herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

No apology from sisters as remains of hundreds of children found at site

The site of the mass ‘grave’ of possibly hundreds of babies and children
The site of the mass ‘grave’ of possibly hundreds of babies and children

The religious order that ran the Tuam mother and baby home, where the remains of hundreds of children have been discovered, has failed to issue an apology.

A commission of investigation yesterday announced it had discovered the remains of the young children in underground chambers at the property.

The Bon Secours Sisters said it couldn't comment on the find, which Minister for Children Katherine Z appone described as "disturbing".

Significant quantities of human remains were discovered at the site of the former St Mary's Mother and Baby Home, an institution where unmarried pregnant women were sent to give birth, in Tuam, Co Galway.

Painstaking

Local historian Catherine Corless
Local historian Catherine Corless

The find has vindicated the painstaking research of amateur historian Catherine Corless, whose work helped lead to the setting up of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.

In a statement, the commission described itself as "shocked" by the discoveries, which were made in recent weeks.

Remains were found in 17 underground chambers in a structure which appears to have been used for the treatment or containment of sewage or waste water.

A small number of the remains were recovered for the purpose of analysis.

"These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to two to three years," the organisation said.

"Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time-frame relevant to the operation of the mother and baby home."

Bon Secours nuns ran the home from 1925 until its closure in 1961. A number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s. Further scientific tests are being conducted.

In a statement, the Bon Secours Sisters said they were fully committed to the work of the commission.

However, no apology was forthcoming from the order.

It said that on closing the home in 1961 all records were given to Galway County Council.

"We can therefore make no comment on today's announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the commission in seeking the truth about the home," the statement said.

The Herald understands the commission has not yet removed any skeletons from the site but sources with knowledge of the investigation said there could be hundreds.

"Nobody knows the answer to that question yet, but it will be high," one source said.

As well as testing samples, specialist technology has also been deployed to study the remains in the ground.

The commission is said to be satisfied that local theories about the site being a famine grave can now be discounted.

Ms Corless said the announcement was "a great relief" as it provided the truth to survivors who have brothers and sisters buried there.

"It is great for them to know that these children will finally be given a burial," she said.

Ms Corless said she had been "blocked on all sides" while conducting her research, with no help from the Catholic Church or authorities locally.

Neglect

The reason so many children died in the home remains unclear, but Ms Corless said she believed it was due to neglect.

"They were illegitimate children. They weren't wanted," she said. "I can't understand how there were so many deaths because the Bon Secours was a nursing order. They would have known about hygiene and separating the ones who were ill from the ones who weren't.

"I just get the impression there was total neglect."

Women who gave birth were separated from their children and required to do unpaid work in the home for a year.

Children stayed there until they were fostered, adopted or old enough to go to an industrial school.

Ms Zappone said the find was "very sad and disturbing news" but "not unexpected".

She said everybody involved must respond sensitively.

An information line has been made available on 01-6473118 and 01-6473232. Those affected can contact the HSE information line on 1850-241-850

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