Monday 19 November 2018

We need less outrage and more home truths about Tuam

A statue of Jesus in the grounds of the Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A statue of Jesus in the grounds of the Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Dr Maurice Gueret

If this country is to hold its head up high a century after independence, it needs to start manufacturing a lot more than outrage. Our reaction to the story of 800 deaths over four decades at the mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway, has not been proportionate.

The sight of politicians calling for declaration of crime scenes and a newspaper arranging radar examination of a graveyard does little to bring clarity to a complicated story. It was no secret that many children died young, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. They were dying all over Ireland from infectious diseases. Principal causes were TB, dysentery, diphtheria, meningitis, bacterial pneumonia, and complications of measles and polio. This was the pre-antibiotic era. You were considered lucky if all your children lived to adulthood. Every year, the Galway Health Board would advertise a public contract in local newspapers for a supply of coffins to its Tuam children's home. They were to be made of white deal, one-inch thick, and supplied in three different sizes. Specifications included electro-brassed grips, breastplate and crucifixes. It was no state secret that orphanages that looked after large numbers of vulnerable children, most under the age of five, had higher death rates than the community at large.

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