Tuesday 23 July 2019

Hundreds call for exhumation of remains of babies at Tuam so they can have a 'proper burial'

The silent vigil in County Galway was held to coincide with the Papal Mass in Dublin

Aiden Corless lights candles in the middle of an artwork made up of clay child shoes at the site of the former Tuam home (Niall Carson/PA)
Aiden Corless lights candles in the middle of an artwork made up of clay child shoes at the site of the former Tuam home (Niall Carson/PA)

Cate McCurry

Hundreds of people taking part in a vigil have called for the remains of “hundreds of babies” to be exhumed from a site in Co Galway.

Around 500 people gathered for the silent vigil in Tuam to coincide with the Papal Mass in Dublin.

People walked from Tuam Town Hall for 30 minutes to the former site of the mother and baby home while stopping at poignant spots along the way, including the local graveyard.

Catherine Corless and husband Aiden (Niall Carson/PA)

Baby shoes, toys and teddy bears were tied to the railings along the route.

They gathered at the site where remains of infant bones have been found, which was managed by the Sisters of the Bon Secours between 1925 and 1961.

Annette McKay, whose sister vanished from the mother and baby home, said that the children deserve to have a “proper burial”.

Her mother Maggie O’Connor, from Galway was sent to Bon Secours when she was 17.

She was pregnant after being raped.

People read aloud names of children as they gather at Tuam (Niall Carson/PA)

Ms McKay (64) knew nothing of her oldest sister, Mary Margaret O’Connor, for years.

The child is reported to have died in the mother and baby home in 1943 from natural causes.

“People are shouting to have this place dug up, it’s an obscenity,” she said.

“We could never imagine there would be a septic tank with almost 800 children in it, never in your wildest nightmares.

“I don’t know a country that would put 796 babies in a disused sewage tank.

“I look at the Pope (Francis) coming to Ireland and then I hear people talking about the last Pope’s visit here in 1979 and how they loved him and the Catholic Church but time and time again I hear about abuse and scandal.

“We are telling the church you must change.

“The Pope and the rest of them should have come here and listened to what the Catholic Church did to 796 children.”

Ms McKay, who lives in Manchester, and many others are calling for the site to be excavated and for the identities of the remains to be made known.

“Those babies aren’t hidden, they are in that septic tank and they need to be given back to their families,” she added.

In 2013, local historian Catherine Corless discovered official records showing that around 800 children died at the home in Tuam.

A bowl made up of clay child figurines (Niall Carson/PA)

In March, a commission of investigation announced it had found “a significant number of human remains” at the site.

Ms Corless believes most of the children are buried on the site, part of which had a local authority estate built on it in the 1970s.

The vigil in Tuam is one of a number of counter-demonstrations taking place during the pontiff’s visit to Ireland.

Ireland’s Minister for Children Katherine Zappone is expected to make a recommendation on the future of the burial site in Tuam in early autumn.

During the vigil, people held up the names of the 796 children as they gathered to protest at the site of the former home for unmarried mothers.

People also recited the children’s names and lite candles in their memory while hundreds of baby shoes were placed in a circle on the ground.

Hotel bedsheets with the names of hundreds of dead children draped on the gates of a mass burial site at Tuam, Co Galway (Niall Carson/PA)

A special sculpture of babies in the shape of a baptismal font, which was made by a Belgium woman, took centre place in the art work.

The artwork sat at the spot which would have been the back of the old mother and baby home.

Only one wall remains of the baby home which is a monument to six men who were shot in 1922.

Ms Corless, who carried a small makeshift coffin to the site, said: “It’s important that we give them a funeral to let the babies know we are still here as I believe their spirits are here and they are calling out to us.

“They deserve to be exhumed and buried. It was horrible what they did to them.”

Reacting to the large turnout, she said: “I can’t put words to it.

“This is to make a statement and it’s overwhelming to know there is great support for the Tuam babies.

“We will get them out of there and bury them.”

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