Mass infant grave found at former Catholic home for unwed mothers in Ireland
An investigation was launched after reports surfaced in 2014 of a mass grave on the grounds of the former ‘mother and baby’ home in Tuam, Co Galway.
Excavations carried out between November 2016 and February 2017 uncovered two large structures hidden underground at the former home in the west of Ireland – one apparently a large sewage tank filled with rubble, while the second contained 20 chambers.
“Significant quantities of human remains have been discovered in at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers which were examined,” The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation said in a statement Friday.
The remains were found to be those of babies ranging from 35 foetal weeks to two or three years old. The Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing “into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way.”
The coroner has been informed and will determine if there is to be any police involvement in further investigations. The home in Tuam operated from 1925 to 1961 and the commission has revealed that many of the remains found so far date back to the 1950s.
‘Mother and Baby’ facilities housed women who became pregnant outside of marriage and were ostracized by Catholic society as a result. The sites were infamously cruel environments, where mothers worked tough manual labor jobs for little or no pay and only permitted to see their children for a few hours each week. The children were often adopted by other families, sometimes in other countries such as the US, without informing the mother.
Local historian Catherine Corless spent years researching the home and was instrumental in the discovery of the mass grave. “If you look at the records, babies were dying two a week, but I’m still trying to figure out how they could [put the bodies in a septic tank],” Corless told the Irish Mail in 2014. “Couldn’t they have afforded baby coffins?”
People in Tuam first learned of the mass interment in the 1970s when two boys accidentally uncovered skeletons when they broke apart a concrete slab covering part of the grave. However, it was resealed and remained untouched for decades.
Speaking on RTÉ radio on Friday afternoon, Corless said that during her research "everything pointed" to this area being a mass grave, but despite this she was told to leave it alone.
She also said she believes the graveyard extends further overground where remains are buried in coffins and called for the whole area to be investigated. "This is only the start,” she concluded.
Ireland’s Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said on Friday that the “sad and disturbing news” from the commission confirms the rumors of a mass grave at the site.
“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this home. We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately," Zappone added.
The Bon Secours Sisters, the order which used to run the home, said in a statement that they could make no comment on the announcement.