Thursday 23 May 2019

Campaigners demand site of mother and baby home be excavated after historic map uncovered

  • Fears hundreds of babies could have been interred at Bessborough, Co Cork over six decades
  • Campaigners say newly discovered map now warrants a major site exploration
  • Bessborough was also the focus of controversial Irish vaccine trials
Protest outside Bessborough mother and baby home
Protest outside Bessborough mother and baby home
Old map discovered of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home

Ralph Riegel

CAMPAIGNERS have demanded that the site of a notorious mother and baby home be fully excavated after they claimed a newly discovered historic map indicated a plot where hundreds of babies could be buried.

Bessborough in Cork  - which at one time was Ireland's largest mother and baby home - is infamous for having one of the highest infant mortality rates of any such facility.

Now, campaigners claimed that a newly discovered old map has indicated a burial site on the former mother and baby home site - and they said they fear hundreds of babies could have been interred there over almost six decades.

Their demand for a special excavation came amid a row in Cork after an old folly structure, close to the Bessborough site, was partially demolished last week.

Old map discovered of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home
Old map discovered of Bessborough Mother and Baby Home
Teddy bears being placed on the railings outside the Bessborough Centre at Mahon, Blackrock, Cork

The partial demolition sparked a storm of protest from Cork City Council members.

Campaigner Maureen Considine said the newly discovered map now warrants a major site exploration given what happened at the Tuam mothers and baby home.

"The map is dated between 1830 and 1930 - I have not seen this (detail) on other maps. I have not seen this appear anywhere else.

While I have seen the words 'burial ground' on other maps, the location of the burial ground was within the folly area - but this burial ground indicates a much bigger area and also to the southern and south eastern side of the folly which is not the area indicated previously," Ms Considine said. She said the old map is of major significance given the history of the Bessborough site.

Ms Considine alerted Bessborough campaigner Catherine Coffey O'Brien. Ms O'Brien ran away from Bessborough when aged in her teens.

"What we want from Cork Co Council is no rezoning of property within Bessborough for development - we want this investigated properly," she said.

"We want an independent body to come in, excavate the land, check it and make sure to find these babies."

Another campaigner, Ann O'Gorman, said everyone in Ireland owed a duty to those who suffered at Bessborough to find any burials plots if they are there.

Ms O'Gorman had a baby girl, Evelyn, at Bessborough but was told by the home authorities that the baby girl had died.

"I want to see this investigated properly," she said. "We need closure - it would make me so happy to see that (investigation) done."

"I am in an awful state over what happened here. The whole lot of me has gone into my daughter."

Bessborough suffered not only from a high infant mortality rate in the 1930s, 40s and 50s but was also the focus of controversial Irish vaccine trials.

Several mother and baby homes had an infant mortality rate of 55pc - a shocking six times higher than that for babies in ordinary Irish society between 1930-1950.

Pioneering research by historian Michael Dwyer also revealed that 2,051 children drawn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary facilities at Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary were part of secret vaccine trials.

Some children did not realise they were even part of the secret trials until almost 30 years later.

Mari Steed, who is now based in the US, was born at Bessborough in 1960 and was used as part of the vaccine trials.

"We were used as human guinea pigs," she said.

Ms Steed only made the vaccine trial discovery when she was searching through records to try to locate her mother, Josephine.

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