Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

The Suitcase in the Cellar

2013-12-20 16.36.34

(c) Mark Sutherland 2014

In April 1955 Dr Halliday Sutherland visited the Mother and Baby Home at Tuam and the Magdalene Laundry at Galway. In order to obtain permission for the visit, Sutherland had to agree that anything he wrote was subject to the approval of the Mother Superior. The censored version of his visit was included in his book “Irish Journey” published in 1956. No one knew what the uncensored version contained — until now. The uncensored manuscript, and the story of how it came to be discovered in a cellar, is revealed here for the first time.

At Christmas in 2013, I travelled from my home in Sydney to visit my mother in Britain.

One morning I was up early. I went to the cellar to sort through a tea packing case of my belongings: books, old photographs, record albums and sentimental things too heavy for the journey to Australia. The records interested me the most: my son was an enthusiast for “vinyl” and I wanted to give them to him. I was going to spend the next little while experiencing the joy that comes from rediscovering albums like “L.A. Woman”, the psychic pain that comes from rediscovering the “less inspired” choices, and the physical pain that comes from spending too much time in a cold, damp cellar.

2013-12-20 16.37.23I opened the door to the cellar and walked down the stone steps. I saw my tea case in the corner in the dim light. A brown leather suitcase lay on the floor in front of me. I picked it up and noticed one corner of the suitcase was rotten from damp. I placed the case on the stone floor and looked inside. Lots of papers, bound and loose, some typed but the majority handwritten.  I carried the documents up to the kitchen where it was brighter, and considerably warmer.

These were the manuscripts of my grandfather: Halliday Sutherland; born 1882; died 1960. Doctor, author and pioneer in the treatment of tuberculosis, the major killer disease of the era, which took him into the slums of London to care for the sick. Defendant in the 1923 Stopes v Sutherland libel trial, which arose from his vehement public opposition to eugenicist “race” scientists and Neo-Malthusians, and defence of poor and working class people. Halliday had faced financial ruin against an opponent with significantly better financial resources. He was rescued by his supporters, who raised money to pay his legal bills, and by his winning the case in 1924.

2013-12-27 20.07.39I laid the papers on the kitchen table. Here the handwritten foolscap for his book A Time to Keep. A red folder contained a radio play he had written. The letter acknowledging receipt from the BBC was held to the front of the file by a paper clip, the rust staining the page. On a long thin envelope, Halliday had written: New Zealand. Broadcasts by Halliday Sutherland. 5. Talks on Finland. January to March 1940.  Brown paper tied with parcel string was labelled Manuscript (incomplete). In My Path. November 1936. A manilla folder with loose paper, letters and a photograph.

Then a typed manuscript of his 1956 book Irish Journey.  I knew that it contained material which had been of topical interest earlier in 2013, because in one chapter, Sutherland had described his April 1955 visit to the Magdalene Laundry at Galway. In February 2013, the Irish Taoiseach had apologised, on behalf of the Irish state, to the women who had been held in Magdalene institutions across Ireland.

To visit the Magdalene Institution, Halliday had sought permission from the Bishop of Galway, the Most Reverend Michael John Browne. They met at 11 a.m. at the Bishop’s Palace. The manuscript recorded their conversation set out as if it were a play—odd, because Halliday’s usual style was prose. Now what followed was five pages of:

Bishop: …

Myself: …

Bishop: …

…and so on.

On reading the record of the conversation, it quickly became clear why it had been recorded this way: The spoken words, even without an author’s embellishment, convey the hostility of the Most Reverend Michael John Browne. Res ipsa loquitur.

Bishop: So you’re writing a book about Ireland?

Myself: I hope so.

Bishop: Well, if you write anything wrong it will come back on you. Remember that.

Eight lines later:

Bishop: There you are. Trying to write about Ireland without knowing our background.

Myself: I’m willing to learn.

On the next page, Halliday got to the point, and an already frosty meeting became colder:

Myself: My Lord, I would like to see the Magdalen Home Laundry.

Bishop: Are you going to write it up?

Myself: Until I see it I don’t know whether there is anything to write about.

Bishop: I am their Bishop. It is my duty to defend these nuns. I have done so in the past and I shall do so again.

Myself:  Is there anything to hide?

