’s really awful what they did. Marion had burns on both her legs, not just one which was reported.
“You could place your fingers right through the hole in her little leg. How could anybody do that to an 11-month-old baby.
“It is frightening to think such things could have happened to a little infant.
“And these people had the cheek to say they would bury our baby. They were covering up. Do they think we are fools?
Mrs. Howe and her husband visited the orphanage near Dublin three weeks after Marion was buried in an attempt to find out what happened.
She recalled: “The nun who answered the door shut it in our face. We were devastated. There was no any investigation, yet we told the Guards.
“We were left thinking, year after year, day after day, what ever happened to our little Marion.
“We never got the truth. No money will ever replace her.
“When my husband reported it to the police they should have looked into it.
“Think what we could have done to save other orphans from torture?”
The court victory has opened the door for a flood of similar settlements against the Sisters of Mercy who ran a cruel regime in Goldenbridge 40 years ago.
The scandal was uncovered after orphan? Christine Buckley exposed the brutal life in her television documentary Dear Daughter last year.
Christine told of the reign of terror in which kids were beaten, and placed in tumble dryers and forced to sit on potties for hours. Christina Howe saw the moving film and was horrified.
“It was then we realised that if all this had happened to this woman, what had happened to our little girl,” she said.
Christine Buckley last night offered her sympathy to the Howes.
She said: “It must have been like burying their baby again.
“If they had got a million pounds it would have been nothing because they did not get an honest explanation as to what happened.”
She said it was time for an independent public inquiry.
“The state has let us down badly. Had one of us been the daughter of a VIP this would never have gone so far.
“The Howes have waited 42 years for the truth. Someone knows the answer to their question.”
I just stumbled across a post by Martine Brennan on Little Marion Howe. Her story needs to be heard.