The Truth About The 796 Dead Babies In Tuam Galway: Catholic Bashers Ignore The Facts
THE Independent talked of “The ‘Irish Holocaust’” that “saw hundreds of babies left to die – and the practice may have been more common than first thought”.
The story of the babies dumped in a septic tank in Tuam, Galway, travelled:
“Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” – The Washington Post.
“Nearly 800 dead babies found in septic tank in Ireland” – Al Jazeera.
“800 skeletons of babies found inside tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” – New York Daily News.
“Almost 800 ‘forgotten’ Irish children dumped in septic tank mass grave at Catholic home” – ABC News, Australia.
The story was first reported in 1975. Barry Sweeney was 10 when he and a pal Frannie Hopkins jumped over wall into a former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Galway. The place has been a workhouse before becoming a home for single mothers and their children.
Reports from 1929 show that a special maternity ward for the unmarried mothers was added to the Home in Tuam. The reason for this is that married women and paying customers at the local district hospital in Connacht were unwilling to share their hospital facilities with the ‘misfortunates’. They wanted segregation. This proposal was opposed by a priest, Canon Ryder who wanted to find accommodation for these mothers in other hospitals. This moving of the mothers to a separate institution lacking trained staff and facilities would have undoubtedly contributed to infant and maternal mortality rates.
Back to the boys, who saw a concrete slab in the grounds. They moved it. Says Sweeney:
“There were skeletons thrown in there. They were all this way and that way. They weren’t wrapped in anything, and there were no coffins. But there was no way there were 800 skeletons down that hole. Nothing like that number. I don’t know where the papers got that.”
He says he saw around 20 skeletons. Catherine Corless thinks the bodies were in an old sewage tank.
David McKittrick writes in the Indy:
Only now is the realisation dawning that for decades the Galway earth has held the skeletons of 800 babies and toddlers in “a jumble” that is one of the country’s most unthinkable secrets.
Each new detail of what is being called the Irish Holocaust brings fresh horror. The children were the offspring of unmarried mothers who were housed in a nearby home run by nuns. Many died of malnutrition, at a mortality rate suspiciously well above the national average.
They were stacked on top of each other, in shrouds not coffins, their bodies consigned to the septic tank over a period of decades. No one yet knows whether they bear any marks of identification: it sounds unlikely. If not, they may never be individually identified.
“Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves,” demanded Emer O’Toole in the Guardian:
We know about the abuse women and children suffered at the hands of the clergy, abuse funded by a theocratic Irish state. What we didn’t know is that they threw dead children into unmarked mass graves. But we’re inured to these revelations by now.
She seems keen to blame the Church for the bodies.
But what is the difference between the wall of lies, denial and secrecy the church constructed to protect its paedophile priests and a concrete slab over the bodies of 796 children neglected to death by nuns? Good people unearth these evil truths, but the church always survives.
O’Toole links to the story on Irish Central:
Galway historian reveals truth behind 800 orphans in mass grave…
Catherine Corless, the local historian and genealogist, remembers the Home Babies well. “They were always segregated to the side of regular classrooms,” Corless tells IrishCentral. “By doing this the nuns telegraphed the message that they were different and that we should keep away from them.
“They didn’t suggest we be nice to them. In fact if you acted up in class some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies. That was the message we got in our young years,” Corless recalls.
Because of Corless’ efforts we now know the names and fates of up to 796 forgotten infants and children who died there, thanks to her discovery of their death records when researching The Home’s history.
“First I contacted the Bon Secours sisters at their headquarters in Cork and they replied they no longer had files or information about The Home because they had left Tuam in 1961 and had handed all their records over to the Western Health Board.”
Undaunted, Corless turned to The Western Health Board, who told her there was no general information on the daily running of the place.
“Eventually I had the idea to contact the registry office in Galway. I remembered a law was enacted in 1932 to register every death in the country. My contact said give me a few weeks and I’ll let you know.”
“A week later she got back to me and said do you really want all of these deaths? I said I do. She told me I would be charged for each record. Then she asked me did I realize the enormity of the numbers of deaths there?”