Bishop: No, there is nothing to hide.

Myself: Are the girls paid?

Bishop: No, they are not paid. By their work they pay for their board. I suppose that offends your Welfare State principles.

Myself: Some of us think that England has gone too far with the Welfare State.

Bishop: Why do you want to see the Magdalen Home?

Myself: I want to see how you treat unmarried mothers. Many of these girls come to England. It is said that fifty-five percent of the Girls in British Catholic Rescue Homes are Irish.

At this point Halliday was openly challenging the Bishop: Why are so many unmarried mothers crossing the Irish Sea to England? Is it something to do with your treatment of them? The Most Reverend Michael John Browne rebutted the challenge.

Bishop: That is propaganda. Father Craven began it. Cardinal Bourne repeated it. For twenty-five years I have asked for the figures. They can’t give them. Do you know the figures?

Myself: No I’m trying to get them.

Bishop: You will find there are only a few. Hundreds of decent Irish girls are going to England. At this moment your Government are advertising high salaries for Irish girls to go to England as nurses in your mental hospitals.

Myself: English priests say that most of the Irish lose their Faith within six months of coming to England.

Bishop: Then why don’t your English priests look after the Irish instead of throwing bastards in our face?

Myself: My Lord, no one is throwing bastards in your face.

Remember, “bastard” was a stronger word in 1955 than it is today, accompanied by stigma and inferior legal rights. Later in the conversation though, a deal was struck:

Bishop: Are you prepared to submit anything you propose to write about the Magdalen Home for approval by the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy?

Myself: I am, My Lord.

Bishop: Then I permit you to go there.

Myself: Thank you, My Lord…

The first rule of negotiation is: when you have got what you want, stop talking. Nothing you can say will improve the outcome; everything you say might put the deal at risk. Halliday kept talking:

…Years ago I wrote there could be no peace between our two countries until England remembers and Ireland forgets. I am tired of meeting Irishmen in London who speak as though Cromwell had left Ireland the day before yesterday.

Bishop: Forget? Did you ask the Spaniards to forget? No, because they would not have listened to you. We are not commanded to forget but to forgive. I like your books but your theology is all wrong.

Why did Halliday say something so contentious after he had received the permission he sought?

A story Ian Sutherland (my father and Halliday’s son) told my brother might explain it: For many of his books, Halliday travelled to foreign parts and on his return would write about his experiences. His trip to Ireland followed this pattern, but the Irish book had an additional purpose. As a Scot married to an Irish woman, Halliday wanted to write something to reconcile the historic differences between Ireland and England.

Shortly after he had arrived in Ireland, Halliday had asked an Irish Catholic priest to say mass for his son Vincent, who had been killed, aged 21, in the war. The priest refused. Vincent had served in British forces. No mass.

Halliday was hurt by the priest’s reaction. Frustrated too, because as a Scot he was well aware of the violent history between his country and England. How could there ever be peace if a priest, given the choice between compassion and enmity, chose enmity? According to Ian, this had led to a change in the timbre of the book.

All that said, Halliday now had the permission he wanted. He had stuck to his side of the deal. When he had finished writing Irish Journey, he sent a draft of Chapter VII The Magdalene Home to the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy. The Mother Superior had censored the draft, and returned the approved version for publication.

No one knew what the uncensored version contained, all parties taking their knowledge to the grave.

I was now holding that draft. I felt my stomach tighten when I saw Convent of Mercy, St Vincents, Galway embossed in the top right-hand corner of a page, the date 13 October, 1955 and read:

Dear Dr. Sutherland,

I return herewith your typescript containing your article about the Magdalen Home. If it makes no difference to you we would much prefer you did not include this article in your book at all. Should it not be possible for you to comply with our wishes in this matter would you kindly exclude the paragraph marked on page 122, and that marked at the end of page 123. I do not remember hearing anyone say that a girl ever ‘howled’ to be readmitted. They do come along and ask sometimes. Would you also kindly omit the piece marked on page 124.

Yours sincerely,

[signature] Sister M. Fidelma.

