Friday 24 November 2017

Amateur historian Catherine Corless honoured with Human Rights Award for Tuam Mothers and Baby work

Catherine Corless
Catherine Corless

Saidhbh O'Callaghan

The Bar of Ireland has presented Catherine Corless its Human Rights Award relating to the discovery of the remains of 796 children on the site of a former mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Amature historian, Catherine Corless has spent years searching through the records of the former Saint Mary's mother and baby home. Her research showed that 796 children, mostly infants, had died from 1925 and 1961 in the home run by Bon Secours.

Two local boys, Frannie Hopkins and Barry Sweeney, were playing in the field, 14 years after the home closed, where they discovered a hole covered by a concrete slab "full of skeletons... of children". After telling a local priest the site was covered over again, without any investigation into who was buried there or what had happened to them.

Corless had heard about the story, and began to investigate who had been buried there. After contacting countless people (Bon Secours Headquaters in Cork, Western Health Board, Galway County Council), and getting nothing, she finally began to get information when she contacted the registry office Galway.

Between 2011 and 2013, Corless paid €4 per death certificate of the children who had died while in the home.

She eventually came to a number of 796 children, whos deaths had been caused by a range of diseases, including tuberculosis, measles and pneumonia, as well as neglect and malnutrition. This meant that the child mortality rate at the home was extremely large compared to the rest of Ireland at that time.

After using a site map, she concluded that the most likely site where the children would have been buried was the sewage tank, which has been out of use since the 1930s.

Corless and some fellow local historians began to appeal to put a permanant memorial there for the children who had died. Despite a local paper (2013) and the Connact Tribune (Feburary 2014) running the story, it was not brought to national attention until May 2014 when, focusing on the mass grave mostly, journalist Alison O'Reilly interviewd Corless.

Without Corless's tireless and, until now, thankless work, this tradegy may have never came to light. Later today she will receive the Bar of Ireland Human Rights award, which she undoubtedly deserves for fighting for the 'forgotten children', who couldn't fight for themselves. 

Accepting the award, Corless said; “I am truly honoured to receive The Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award. My work campaigning on behalf of the survivors of mother and baby homes continues and I hope that this special award will give even more survivors the strength to come forward to tell their story. With each and every testimony the truth is uncovered further and our campaign for justice to prevail is strengthened. I share this Award with the all survivors, this is for them.”

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