Breaking the silence

Staying In

MOVING MEMOIR Eithne Ring at the launch of her book, ‘Does My Son take Sugar?’, at The Mariner Hotel, Westport. Pic Conor McKeown

Westport woman’s brave memoir makes waves

A new and refreshingly candid book by Westport businesswoman Eithne Ring is gripping readers and breaking the silence around adoption experiences in the 1980s.
Called ‘Does my son take sugar? An Irish mother’s memoir’, this true story of love, scandal, regret and reunion was published to great acclaim last month. A second print run double the size of the first is now available following unprecedented demand which saw booksellers in the West Mayo town repeatedly having to restock copies. (To read a sample chapter browse to eithnering.wordpress.com.)
The debut book has been published just as a new law is being enacted that will completely rewrite the rules around the rights of adopted children to know more about their origin story, with an intense national conversation about to begin as more light is shed on a long-buried area of our national life.
“In the early 1980s, every so often you would hear a whisper about a pregnancy, and the story would become big news around town. Though it nearly seems like I’m talking about someone else, I think it’s the rawness and the awfulness of what happened just over 30 years ago in Irish society that hits home: the feeling of isolation and helplessness,” Eithne writes in the opening chapter. “Some women were totally alone, with absolutely no one to turn to.”
Eithne’s husband Joe, the baby’s father with whom Eithne later had triplets that they raised together in their home in Westport, contributes a lengthy chapter about his memories of the time and the profound shift in perspective that maturity brings. This contribution makes the book historic, as a natural father of an adopted child has rarely, if ever, spoken out before his experience.
“My family deserve nothing but praise for their dignity and support for me throughout,” Eithne told The Mayo News.
“Along the way I encountered people who were tremendously helpful and compassionate. The problem, the tragedy really, was that there [are] some people in positions of authority that should have known better who seemed to relish making the lives of vulnerable people harder still.
“And there was also, I’m afraid to say, a general attitude at the time that I now understand was punitive and inhumane. I wrote the book to set free the painful secrets that came with adoption at that time.”
The book’s launch in Westport drew some 400 people to the Mariner Hotel in mid-June. As well as the boom in sales locally, there have been many orders through the book’s website with an increasing number of orders from as far afield as Australia as the word spreads.
Fin Keegan and Fiona Keane of creative coaching and editorial service SixPens.com assisted Eithne from the beginning when the first pages were written in Fiona’s evening class on creative writing at Carrowbeg College. “It was clear from the very first pages she wrote that Eithne was tapping into primal feelings,” said Fiona. “That takes courage. Finding the right way to tell it then was the challenge for her, recognising the value in the detail. In the end, she worked hard on it for many years and succeeded powerfully in getting her story across.”
Fin agrees and feels the book has a wide appeal: “Eithne lets us share in her joys and in her sorrows because that helps others, both young and not so young, find it within them to share their experiences and in turn helps all of us who read and hear those stories to do better by each other.”
Ruth Kelly, author of ‘Motherhood Silenced’, comments in her foreword that “Eithne Ring gives us a real insight into the true and painful experience of a mother who had to part with her child.” There is no doubt this part of our history has yet to get the attention it deserves as we still digest the momentous realities of earlier eras in terms of mother-and-child attitudes and treatment.
A State-run tracing service will shortly become available, with Minister Roderic O’Gorman promising ‘a clear right for each person to full access to all of his or her information: no redactions; nothing held back’. Speaking at the passage of the Birth Information and Tracing Bill 2022 in June, he added: “This bill represents a very significant part of the redress that the Irish State is making for its failure towards children and women over decades since the foundation of our State.”
Later this month, a new Contact Preference Register will be created for people involved to set out their wishes regarding contact and information sharing. A booklet explaining the new approach will also be posted to every household in the country in the near future.

The Adoption Authority of Ireland provides information, post-adoption advice and support at 01 2309306 or aai.gov.ie. The Danú Birth Mothers Support Group in Sligo supported Eithne Ring on her journey. If the location is inconvenient, Danú can recommend a group closer to you. See BirthmothersGroup.com or phone 071 9146315.