Thursday 25 December 2014

St Mary's scandal began 90 years ago

Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30

The scandal over events at St Mary's Mother and Baby home has been 90 years in the making. These are the main developments:

* St Mary's Mother and Baby Home was operated by the Bon Secours Sisters in Tuam, Co Galway, from 1925 to 1961.

* Inspectors' reports from 1947 raise concerns about the high numbers of deaths at the home. They also mention emaciated children.

* In 1975 two Tuam children, Frannie Hopkins and Barry Sweeney, discover skeletons, believed to be those of children, in a covered-over crypt while playing in the field near where the home stood. Prayers are said at the site by a local priest and the bones are covered over again.

* Locals in Tuam tend to the grave over the decades and it is recorded on maps as a children's burial ground.

* In recent years a local group set up a committee to erect a memorial at the site. As part of this work, historian Catherine Corless requests the death certificates for all children who died in the home over its 36 years. She was left stunned to receive death certificates for 796 children ranging in age from two days to nine years. They died from a range of ailments.

* Ms Corless attempts to find burial sites for the children. She checks a cross-section of approximately 100 of the 796 names with the Galway County Council archives but can find no graves for the babies elsewhere. But records no longer exist for many cemeteries and therefore these cannot be checked.

* Ms Corless uses historical maps to show that the bones discovered by the two boys in 1975 correspond to a spot where a disused septic tank was located. She concludes that all 796 children may be buried in the tank or in the surrounding grounds.

* Media attention that almost 800 babies could have been buried in such a manner leads to calls for an independent inquiry.

* Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan sets up a inter-departmental review as a "scoping exercise" to review all records for this and other homes around the country.

Irish Independent

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