Archaeologist says “definite indications” of Bessborough baby mass graves

Child photographed at the Bessbrook home, in County Cork.

After a basic examination of the grounds of the former mother and baby home in Bessborough, Co. Cork, a leading archaeologist has concluded that there are “definite physical indications” of unmarked shallow graves.

Toni Maguire, an archaeologist and anthropologist known for her work with the Milltown cemetery in Belfast, visited Bessborough on Wednesday, the Irish Examiner reports. She was joined by four women who were born in the mother and baby home, two of whom had journeyed from the US.

The Bessborough home opened in 1922 and was run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Research conducted by the Adoption Rights Alliance suggests that as many as 1,000 mothers and babies may have died there over the course of several decades. The grounds are currently home to the Bessborough Mother and Baby Centre, which offers care and education to parents and their young children.

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Maguire told the Examiner that she would “really like to complete full geophysical examinations” on a short avenue that runs from the Bessborough grotto to a formal plot for deceased babies. She pointed out shallow indentations in the ground surface, which she said indicate the possibility that there are shallow graves below.

She also noted that the area of interest extends pass the boundary of the current Bessborough Centre to a site that is slated for development.

In order for the investigation to proceed, the developers of the exterior land will need to grant permission, as will the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who own the Bessborough land.

Bessborough Centre CEO Thomas Quigley said he welcomed an independent investigation, adding, “I hope none of this leads to scaremongering. We all have a responsibility to work together; the mother and baby homes, the advocate groups and the Government.”

The government inquiry into Ireland’s mother and baby homes, prompted by the recent discovery that 796 children had died at a home in Tuam, Co. Galway and were potentially buried on the grounds in an unmarked mass grave, will begin in the fall.

It was announced on Wednesday that the investigation will be chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, who was praised by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly as having a “strong track record in effectively establishing the truth in relation to important and sensitive matters.”

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