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Sunday 25 August 2019

Zappone appeals as burial places for hundreds of babies remain unknown

Varadkar: Irish society inherits 'deep shame'

Katherine Zappone. Picture: Collins
Katherine Zappone. Picture: Collins
Lost children: The shrine dedicated to the babies who died at Tuam. Photo: Reuters
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The final resting place of the "vast majority" of hundreds of children that died at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home is not known.

Many of more than 800 children who died at the institution in Tuam are likely to be buried in underground chambers built within a decommissioned sewage tank.

These findings are contained in the fifth interim report of the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation, which Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described as "gruesome reading".

He said Irish society inherits a "deep shame" for what was done at the institutions at a time when women and babies were "appallingly treated" often for being unmarried or poor.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone appealed to anyone with information on babies that died at the homes to "let us know where they are buried" so they can be "treated with dignity in death". The commission's report contains criticism of religious orders that ran institutions and Galway County Council which owned the home at Tuam.

The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary owned and ran three institutions - Bessborough, Co Cork, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, and Sean Ross, Co Tipperary. It provided the commission with an affidavit about burials generally and specifically about those at Castlepollard and Sean Ross.

The report says the affidavit was "in many respects, speculative, inaccurate and misleading".

The commission said more than 900 children died in Bessborough - or in hospital after being transferred from the institution - over more than seven decades. Many of the deaths took place in the 1940s. It said the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary does not know where the children are buried.

The commission considers it likely some of the children are buried in the grounds of Bessborough but has been unable to find physical or documentary evidence.

It's not considered feasible to excavate 60 acres or the rest of the land that makes up an estate that was once 200 acres.

A statement from the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary last night insisted that "the commission has had and will continue to have our fullest co-operation".

Chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, the commission was set up in 2015 after the revelations about burials at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.

The report says that 802 children died at the Tuam institution. Many of the children are said to have been buried in a chamber structure built within a large decommissioned sewage tank. It is not believed it was designed as a burial chamber and its purpose may have been related to treatment of sewage or waste water.

The commission said it did not provide for the dignified interment of human remains and raises the question of why they were buried in "such an inappropriate manner".

The report says the Sisters of Bon Secours, which ran the Tuam home, were "unable to provide any information about the burials".

The commission also said it was "surprised by the lack of knowledge about the burials on the part of Galway County Council" and the nuns. It said the council's staff "must have known something about the manner of burial when the home was in operation".

The commission said there must be people in Tuam who know more about the burial arrangements and who did not come forward. It also concludes there is little basis for the theory that - rather than having died - children were 'sold' to the United States.

A statement from the Bon Secours Sisters said they have "always co-operated fully with the commission and will continue to do so. Every piece of information we have on the Tuam home we have shared with the commission".

Galway County Council also insisted it has given its full co-operation to the commission and will continue to do so. A statement said the local authority joins in requests for anyone with information on Tuam to come forward and speak to the commission.

The report also examined the practise of giving the remains of some deceased residents of certain institutions to medical colleges for anatomical examination. It says the practice was common across the UK and Ireland until the mid-1960s but there's little doubt most people will find such arrangements "distasteful at a minimum".

Key findings on burials at three of the homes

:: Tuam Mother and Baby Home, Co Galway

802 children died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. It is likely that a large number of the children are buried at the current memorial garden site. The human remains found by the commission are in a structure built within a sewage tank. The commission’s report says this did not provide for the dignified interment of human remains. The commission was “surprised” by the lack of knowledge about the burials on the part of Galway County Council, which owned the institution and the Sisters of the Bon Secours which ran it.

:: Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, Co Cork

More than 900 children died in Bessborough or in hospital after being transferred from the institution. The report says that the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary which owned and ran the institution does not know where the children who died there are buried. The commission said it finds this “very difficult to understand”.

:: Sean Ross Mother and Baby Home, Co Tipperary

More than 1,000 children died at the institution at Roscrea or in a nearby hospital where they were sent when they became ill. There is a designated burial site in the grounds. A test excavation has been carried out and the results are being examined. The commission is to outline the findings in its final report next year.

Irish Independent

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