Mother Superior

I cleared a space on the table and photographed each page. I include copies of these photographs for readers of this blog. For the first time, readers can see Halliday Sutherland’s uncensored manuscript as well as the instructions as to which parts to remove. [UPDATE 13 January 2021: you can read higher resolution scans of the manuscript here (go to the dot points half-way down the page)]


Look at the signature in the letter. Is the handwriting of the person who signed the letter and amended the draft the same person? You be the judge.

114The most frequently-occurring change in the draft is amending “Magdalene House” to “the Magdalen Home”. At the foot of the page, Sutherland starts his account of his visit to the Mother and Baby Home at Tuam. At time of writing, this institution is in the news in Ireland and internationally when it was reported that around 800 infants had been buried in a disused septic tank, and the Media have run stories – often shocking – as to how they came to be there.



Halliday’s meeting with Bishop Browne starts on the page below.






The visit to the Galway Laundry began at 5 o’clock. Halliday was introduced by the Mother Superior of the Convent of Mercy to the Sister-in-charge and six nuns who managed the laundry. He began questioning them about the 73 girls in their charge.

Page 122 contains the first significant amendment – a deletion. The deleted part reads:

“Yes, some of them cannot read or write. A few are sent by Probation Officers into whose care the girl was placed by the Justice before whom she was charged with some criminal offence.”

122On page 123 the second significant amendment appears. The redacted text reads:

“Do they try to escape?”

“Last year a girl climbed a twenty foot drain pipe. At the top she lost her nerve and fell. She was fortunate. She only broke her pelvis. She won’t try it again.”


Page 124 contains the third significant amendment. A passage relating to corporal punishment is removed from the book:

“…For that kind of thing the girl gets six strokes of the cane, three on each hand.”

A Nun: Sometimes on the legs.

“I suppose only the Sister-in-charge may inflict corporal punishment.”

“Yes, and the only time I gave it I felt positively ill.”


I have included all of the remaining pages below for completeness and for readers of this blog to assess the changes for themselves.










My lightheartedness had passed. I left the house and walked to the park, now appreciative of the weak winter sunlight after the dark world of of aggressive prelates, intolerant societies, fearful girls and harsh institutions. On a bridge, I stopped to watch the ducks in the river below, floating gently in the eddies of the oil-dark water. The records could wait.


In the 1958 American edition of Irish Journey, Halliday Sutherland added a preface in which he wrote:

In 1955 I wrote Irish Journey and this book has been damned by faint praise from every newspaper critic in Ireland. I was not surprised, because all the critics have ignored my main criticism, which concerns the Irish secular clergy. In my opinion they have too much political power. They hold themselves aloof from their people, and are too fond of money.

In the bad old days, when Ireland was subject to the foreign power of England, the parish priest was probably the only educated man in an Irish village. The foreign power has been driven out, the people are better educated, but the parish priest is loathe to relinquish his political power.

During my Irish holiday, I was assaulted by a total stranger in a Tipperary hotel. The incident was reported in all the Dublin papers, and when I returned to my Dublin hotel, the receptionist said to me, “Will you be writing about it?” I told her I would, and she replied, “That won’t be nice.” She was obviously afraid that the record of this incident would spoil Ireland as a show place.

Ireland is certainly a wonderful show place, and heaven may reflect Killarney; but as a Scotsman I think Loch Lomond, twenty miles from Glasgow, is more beautiful.

Another day a well-known man called at the hotel to see me. I met him in the lounge, but he asked me out to his car, I asked him where we were going and he said, ” Nowhere, but there were too many people in the lounge who might overhear what I am going to ask you, and that is not to mention me in your book.”

“And why not?”

“They wouldn’t like it.”

I know that he meant the Irish hierarchy, It is strange how the shadow of the hierarchy falls on the most unexpected places in the public life of Ireland.

If Ireland goes communist within the next ten years, I think the secular clergy will be to blame.

The “Catholic Medical Guardian” of London gave my book an excellent review and said that my account of the assault on myself in a Tipperary hotel recalled the best chapters in “Handy Andy”. But a copy of my book was sent to a nun in Dublin who replied, “This book should be burnt by the public hangman.”

I only hope that what I have written will be more appreciated in the clearer air in the United States of America.

Ireland is currently debating the issues around eight hundred infant bodies found in an unused septic tank at the mother-and-baby home at Tuam. What is done as a result of these noisy, conflicting voices will determine whether this state of affairs has changed, and by how much.

