“Significant quantities” of dead bodies have been found at a former mother and baby home in the Galway town of Tuam in a structure that “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage and/or wastewater”.
Just under 800 babies and young children are believed to have died in the care of the Bon Secours sisters who ran the home and from 1925 until the 1961 - roughly the equivalent of one child every fortnight.
The most commonly cited cause of death was “debility from birth”, which lead to the deaths of 196 children - 24% of the total. A further 124 died from respiratory illnesses and a further 82 died from measles.
At one point 31.6% of infants under the age of one in the care of sisters died, TheJournal.ie reports. In homes nationwide the average figure was close to half that - 17%.
An estimated 35,000 unwed mothers are thought to have passed through the doors of the home in its 36-year existence. The home was one of ten such institutes in Ireland.
In October the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes began to excavate the site of the former home and those involved declared themselves “shocked” at what they found.
“Significant quantities of human remains have been discovered in at least 17 of the 20 underground chambers which were examined,” the commission said in a statement.
“A small number of remains were recovered for the purpose of analysis. These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 fetal weeks to two to three years.
“Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time frame relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home (the Mother and Baby Home operated from 1925 to 1961; a number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s). Further scientific tests are being conducted.”
Paul Redmond, Chairperson of Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors (CMABS), released a statement to the media saying that, “The Survivor Community is not shocked by the latest news that hundreds of bodies of babies and children have been "discovered" at the site of the former Mother and Baby home at Tuam. This is something we have known for many years.
“What is shocking,” he continued. “Is that once again we have to learn of this news via the media. The communications skills of the Minister and the Commission of Inquiry leave a lot to be desired when it comes to informing the Survivor Community of developments.
“Our Community is divided about the issue of excavations and exhumations. Many are adamant that all the babies must be exhumed, identified and given proper burials. Others feel strongly that our former crib mates should be allowed to rest in peace. There are no easy answers and some survivors will be horrified no matter what happens.
“The Government, Minister Zappone and the Inquiry must consider living survivors and their needs before any further excavations are pursued behind our backs... Survivors need to be heard instead of ignored; consulted instead of insulted; treated with respect instead of learning the latest developments via the media.”
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said the news “very sad and disturbing” but also “not unexpected”.
“Up to now we had rumors. Now we have confirmation that the remains are there, and that they date back to the time of the Mother and Baby Home, which operated in Tuam from 1925 to 1961,” the minister said.
“We must respond sensitively and respectfully to the situation.”
The Bon Secours sisters were also asked for a statement and replied that they were, “fully committed to the work of the Commission regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam. On the closing of the Home in 1961 all the records for the Home were returned to Galway County Council who are the owners and occupiers of the lands of the Home. We can therefore make no comment on today’s announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the Commission in seeking the truth about the home.”
A previous inquiry in 2014 lead the sisters’ PR spokeswoman Terry Prone to rubbish the idea that a mass grave existed.
“[An article about the former home] surprised the hell out of everybody, not least the Sisters of Bon Secours in Ireland, none of whom had ever worked in Tuam and most of whom had never heard of it. If you come here, you’ll find no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried, and a local police force casting their eyes to heaven and saying “Yeah, a few bones were found – but this was an area where Famine victims were buried. So?””
Speaking earlier on RTÉ’s Today program Prone admitted, “It looks like there is a whole lot more to it.
“Nobody expected the kind of numbers that are being revealed today, clearly there was extensive burial. I am fascinated by the commission’s use of the phrase ‘in this way’ because it sounds like it was a disrespectful mass burial rather than a proper burial… I don’t know what to make of that.”