The registrar came back with a list of 796 children. “I could not believe it. I was dumbfounded and deeply upset,” says Corless. “There and then I said this isn’t right. There’s nothing on the ground there to mark the grave, there’s nothing to say it’s a massive children’s graveyard. It’s laid abandoned like that since it was closed in 1961.”
And then Catherine Corless spoke to the Irish Times:
“I never used that word ‘dumped’,” Catherine Corless, a local historian in Co Galway, tells The Irish Times. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”
“I never used that word ‘dumped’,” she says again, with distress. “I just wanted those children to be remembered and for their names to go up on a plaque. That was why I did this project, and now it has taken [on] a life of its own.”
The site Butterflies and Wheels has a synopsis of what Corless found:
The Mother/Baby Home in Tuam was opened in 1925 and was run by the Bon Secours Sisters to cater for unmarried mothers and their babies.
This was an era in our history when pregnancy before marriage was deeply frowned upon by church, state and family. The unfortunate woman who found herself in this predicament was quickly sent to an institution such as the Mother/Baby Home out of sight of prying neighbours and relatives.
The Bon Secours Sisters were a nursing congregation who had come from Dublin to take charge of the hospital wing of Glenamaddy Workhouse, which catered for the destitute, old and infirm, orphans and unmarried mothers. These Workhouses had been instigated by the Irish Poor Law since the 1840’s, but now after the Treaty, the Irish Free State reformed the whole system and put in place administration on a county basis, so that separate arrangements were made for the aged and infirm to go to County Homes, and for the unmarried mothers and orphans to go to institutions.
All Workhouses were closed, but it was decided that the one on the Dublin road in Tuam would be chosen as a Mother/Baby Home. The Home building itself was in a good structural state but needed quite a bit of repair. The Sisters and some of the mothers and children began the task of clearing and cleaning, and by the end of the year 1925, all were ready to move in. Dr. Thomas B. Costello was the Medical Officer for the Home and the Rev. Peter J. Kelly, a grandnephew of the former Archbishop of Tuam Dr. John McEvilly, was chaplain.
The building belonged to Galway Co.Co. and they were responsible for repairs and Maintenance, and a capitation grant was paid to the nuns for the cost and upkeep of the mothers and babies, and for the salaries of doctors. A maternity wing was added some time later. The travel writer Halliday Sutherland visited the Home in the 1950’s and it is worth quoting his review of the Home:
“The grounds were well kept and had many flower beds. The Home is run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours of Paris and the Reverend Mother showed me around.
Each of the Sisters is a fully trained nurse and midwife. Some are also trained children’s nurses. An unmarried girl may come here to have her baby. She agrees to stay in the Home for one year. During this time she looks after her baby and assists the nuns in domestic work. She is unpaid. At the end of the year she may leave. She may take her baby with her or leave the baby at the Home in the hope that it will be adopted. The nuns keep the child until the age of seven, when it is sent to an industrial school. There were 51 confinements in 1954 and the nuns now looked after 120 children. For each child or mother in the Home, the Galway Co.Co. pays £1 a week. Children of five or over attend the local schools. The whole building was fresh and clean.”
Haliday Sutherland, however, did not interview any of the resident mothers or helpers. Had he done so, he would have got quite a different story to the one he was told. During my researching the Home, I spoke to some mothers who gave birth there and their account of their confinements speaks of long unattended labours without sight of a Sister or midwife, it was only during the birth that a nurse was in attendance with only the help of an untrained resident. The doctor gave one examination when the mother was first admitted and that was the last they saw of him. No drugs of any kind were ever administered to help with pain, no kindness ever shown. Only mothers who had the ability to pay £100 for delivery services were allowed to leave after the birth. It was a condition that all others must wait a full year in the Home filling domestic duties, cooking, cleaning, minding the babies and children and tending to the gardens. The mothers did not have the choice of keeping their babies as outlined by the writer Halliday Sutherland. Seeing that their confinement in the first place was a hush-hush affair, no family would allow a daughter back home with a baby, as Irish Catholics in those days were in fear of a much distorted doctrine by the Catholic Church that the unmarried mother had committed a heinous crime. It is also to be remembered that the man who had fathered the child was never villainized or held responsible. Neither did the Irish state at that time offer any support for the unmarried mother.