©Mark Sutherland 2014

31 comments on “The Suitcase in the Cellar

  1. Leslie Moore
    11 June 2014

    Mark — thanks for sharing this story with us. Given what we now know about the children who died at Tuam, Halliday Sutherland’s instincts were right. Such tragedy — and on such a grand scale — for those who had no one to protect them.

    • markhsutherland
      11 June 2014

      Leslie, thank you. When he died, Halliday’s obituary in the British Medical Journal described him as a man who “made friends and enemies with equal readiness”. Speaking out has always been a good way to make enemies.

  2. Karen
    12 June 2014

    This is definitely a book to be written, if not a movie!

  3. Cathy Maher
    15 June 2014

    60 years on and Dr Sutherland’s work will significantly contribute to the investigation of this shame,inequity and cruelty, by any standard. It is quite some time to have to wait for your work to be realised though the timing of the documents being found and recent events is serendipitous indeed.

  4. Keith
    19 June 2014

    Mark, the septic tank story is reportedly a hoax but there remain questions to be answered.
    You may wish to amend your blog accordingly

    • markhsutherland
      19 June 2014

      Keith, I wrote that the Tuam institution had been in the news recently. This is true. You wrote “reportedly” a hoax – whose reports? Which reports?

      • Keith
        20 June 2014

        It’s been all over the internet and it’s now accepted in Ireland that it was pure, nasty sensationalism led by a few rag newspapers.>”No such discovery took place. No one even knows if the vault was ever used as a septic tank. And they think about 20 bodies were in it anyway. Considering the facts are horrendous in themselves, the distortions are inexcusable.”< http://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/our-past-was-cruel-but-decent-people-are-righting-wrongs-30357746.html

        The lady who did the initial research was horrified at the way the story was twisted.

  5. Gerard Ward
    21 June 2014

    To be fair Keith, Mark was only saying that the Tuam institution had been in the news recently.

    But when all is said and done, and you can argue semantics forever on these blogs, this isn’t a scandal about skeletons dumped into a septic tank.

    It’s a scandal about the systematized neglect of children over a period of decades as a result of collusion between Church and State.

    • Keith
      23 June 2014

      I was trying to be helpful. The truth is important and the statement above isn’t true>
      “Ireland is currently debating the issues around eight hundred infant bodies found in an unused septic tank at the mother-and-baby home at Tuam.”

  6. M Ryan
    24 June 2014

    The story of press sensationalism and media and journalistic responsibility in the 21st century is one story. The story of over 750 babies that we’re not afforded a burial in a consecrated graveyard, despite the fact that many were old enough so that they must have been baptised, and many whom the records officially say died of malnutrition (i.e. neglect – as the church was well off) is another. The further story of 20 (20!) babies whose remains were placed in a concrete box not designed for burial rather than being afforded the respectful burial of their cultural tradition, is another. The further story is the chronic treatment of women in twentieth century Ireland. And the further possible story is the treatment of babies born out of wedlock, given that this is how they were treated in death. Finally, this is the story of an institution and religious orders within that institution that refuse to release their records to the public (despite being funded by the Irish state- i.e. the people – in it’s work). So that we are forced to guess and surmise. And without the records, an official and proper record of this period of incarceration in Ireland will never be written. And people as such may continue to make up stories.

  7. Rory Connor
    25 June 2014

    I have posted on several websites about this non-scandal including the following on the SpikedOnLine site edited by former “Marxist Firebrand” Brendan O’Neill. (Just to keep things fair, I have also posted on the Association of Catholic Priests” site)

    An article in the Irish Times on Saturday 14 June makes it clear that the allegations are false – even though they still want to blame the Church. In the print edition it’s headed “A Week in Irish Politics That is Best Forgotten” and online it’s called “Sound and Fury Overwhelm Rational Political Debate”.

    The week began with politicians vying with each other to express outrage and indignation over a dark chapter in Ireland’s past; the way single pregnant women and their children were treated from the 1920s to the 1960s.

    Much of the instant hysteria was generated in response to a wave of deeply misleading media reports suggesting that the bodies of almost 800 children who died at a mother and baby home in Tuam between 1925 and 1961 were dumped in a septic tank.

