Sunday 23 November 2014

Church to meet over memorial for 800 babies at mass grave

Brian McDonald

Published 02/06/2014 | 02:30

The mass grave in Tuam where up to 800 children are buried. Photo: Andy Newman
The mass grave in Tuam where up to 800 children are buried. Photo: Andy Newman

THE hierarchy in the Catholic Church is to meet to discuss potentially erecting a memorial at a mass grave of up to 800 children at a former home for unmarried mothers.

The meeting comes as the junior minister for education and skills, Ciaran Cannon, spoke yesterday of the "horrific details" emerging of the discovery in Tuam, Co Galway.

Mr Cannon said an inquiry was needed to determine the facts surrounding the unmarked burial site.

He warned that any investigation would have to be conducted very sensitively, as people who are still alive may have disturbing memories of their own or their family's connections with the institution which was run by the Bon Secours Sisters.

It emerged yesterday that the head of the Bon Secours Sisters in Ireland had sought a meeting with the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, to discuss how best to respond to the efforts to honour all those who died.

A spokesperson for Dr Neary confirmed that the meeting would take place shortly.

"While this isn't a diocesan matter – it's a matter for the Bon Secours Sisters – we are of course willing to help this cause. There is an excellent committee working locally and to date I think they have raised about €4,000 of the €7,000 they require.

"The Archbishop will be meeting the sisters to discuss the matter of the memorial and also the holding of a memorial service for those who died there. I understand a suitable plaque is planned to contain the names and dates of death of all the 796 children.

"There is nothing in our archives about this. The home closed in 1961 and all the records were handed over to the county council and the health board, I understand," the spokesperson said.

The site was previously known to be a graveyard, locally suspected to be one for unbaptised babies or Famine victims, but it was thought that a small number of children were interred there.

Records

The home was closed in the 1960s but in 1975 two boys were playing close to the site when they discovered partially broken concrete slabs covering a hollow – a disused septic tank, which had been in use prior to the 1920s when the building was a workhouse.

The boys broke the concrete and discovered a hole "filled to the brim with bones".

The site is located at what was a mother and baby home, run by the Bon Secours, from the 1920s until the 1960s.

Catherine Corless, a local historian and genealogist, was researching the home when she discovered death records for 796 children, ranging from infants to children up to the age of nine.

There was a high infant mortality rate over the 40-year period, with many of the children believed to have died from infectious diseases and possibly malnutrition. But there is no record of their burial. Ms Corless set up a committee, with the campaign to erect a memorial gathering force in recent months.

Mr Cannon, who represents Tuam in the Dail, said: "Yes, I believe there should be an inquiry into this matter. The evidence to date seems to suggest that something very horrific went on there.

"Let's try and determine exactly what happened here first of all. Surely, there are people alive who have a connection with the place. I do think an inquiry is required."

Irish Independent

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