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Annette sills

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, businesses, organisations and incidents portrayed in it are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons,

living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Published 2021

by Poolbeg Press Ltd.

123 Grange Hill, Baldoyle,

Dublin 13, Ireland

Email: poolbeg@poolbeg.com

© Annette Sills 2021

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

© Poolbeg Press Ltd. 2021, copyright for editing, typesetting, layout, design, ebook

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978178199-421-4

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


About the Author

Annette Sills was born in Wigan, Lancashire, to parents from County Mayo, Ireland. Her short stories have been longlisted and shortlisted in a number of competitions including The Fish Short Story Prize, Books Ireland MagazineShort Story Competition and The TelegraphMagazine Short Story Competition. Her first novel, The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan, was shortlisted in Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014.

Annette writes contemporary sagas set in the Manchester Irish Diaspora. She is fascinated by migration and belonging, and the dynamics of family life.

She currently lives in Chorlton, Manchester, with her husband and two children.


Heartfelt thanks to:

Lyndsay Hollingshead and Claire Winstanley for reading the early drafts, Dr Rob Boon and Dr Anita McSorley for their medical expertise, Jenny Raddings for her vast gardening knowledge, Nicola Doherty and Emily Hughes for their beady-eyed comments and editing.

To the wonderful team at Poolbeg – Paula Campbell for taking me on and Gaye Shortland for her impressive editing skills.

To the Manchester Irish Writers group, and to Liam Harte and John McAuliffe from the Creative Writing Dept at Manchester University for the thought-provoking discussions on writing, migration and belonging. It might have been a different story without those evenings in the Irish World Heritage Centre in Cheetham Hill.

To my Short Story Club ladies for keeping me laughing throughout lockdown and for keeping the stories coming.

To my extended family in County Mayo and the US, whose true-life dramas will always top my fiction.

And to my lovely Nick, Jimmy and Ciara for their constant love and support xx


For the survivors of the Irish Mother and Baby Homes and the women and children who perished in them.

Author’s Note

On March 3rd 2017, the Irish Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation announced that human remains had been found during a test excavation carried out, between November 2016 and February 2017, at the former site of a Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway.

Tests conducted on some of the remains indicated they were those of children aged between 35 foetal weeks and 2–3 years. The announcement confirmed that the deceased had died during the period of time that the property was used by the Mother and Baby Home and not from an earlier period, as most of the bodies dated from the 1920s to the 1950s.

The remains were found in an “underground structure divided into 20 chambers”. The remains were not thrown into a mass pit or sceptic tank as previously reported in the press.

Chapter 1

Mikey was always late. He’d turn up at weddings, birthdays and funerals hours after everyone else. I could see him as clear as day, perched at the end of the bar, laughing and running his fingers through his shaggy blonde hair, as handsome as hell.

Karen nudged me. She was air-drumming to the refrain of Siouxsie’s “Happy House” floating in from the main function room. I joined in. Joe rolled his eyes, so I drummed harder. We were only having a laugh, for God’s sake. And tonight, of all nights, I needed a laugh.

For once the lounge bar at Chorlton Irish was busy. There were rumours the club was closing. The older Irish were dying out and the young Irish were no longer coming over like they used to. If they did come, they frequented the tapas bars and Indian restaurants across the way. These days the club relied on outside events, fundraisers like this one, to stay open. Tonight’s crowd was a mix of locals and people from previous fundraisers. The auction of promises was under way in the main room, raffle tickets were flying and I was optimistic the Heart Foundation would reach the target they needed for the scanner that government cuts had denied them.

Our crowd were gathered at a long table near the bar under a Mayo GAA shirt depressed in a glass frame and a poster advertising a film about women in the Easter Rising. I was touched by the turnout: friends from his clubbing days, colleagues from the gym, neighbours from the old house on Brantingham Road.

I sat with my head in my hands sometimes and asked myself if it was true. I still couldn’t quite believe he was gone.

A rangy bloke approached the table carrying a pint of Guinness. He grinned at our drumming and I dropped my imaginary sticks in embarrassment. Then someone knocked into him from behind and he lurched forward, dousing our table with the black stuff. A few minutes later he was mopping up the tar-like puddles, his long arm circling across the table like an eagle wing. He looked in his late forties. He had a craggy face with lines etched around moss-green eyes, like well-worn paths on

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