The word “home” should make us melancholy, but for survivors of the Bon Secours St. Mary’s Home for unmarried mothers and their illegitimate children in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland (1924-1961) the word home does not evoke fond memories.
This Home appeared in the news in 1975 initially, when two local boys discovered a pit “filled to the brim with bones,” near the original site of the building. A concrete slab with a crack covered the mass grave site. Originally thought to be the skeletons of famine victims of 1845, the truth was revealed on Sunday.
The 796 bodies in the mass grave are of children ranging in ages from newborns to 8 year olds. Catherine Corless, a local historian discovered the truth about the mass grave in doing research about the Home.
Malnourished and susceptible to diseases like TB and measles, the weakest children succumbed to death. And because the children were illegitimate, the Sisters of the Bon Secour order did not bury the dead in consecrated ground. Instead they dropped the bodies into a septic tank on their property. Let me remind you that a septic tank is the storage area underground for human excrement, that’s right, shit. And did you know that Bon Secour means good assistance?
The home closed in 1961 and the remaining nuns in the order moved to Cork. I find it hard to believe that in the 14 years since the home closed and the 1975 discovery of the “bone filled” pit not one person within the Bon Secour order had the courage or good conscience to speak up and say that the skeletons were not the bodies of famine victims, but were the remains of illegitimate children born at the home between 1924-1961.
Now the Arch Bishop of Tuam says he will speak with the Bon Secours to discuss a memorial for the bodies. A memorial is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough.
“The Archbishop will be meeting the sisters to discuss the matter of the memorial and also the holding of a memorial service for those who died there. I understand a suitable plaque is planned to contain the names and dates of death of all the 796 children.” IrishCentral.com
And the state should have been far more diligent when inspecting these homes. One such documented visit to St. Mary’s of Tuam in the 50’s revealed that the children were malnourished, pot bellied and had diseases. What did the state do to follow-up on the matter? I know it was a time when the Catholic church in Ireland had a stronghold on the public, but presently we’ve progressed beyond the dictum. The public asks questions, as they should. And they should dog the church and the state for answers.
If the Home was receiving state aid then why were children left malnourished, susceptible to disease? Forget the morality for a moment, it is part of this awful equation, but the Irish were brainwashed into thinking that the children born out of wedlock did not deserve a place in a consecrated burial ground. Horrible, I know, but that’s what the church rammed down people’s gullets in the 1900’s and beyond in Ireland. It is the fact that there is “anecdotal evidence” that babies with special needs were deliberately malnourished and allowed to die that deserves particular attention.
“Ireland’s Adoption Rights Alliance co-founder Susan Lohan has said that her group has anecdotal evidence that babies with disabilities or other health issues – which made them unlikely to be adopted overseas – were not cared for properly and were allowed to die.” IrishCentral.com
The current government should not silence those who want to discuss this mass grave, which is what happened to Fianna Fail TD Colm Keaveney yesterday when he tried to discuss the matter in the Dail.
““In the process of trying to raise an issue that everyone in this country is talking about, apart from the Dail, I was removed from the Dail,”Keaveney said
Instead of talking about the mass grave the Dail picked four issues to discuss instead Keaveney said. “There are four issues a day picked – one was Libya, one was storm alerts for schools, the other was school numbers in Delgany, Co Wicklow, the other one was child pornography.”
Considering that the home closed in 1961, the possibility that survivors are still living is strong. It must be a very difficult thing to conjure up images from a horrific past. This has to be a traumatic and difficult time for anyone who was born in these Homes and has memories of their early lives there. But it needs to be pursued.
Regardless of whether relatives of the deceased children want financial compensation or not, the Public Inquiry into this matter instigated by Ciaran Cannon, Minister of State for Education and Skills in Ireland, should leave no stone unturned.
These children did not commit a crime, neither did their mothers. They deserve a full inquiry, they deserve respect, and they deserve a decent burial with their names on a headstone. This issue should not be silenced or allowed to go away. As painful as it might be for survivors to relive the past, crimes were committed. Ireland has a juridical system, use it.
Catherine Coreless has initiated a fundraiser to help pay for a plaque with each child’s name on it. If you would like to contribute, email her here at:email@example.com
Irish journalist Phillip Boucher-Hayes has stated on Twitter that the Bon Secours have just hired a PR representative, “to tell media they will not be telling the media anything.”
Please sign the petition here to get Gardaí in Ireland to investigate the mass grave. An investigation doesn’t point fingers, it just reveals the truth.