Rugby man was left to die at three years old - now he is fighting to bring justice for thousands of forgotten victims of cruel home

Mr Leinster, now 78, continues to fight to get justice for the thousands who suffered at the Bethany Home.
Mr Leinster, now 78, continues to fight to get justice for the thousands who suffered at the Bethany Home.

When Derek Leinster was born in Ireland in 1941 his kind were regarded with such contempt that staff at the mother and baby home trusted to look after him watched on as he became gravely ill when he was just three years old.

But the work of doctors and nurses at Cork Isolation Hospital in Dublin saw Mr Leinster, who was suffering from pertussis, diphtheria, bronchial pneumonia and enteritis survive against all the odds.

The Bethany Home Memorial in Dublin.

The Bethany Home Memorial in Dublin.

Now aged 78, he is fighting for the memory of thousands of children who suffered in horrific conditions in the same Irish mother and baby home where he narrowly avoid death.

Mr Leinster’s Protestant mother became pregnant outside of marriage in 1941- and Mr Leinster believes it was only his mother’s fear of German U-boats that stopped her from travelling to England to get an abortion.

Many more Protestant children were born during this time, possibly for the same reason, but society regarded children born outside of marriage with ceaseless stigma, so parents would take drastic measures to 'save the family name'.

'A bastard was the lowest thing on earth'

“You’ve got to remember, we were classed as bastards - and in that time a bastard was the lowest thing on earth,” Mr Leinster said.

“The vicars and the clergymen of the Church of Ireland advised people that if they had difficulties in this domain that there was a place in Dublin that dealt with it - which would save the family’s name.”

That place was the Bethany Home in Dublin, opened in 1922 by the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop as a place for ‘fallen women’. It closed in 1960.

Mr Leinster’s mother was forced to spend the last four months of her pregnancy and four months following the birth in the home.

When she left the home, Mr Leinster was left to become so ill that medical professionals later remarked that a child would have to be abandoned in a dung heap to get to such a state.

A twisted belief that the children were better off dead

Mr Leinster said he does not know why staff left he and other small children in such horrific conditions, but he believes a mix of incompetence and a twisted belief that the ‘bastard’ children were better off dead could be partially to blame.

He said: “They watched me rot. Because normally if you see a child getting sick, and you can’t make it better, you get a doctor, you get a nurse.

“But those people didn’t have the brains or the care to do any of that - they would just wait.

“They had it timed to a tee, they’d send you to the hospital, so you died in the hospital and not on their premises.

“The vicars would have gone to the Cork Street Isolation Hospital, where I was for four and a half months.

“Not one person came in to find out how was I doing - Was he still alive? was all they worried about.

'He'll go to heaven now and he'll be fine'

“And the vicars would be telling my mother and her parents, ‘He’ll go to heaven now and he’ll be fine, he’s much better off now, that’s grand for him’. That’s how it was.

“It was more about making themselves feel comfortable with the situation, rather than it was to do with the care of the child.

“But then again there were loads of people who didn’t dump their children in these circumstances.

“They raised them as their own. In my case, my parents were well off.

“So there was no need for me to be in poverty. It was stigma and protecting the family’s name.

When Mr Leinster recovered he was sent back to the Bethany Home, before being adopted.

'I grew up in total poverty'

He said: “They were unable to keep themselves, so I grew up in total poverty.

“My foster mother died of Tuberculosis when I was ten – and we lived in the same room.”

He rarely went to school because the family could not afford proper clothes.

As a result, Mr Leinster left school as a young teenager unable to read or write.

After some time labouring on a farm, he moved into another farm – and ended up trapped working under harsh conditions for three years with no pay.

Mr Leinster escaped to England, first coming to Harborough and later settling in Rugby.

The neglect and abuse was widespread

It was in the early nineties when he first saw Catholic groups campaigning for justice for the victims of neglect and abuse in care homes and schools in Ireland.

“They inspired me to do this,” Mr Leinster said.

He said he thought that what happened to him might have been a rare occurrence, but he was driven to action when he realised that the neglect and abuse was widespread.

Mr Leinster began investigating the history of Bethany Home through Freedom of Information requests.

A chilling discovery

What he discovered was chilling. At least 222 children, some just days old, had died after being at the Bethany Home. – and the number increases the more Mr Leinster learns.

Their fate? To be piled into mass graves, perhaps in the hope they would be forgotten forever.

Mr Leinster saw to it that these victims’ names will be remembered. In 2014 he funded the construction of a granite memorial at the Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

It lists the names of the young victims, with more names being added whenever more victims are discovered.

Billion of euros in compensation - but the victims of Bethany Home have not seen a cent

A redress scheme in 2002 saw the Irish state award billions of euros in compensation to the victims of neglectful and abusive institutions across the country.

But the victims of Bethany Home have not seen a cent, and neither the state nor the Church of Ireland has ever apologised for their suffering.

Mr Leinster, who has written two books on the subject, believes there is an element of sectarian discrimination in the state ignoring the victims of the home, and he continues to fight for justice.

"Thousands of us went through that home, but every day more are dying or getting dementia. I think they're waiting for us all to die," Mr Leinster said.

The BBC, RTE and a host of national newspapers have covered Mr Leinster’s campaign.

Visit www.facebook.com/bethanyhomesurvivours98group to learn more and to follow any updates with the campaign.