The late John Cunningham, former editor of the ‘Connaught Tribune’ spent his early days in the Tuam Home, as his mother died in his infancy, and in an article which he published in the ‘Connaught Tribune’ April 1998, he speaks of the cruelty of the system which allowed the separation of babies from their mothers. In his article entitled ‘Emotional minefield of the rights of mothers and adopted children from the Ireland of yesterday’, John relayed the conversation he had with a woman who had spent most of her life in the Home: ‘What were the young women to do? Many weren’t wanted at home, they were ostracised by society. In those days a young woman could not become pregnant and stay at home. It was as simple as that. I saw the devastation when they were parted from their children. They nursed the child and looked after it for a year and then they went one way and the child stayed to be adopted or to be boarded out a few years later. I don’t know if any of them recovered from the heart-breaking parting. It was heart rending’.
For the children who were not adopted from the Home, they attended the Mercy Convent N.S. or the Presentation N.S. once they reached the age of 5. They were brought down to the schools in a line and always left a little earlier in the evenings, to ensure that there would be no integration with the other pupils. The sound of their heavy clogs making their way up the Dublin road is a memory that resonates with most people. After they made their first communion, many of the children were fostered out by families. There was an allowance per week from the Government at the time, and a yearly clothing allowance, provided to those families for the care of the children. Unfortunately, there was no vetting system in place to check on the suitability of those families to take those young vulnerable children, and many of them were sent to uncaring unscrupulous families who spent very little of the allowance on them. Many of the children were treated little better than slaves, but had to remain with the families until they reached 16 years of age after which many of them emigrated to England in the hope of a better life. Some of the children fared a little better, with the foster family accepting them as one of their own, and some even inherited the farmsteads they were sent to.
The Home was closed in 1961 as it had fallen into a dilapidated state. The children who had remained there were sent to the Industrial School in Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath. The Home and grounds remained vacant for a number of years, except for the rear building which was used by ‘Bontex’ who made school uniforms.
In the early 1970’s the whole building was demolished to make way for a new housing estate. When I started my research into the Home, I spoke to some of the residents who had moved into this housing estate on the Dublin/Athenry road, and they indicated that there was an unmarked graveyard in an area at the rear of where the Home once stood. It was believed that it was an angels plot for unbaptised babies, but further in my research I discovered that in fact, many children and young babies were also buried here. I was astonished to find that there was no formal marking or plaque to indicate that these children were buried there. I decided to contact the Registration Office in Galway to check for deaths in the Home. I was dismayed to find that in fact the number of children who died in the Home during its existence 1925-1961 numbered nearly 800. I now have all those children’s names, date of death, and age at death, which will be recorded into a special book.
It just did not seem right that all those children lay there unnamed and forgotten. Hence, I made contact with the Western Traveller and Intercultural Development (WTID) and a committee of interested people emerged, all with the view that some sort of Memorial should be erected in this children’s graveyard in dedication to their memory. Our committee is named: ‘The Children’s Home Graveyard Committee’.
We introduced our Project to erect a Memorial to the children, to the Tuam Town Council at one of their meetings, and got a unanimous decision that they would help us with some funding when they get their 2014 Grant Allowance. The Heritage Council have also promised to help but have cautioned us that Heritage Grants have been cut for 2014. Our fundraising is ongoing as it will take a large sum to complete the whole Project, i.e. to erect a proper Monument, clear the pathways into the graveyard, and to maintain the area with flowers and shrubs etc.
A St. Jarlath’s Credit Union account has been set up for anyone who would like to contribute to this very worthy Project.
The upshot is reported in the Tuam Herald:
As frequently reported in The Tuam Herald, for the past two years a local committee has been researching the plot and historian Catherine Corless from Brownsgrove found that death records show that at least 796 children died and were buried at the home.
Galway East TD Ciaran Cannon has called for a Dáil inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the unmarked burial site.
Chairperson of the memorial committee Teresa Killeen Kelly says while the story has caught the attention of the national media and politicians have spoken of their shock, the committee’s priority remains to have dignity restored to the dead babies by having a plaque with their names erected at the site.
Such are the facts…