    The actual heart-rending facts surrounding the deaths in the Tuam mother and baby home were outlined by Rosita Boland in a sympathetic and comprehensive report in this newspaper last weekend. However, the old adage about never letting the facts get in the way of a good story meant that lurid and misleading reports went around the world and fanned a political storm at home.

    When the Irish Times concedes that an anti-clerical atrocity story is false, you can be sure there isn’t a hope in hell of making it stick. I wrote previously about the “Murder of the Undead”” and “Victimless Murder” libels that were the Celtic equivalent of Satanic Ritual Abuse. Irish Times journalists were prominent in promoting those but obviously the “babies in the septic tank” story is seen as a hopeless cause!

    You can Google the phrases “Murder of the Undead” and “Victimless Murders”. They relate to claims that the Christian Brothers killed boys in industrial schools – during periods when no child died of any cause! The current witch-hunt is also insane – just in a slightly different way!

    • markhsutherland
      25 June 2014


      You are right when you say that sometimes the Media never
      lets the facts get in the way of a good story. On the
      other hand, the Media is a broad concept. Pointing out the
      worst excesses of some reports – many, even – does not
      turn these issues into a “non-scandal”. All it means is
      that you have created a “straw-man” argument.

      For instance, read Anne Ferris’s speech to the Dáil Éireann
      on 11th June 2014, which starts at the foot of this page: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail2014061100061?opendocument
      How can this speech be fairly included in the set:
      “politicians vying with each other to express outrage and
      indignation”. The speech seems quite measured to me.

      The facts: There were stories in the press about the mother-
      and-baby-home at Tuam. Halliday Sutherland’s book “Irish
      Journey” was censored. The censored document is shown on
      this site.

    • Erin
      7 March 2017

      Still think it’s a non scandal?

  8. Rory Connor
    25 June 2014

    Incidentally before our Irish journalists and broadcasters started the “Murder of the Undead” style witch-hunt, they published stories about children who really existed and died but claimed that they had been deliberately killed by religious brothers or nuns. The following headline in the Daily Mirror on 11 October 1997 says it all

    “Hot Poker was used on little Marion. No cash will get her back; I think my baby was murdered at the orphanage, says payout Mum”

    The woman who made the allegation was supported by the head of one of the biggest “Victims” groups in Ireland. Brendan O’Neill is not quite correct when he says that “The obsession with Ireland’s dark past has officially become unhinged” . It became unhinged a long time ago!

    • markhsutherland
      25 June 2014


      No doubt some journalists published some lurid, untrue stories, but it is also the case that other journalists published thoughtful, measured and factual stories.

      You state that “payout Mum” was supported by the head of the biggest “victims” groups in Ireland. Surely you are not suggesting that, by supporting “payout Mum”, the “victims” groups have lost all credibility? The “victims” groups take all comers. Some cases will be verified, others will not be. What they want is for due process of the law. Again you set up your “straw-man” argument which then (surprise, surprise!) you dispatch, leading to your sweeping statement that “the obsession with Ireland’s dark past…became unhinged a long time ago”.

      The reason such lurid stories circulate is, in part, because these issues have not been properly addressed. Had Bishop Browne listened to Dr Sutherland, had he considered the difficulties facing a young woman with an illegitimate child, had he considered the plight of a young woman travelling to Britain under such circumstances, and had he not seen it as the English church “throwing bastards in our face”, the problems might have been addressed back then.

      A properly-constituted enquiry is the most effective way to air the truth and to discredit the lurid stories you dislike so much. A proper examination of the issues, placed on the public record will not prevent headlines like “Hot Poker was used on Little Marion” in the future, but it will mean that anyone who peddles this material will be openly ridiculed and asked: “Surely you don’t believe that nonsense, do you?”

  9. Glenn
    1 July 2014

    If septic tanks are not your thing, then try how the Roman Catholic
    church dealt with infants who had the misfortune to die before they
    were baptized in Belfast. They were dumped in a mass unmarked grave
    in a bog, outside Milltown cemetery on the Falls road. The practice
    only stopping relatively recently.
    As yet there is official marker to tell the visitor of the horrors
    that lies beneath their feet.

