herald

Friday 13 December 2019

Man who found babies’ 
grave recalls horror

The man who unearthed the remains of hundred of babies when he was just 12 years old said he will never forget the sight as long as he lives.

Frannie Hopkins was playing with a friend at the Tuam site back in 1975 when the pair noticed that one of the slabs covering an old septic tank had come loose.

It’s now believed that the bodies of almost 796 babies were dumped there after dying at a nearby mother and baby home run by nuns.

The babies are thought to have died from neglect and malnutrition.

“At the time we found a concrete slab over what I described at the time as a tank I now see it was a tomb,” Mr Hopkins told The

“We removed the lid and we found that it was full of skeletons, they appeared to be that of children. They were tiny skeletons, there just seemed to be an awful lot for one small little grave.

“Being kids we ran off and the next thing all the kids in the neighbourhood were there. A few days later our parents told us not to go there, that the priest had been there and had said mass and prayers and that the grave had been covered up again,” he said.

Mr Hopkins said he visited the grave site repeatedly over the years, but never knew the true extent of the tragedy until Catherine Corless’ research emerged.

“It was only later that I found out the numbers that were being spoken about and the enormity and the severity of the situation has come out now. 
We just knew it was a large number of remains for a small grave, it did seem a large number at the time but no way 
in comparison to the numbers being spoken of now,” he 
added.

FLOWERS

Meanwhile, locals who lived near the site paid special tribute to local man Padraic Dooley who cared for the tiny graveyard for 40 years. Sadly Mr Dooley passed away just two weeks ago before the grave site could be properly recognised.

“He would always keep flowers there. It’s a pity he can’t 
see this now,” said one local man.

Among the causes of death given for the children, who ranged in age from two days to nine years, were measles, abscess of the scalp and even laryngitis.

However, locals and the committee behind the discovery now hope that the babies can be properly remembered without being moved.

“We want to see a plaque up and the grave finished but we don’t want to see them dug up. We just want to recognise them,” said committee member John Lowe.

“We don’t want to see them exhumed. The Bishop said that would be an option, but we won’t have that. They are long enough there. We don’t want them moved.”

As calls for a government inquiry grow, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan accepted that Tuam was not unique in Ireland as a Mother and Baby Home.

“We will properly review these issues and we will not confine this review to Tuam,” he said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he had asked the Minister to draw senior officials from across departments to review whether this was an isolated incident or a countrywide issue.

authorities

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan 
Howlin said all necessary inquiries would take place, including a criminal one if it was deemed appropriate by the authorities.

A statement on behalf of the Sisters of Bon Secours said they were “shocked and deeply saddened” by the recent 
reports about St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home and stressed they would engage with the committee and local community “as constructively as they can”.

Anyone who wishes to help the gravestone project can donate to the Children’s Home Graveyard at St Jarlaths Credit Union, account number 12747355, sort code 903971.

hnews@herald.ie

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