Dark Secrets

From The Grave


Doreen Bracken


I never knew my father. Betty Brady, my unmarried mother, would only say that he was in America and she was not able to tell me anymore about him, not even his name or whether he was alive or dead. It never really bothered me and I learned not to ask because I knew she didn’t want to talk about him. I never felt deprived. I always felt that she nurtured and loved me so much; she was as good as any two parents. But it wasn’t always easy for her. In the Ireland of the thirties, a time of intolerance and hypocrisy, a single mother was a ‘Whore’ and her baby was an ‘Illegitimate Bastard.’ Most of the girls that got pregnant in those days were hastily shunted off to ‘Mother and Baby’ homes run by religious orders where they would give birth, sign their baby away for adoption, slave for years in lieu of payment,  and return home humiliated and stigmatised for the rest of their lives.  But that didn’t happen to my mother. She was different. She wasn’t going to be ruled by those religious hypocrites or sacrifice her baby to be purchased by some wealthy childless couple in America.  She held her ground, ignored the gossipers and the church dictators, never felt shame or disgrace, had her baby at home and proudly raised me up to be respected and as equal as every other person.

Never afraid of hard work, she was only twenty-five, with a five-year-old child, when she inherited the little farm after both her parents had died within three years of each other. It was a huge crisis for her and left her with three choices. Sell the farm and get a job, find a husband to share the burden, or stay single and farm it herself. Always single-minded and confident of her own ability, Betty decided to do it herself, give her daughter a good life, and to the surprise of her doubting neighbours, she succeeded in both tasks and never regretted her decision.

But she always said that it was the help and the kindness of those neighbours that made it possible for her to achieve the impossible, farm the land, rear her daughter and keep her sanity. She was never short of anything and in fact we enjoyed prosperity at times when others were struggling. But she was always conscious of the needs of those less privileged and nothing gave her greater pleasure than to share widely and generously and only those who benefited knew the extent of her generosity.