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27/09/2021

Section of Mother and Baby Homes report must be corrected say Donegal club

'A Slur on our Club' - Ballybofey and Stranorlar Golf Club secretary

Section of Mother and Baby Homes report must be corrected say Donegal club

The old graveyard that is the subject of incorrect information i the Mother and Baby Homes Commission report

Controversial claims that golfers at Ballybofey and Stranorlar Golf Club were playing over the burial grounds of those who died in the nearby Mother and Baby Home have been flatly denied.

Club secretary, PJ McGowan has revealed that he has written to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes asking them to correct their reference to this in their final report as it was casting a slur on the good name of the club, its members and the local community.

The section of the report dealing with burial in the Stranorlar area describes the history and problems associated with two graveyards situated on the course and claim "both sites are now part of the fairways of Stranorlar and Ballybofey Golf Club".

Mr McGowan said this has outraged not only members of the club but people in the Twin Towns and indeed all over the county who might have connections to the historic sites.

The report details the capacity issues and neglect of both graveyards experienced in the past and makes for grim reading from an era when women suffered serious discrimination. Women who gave birth outside marriage were subject to particularly harsh treatment supported by,  contributed  to, and condoned by, the institutions  of  the  State  and  the  Churches.

Both graveyards are well maintained and respected but this claim has sent shock waves through the community reopening old wounds and memories in the process.

Mr McGowan said he first heard a mention on the Joe Duffy Show on RTE Radio One last Friday how golfers at their club were playing on fairways that were built across these burial grounds.

He rang the programme but as it was close to 3pm; too late to get on but he gave them details of what the situation really was. They contacted him again on Monday and asked him to go on the show.

"I didn't mind, I just wanted to put the record straight. They asked for maps and photos to back up my story. I explained how there were two burial sites there; one acre was given by Lord Conyngham of the 1840s-1850s due to overcrowding from the nearby workhouse while the other was constructed by the then health board in 1945-50, long before the golf club was in that area at all."

Mr McGowan added that he explained the golf club maintained the older graveyard and the HSE looked after the other near St Joseph's Community Hospital.

"We cut grass, have erected walls, keep the place in good shape and erected a plaque to mark the location back in 1996. An ecumenical service was also held at the site a number of years ago too.

"I explained all this on Joe Duffy's show on Monday and he asked if I was going to get in touch with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission to put the record straight," he said.

Since that time Mr McGowan revealed he had received correspondence from a man in Bishopstown in Cork who claimed there could be some confusion with the Ordnance Survey (OS) map that might have led to the statement by the commission.

"This man sent me an excerpt from an OS map that showed the wording 'burial ground' out in the middle of a fairway. It should have indicated that the burial ground was adjacent to it but there wasn't enough room to write the information on. The OS map was not interpreted correctly," said Mr McGowan.

He added the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Golf Club course did not encroach on either graveyard in any way.

"As I said the golf course was developed after the burial sites came into being and the course goes around them, there's no play over the top of them - that would be an awful thing to do.

"In fact we are more or less the custodians of the site and both sites are at all times respected by members and visitors to the club alike. We respect both sites that are there.”

He added he wrote to the commission on Tuesday explaining how information on their report was wrong.
"I told them it was really casting a slur on our golf club and we wanted them to address this and correct the information.

"People from all over Donegal and beyond are familiar with our course and we would like to put the record straight for them and for the many families who may have someone buried in either graveyard. These people need to be reassured that we have been respectful as well.
“I'm waiting to hear back from the commission," he said.

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