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The story behind “Silent Cry”

In 2014 I was driving when a news story came on the radio about the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam where it was alleged there was an unmarked grave filled with the bodies of children. My jaw dropped in horror. A local historian had discovered that 800 babies and children had died at the home and it was suggested that an underground septic tank was filled with these remains.

Over the next two hours, the song “Silent Cry” took shape. I’ve heard some writers talk about receiving “downloads” – that a song or a poem can arrive fully formed in their mind – and this song was as close to that as I have experienced. As I drove, this song came – chorus first, then verse by verse – dropping in. I will admit I did no research. We don’t yet know how those children in Tuam died, and my intention was not to allege anything specific about that case. What I’d heard on the radio that day was interwoven with other stories of the horrendous child abuse that we know took place in many orphanages and mother and baby homes run by the church and state, and became about the more general horror at the way church institutions, and society, treated women, babies and children.

I did wonder whether I had the right to write about this topic at all. Could anyone speak on these issues except the victims themselves? I decided I couldn’t write in the first person. I couldn’t write this from the inside. I used the second person instead, speaking as an outsider to “you” – the suffering child, the dead child – and the questions their suffering raised – “How did it come to this?”

When I look at the lyrics now I can see that there is word play turning around the idea of family: mothers and fathers that these children were denied – and the irony that the people who were supposed to be taking care of them were called “sisters” or “father”, and then God is called “our father” too. There’s also religious imagery; raising hands, in prayer or in violence, is alluded to as well the idea of original sin, hell and a biblical reference from Luke, who describes Jesus saying “suffer the little children to come onto me, forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.”

Playing the song for people it has been mentioned to me that, unusually, I mention fathers a lot in the song. We have grown accustomed to hearing about the Magdalene Laundries, and of women and girls being forced to give up their babies. Addressing the issue in the Dáil this week, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny said, “for a while it seemed as if in Ireland our women had the amazing capacity to self-impregnate”. It seemed an obvious question to me: “Where were the fathers?”

Musically, the song follows a tradition of Irish protest songs. I’m thinking of a voice like Christy Moore singing about the experiences of travellers in “Go, Move, Shift!” I hear this song arranged with a bodhran and fiddle with a strong, rhythmic guitar but for now I can only share with you this recording – a live demo with myself on vocals and guitar.

This week,(18th March 2017) Tuam has been back in the news, with reports corroborating that human remains from hundreds of children, from premature babies to those aged up to five years old, have been found. Click here to read the news story.

There are so many questions, and I have no answers, but eyes are on the Irish state and the Catholic Church as they respond to this news.

©Sinead Coll 2014

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