Some mothers whose children became migrants to Australia were told they had died, a public inquiry in Northern Ireland has heard.
Youngsters themselves thought they were going on holiday, but never returned. When their mothers found out the truth they were overcome with guilt and never-ending mourning, an expert witness said.
Dr Margaret Humphreys works with the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry.
“Many child migrants did not realise they would not be coming back,” she said. “They thought it was a holiday, hardly preparation for a life the other side of the world, never to return again.”
The Nottinghamshire social worker established the Child Migrants Trust, a charity which helps reunite them with their families.
She told the inquiry some parents were not informed that their offspring had left the country.
“A few have been told that children had died, others had been told their children have been adopted. I have never met any mother whose child was sent to Australia who knew that they had been sent.”
She said some parents were made to feel awful.
“Mothers of child migrants, of whom I have met a large number, live with guilt and live with shame and live with endless mourning, a bereavement without end.
“The regret and shame of course is all ours, it is not theirs, it is society’s.”
She said children were left feeling special to – and belonging to – nobody, losing their identity in Australia, even in the sense of their Irish nationality.
The expert added the deception by those sending the children was not particular to Northern Ireland but claimed the records of the Sisters of Nazareth Catholic order of nuns in trying to trace links were woefully inadequate.