Ireland pleads for information on thousands of dead babies as investigation into horror that shook the nation hits wall
The Home is being investigated by a statutory commission of investigation under Judge Yvonne Murphy called the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation
The Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, which is also known as the St. Mary's Mother and Baby Home or The Home, that was in operation between 1925 and 1961 in the quiet town of Tuam, County Galway, Ireland, used to be a maternity home for unmarried mothers and their babies. The Home was in operation under the care of the Bon Secours Sisters, a religious order of Roman Catholic nuns, who also operated the Grove Hospital in the town. Many unmarried pregnant women used to be sent to the Home in order to give birth.
One fateful day in 1975, two 12-year-old boys were playing at the site of the former Home when they found a hole or chamber underneath a concrete slab "filled to the brim" with the skeletons of children. One of the boys said at a later time that he saw around 20 skeletons. The slab was believed to have been the cover of the former Home's septic tank.
Rumors ran wild in the local community that these were the remains of child victims of the Great Famine, unbaptized babies, and even stillborn babies from the Home. It was not known, at the time, how many bodies were there but the number was assumed to be small. The tank was resealed after a priest blessed the site with prayers. The burial site was then looked after by a couple for the next 35 years and they even built a small grotto.
The Health Service Executive raised some concerns in 2015 of how up to 1,000 children had been sent from the Home without the consent of their mothers for illegal adoption purposes in the US. In a separate incident that same year, local amateur historian Catherine Corless published an article that documented the history of the Home, one year before she uncovered the names of the children who died there.
Anna Corrigan, a resident whose brothers were two of the dead babies, was able to uncover the inspection reports of the Home in 2014 which noted that the most common causes of death among the infants that were recorded were congenital debilities, infectious diseases, and malnutrition, including marasmus-related malnutrition. Corless' research finally led her to conclude that almost all the children were buried in an unmarked and unregistered site at the Home. Her article also claimed that there was a high death rate of residents and she estimated that almost 800 children died at the Home.
The Home is being investigated by a statutory commission of investigation under Judge Yvonne Murphy called the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation. Excavations ordered by the Commission at the site were carried out between November 2016 and February 2017. The digs found many human remains that ranged in age from 35 fetal weeks to three years old, which were all kept in "a vault with twenty chambers". Carbon dating of the remains found the date from the timeframe that the house was in operation by the Bon Secours order.
The Commission also stated that it was left shocked by the discovery and that it would continue to investigate who was responsible for disposing of the remains in such a manner. The Irish government then announced in October 2018 that it would introduce legislation for a full excavation of the mass grave and site, and for forensic DNA testing to be carried out on the remains at the estimated cost of between €6 and €13 million.
On April 17, 2019, the government urged religious orders to reveal where the remains of all the babies who died in their care were buried, after an official inquiry found that they had not provided much information about the deaths. Investigators confirmed that 802 children lost their lives at the Home between 1925 and 1961 but some of them are believed to have been buried elsewhere on the site.
Their latest interim report has also found that 3,000 children died in five other institutions over a similar period time. In one of the cases, investigators could only establish where 64 out of the 900 children recorded to have died at the Bessborough Home were buried, in spite of extensive searches.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said at a press conference: "My plea this morning, especially to the relevant people who may be out there: Let us know where they are buried. Please come forward. Tell the truth. Let us acknowledge them with that truth, that they lived and died and then maybe they could be treated with dignity in death. This is my hope as the minister for children in Ireland."
The Commission is due to submit their findings by February 2020. Zappone said: "I did not think in assuming the children’s ministry (that) I would be spending so much time talking about death."