    “Suffer the little children”

    • markhsutherland
      2 July 2014

      The emotive words in your comment: “dumped in a mass unmarked grave in a bog” and “horrors that lie beneath their feet” confirm my thought that a properly constituted Inquiry needs to deal with these issues, and examine what happened and what didn’t. Until then, lurid stories will continue to circulate and gain credibility through repetition, ranging from the wholly false to the wholly true and all shades in between.

  10. northbelfastview
    1 July 2014

    There is believed to be 30,000 infants buried in the Bog Meadows. They were not permitted to be buried in Roman Catholic Milltown cemetery. The Roman Catholic would rather give full burial rights to child killers than innocent children. What a perverse alleged religion.


    • markhsutherland
      2 July 2014


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  12. Annette McKay
    10 July 2014

    Nobody seems to give a damn that behind the sensationalism there are real people . I know because my sister is one of the babies on the list obtained by Catherine Corless. Shame on the newspapers who printed the list of the babies names with no care for the still living relatives, shame on people who think it is a fabricated story . It isn’t, I know.

  13. patricia kelly
    20 August 2015

    It can’t be about the living relatives , it can only be about the babies . Your sister had a name . Your sister was real as well as the others whose name were never mentioned . It’s a pity it was the newspapers who publicly acknowledged their existence .As long as things are hidden for sentimental reasons, there will be no justice in history of those children.It will happen again as people refuse to acknowledge what has happened in the past and is still happening today in this country .

  14. Annette mckay
    20 August 2015

    How can it not be about the living relatives? My mother is alive at ninety one and still does not know where her baby is. The 796 babies are missing, that is the only fact we have and an exhumation of the site to get to the truth looks like a distant dream. Mary Margaret existed, Maggie her mother exists. When will the truth finally be revealed?

  15. brendathewriter
    21 May 2016

    It is now end of May 2016, and the Commission investigating these homes has uncovered so much more – illegal adoptions, government ineptitude or coverup, the interconnected system where at least some of the unwed mothers were then sent to Magdalen Laundries and further abused, the refusal of the Vatican to release all the documents being held by religious orders…and yet they are still not to the bottom of the mess. As a non-Vaticanite Catholic, it is..gut wrenching to see that even as of March 2014, three Vaticanite religious orders STILL had not paid into the fund for victim compensation! Francis has had plenty of time to get himself to Ireland and get all of this out in the open, so that families may be reunited, or at least know where their relatives are buried. I am curious, did the commission ever ask for a copy of the uncensored manuscript? Have you discovered any other materials that relate to the Irish in England, Ireland, Australia, and the United States?

    • markhsutherland
      21 May 2016

      Brendathewriter, I have not heard from the commission, let alone asked for a copy of the uncensored publisher’s draft. I have not discovered any further materials relating to the other matters. Regards, Mark Sutherland, Curator hallidaysutherland.com

      • brendathewriter
        22 May 2016

        Thank you for responding so fast!

      • markhsutherland
        22 May 2016

        You are welcome! Thank-you for visiting the site. Note that there is a clear copy of the publisher’s draft at http://hallidaysutherland.com/research/. You will find this easier to read than the document shown in “The Suitcase in the Cellar” article.

  16. Simon Reilly
    6 August 2017

    Perhaps it would help if we had a little context here. While unmarried mothers were being locked up in Tuam, unmarried mothers were being locked up in institutions throughout the United Kingdom and the western world, corporal punishment was administered at institutions throughout the land and people were treated like cattle. The only difference singling out the Irish institutions was that they were run by people who had purportedly dedicated their lives to God and, therefore, should have known better. I’ve no doubt there are lessons to be learned from these events but that wont happen if we take the moral high ground, and use the occasion to attack those we disagree with.

  17. Jacques Lapalme
    10 July 2018

    It will be more understanding to be able to read the draft and not through the photograhs.

    • markhsutherland
      10 July 2018

      Hi Jaques, a better scan is available in the “Research” section of this site (https://hallidaysutherland.com/research/). Regards, Mark Sutherland, Curator, hallidaysutherland.com

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This entry was posted on 8 June 2014 by in Irish Journey, Magdalene Laundry Galway, Manuscripts, Mother and Baby Home Tuam.

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

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