Galway Historian Reveals Truth Behind 800 Orphans in Mass Grave

Here is one of the saddest stories I have read in a long time. If you don’t want to read about sad things in history, skip this article. However, I also have to commend the efforts of historian and genealogist Catherine Corless for revealing the truth and solving a mystery.

The Home, a grim 1840’s workhouse in Tuam in Galway, Ireland, was built on seven acres that was taken over in 1925 by the Bon Secours sisters, who turned it into a Mother and Baby home for pregnant, unmarried girls and young women. The long abandoned site made headlines around the world this week when it was revealed that a nearby septic tank contained the bodies of up to eight hundred infants and children, secretly buried without coffins or headstones on unconsecrated ground between 1925 and 1961.

Because of Corless’ efforts, we now know the names and fates of up to 796 forgotten infants and children who died there, thanks to her discovery of their death records when researching The Home’s history. Corless now is collecting donations to create a memorial for the mothers and babies of The Home.

You can read more in an article by Cahir O’Doherty in the IrishCentral web site at http://goo.gl/XPYQZ6.

11 Comments

I wish this sort of thing was distant history, but as recently as the 1970s these homes were still in existence. I used to visit a young woman who was in one of them. She was a thoroughly modern miss when she entered, but quite beaten down when she left–with a secret she’d have to keep for the rest of her life. What was going on there was institutionalized abuse, plain and simple.

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Valerie R Koutek June 2, 2014 at 6:39 am

This is as you said, very sad, but it is also another area where the Catholic church hid things.

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    There were thousands of mass graves in Ireland – over 500 in Galway itself, including this particular one. Apparently, it was customary to bury orphans, strangers, murderers etc. in mass graves.

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The Roman Catholic church in Ireland has a lot to answer for in its past treatment of women. May God have mercy on these teenage girls who live with the trauma of losing their babies due to infanticide and forced adoptions. There should be no mercy for the administrators who perpetrated these atrocities.

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Unfortunately that era is still with us. Even more reason to face up to it. It happened more than once, and not always on the head of the church. If we keep quiet now, will we have another holocaust or home babies for our children to find? God bless Catherine Corliss for what she is doing!

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In Ireland only 40 years ago it would have been impossible for a woman to keep a child. To put this into context, birth control was illegal for Catholics (95% of the population at that time). The day a woman married she left her job and never worked again for no one would hire her. Most of my co-workers were fifteen year old girls (who were excellent workers). When I bought tampons they were delivered wrapped in brown paper and string. It was a very hush-hush transaction. I’ve seen drug deals that were far less clandestine.

The home in which my friend stayed forced the women to remain and care for their child for six weeks after the birth. At that time there was no official legal structure for adoption. The entire transaction was in the hands of three people (one of whom was my roommate’s uncle) who decided if a child “passed” (was eligible for adoption–NOT on the basis of possible legal issues, but on the basis of the child’s perceived perfection or lack thereof). The nuns played heavily upon this lack of legal process, making it sound as if decisions to “pass” a baby were made in whimsy.

The women were harassed endlessly throughout their pregnancies and all through the six sad postpartum weeks with threats their babies wouldn’t “pass” for eligibility for adoption. There was nowhere for them to go if the child couldn’t be adopted. The shame was so great their families had no idea they were there. The girls would tell their families they’d gone to London, then write up a batch of post cards which an Irish girl friend in London would send home to maintain the fiction. One girl’s father was dying and she was unable to go home because she was visibly pregnant. The women didn’t dare to step foot outside the building for fear someone would see them through the fence or over the wall and their life would be ruined. This was in 1972.

After spending almost a year washing floors on their hands and knees under the lash of the nuns, after spending six long (and short, for that is the nature of time) caring for a child they knew they could never keep, after listening to tales of terror about mothers whose babies didn’t “pass” (they all did, but how were these girls to know that?) the woman returned to their villages to keep their shameful secret for the rest of their lives.

In my own Irish-American family my sister was thrown out at the age of 17 and spoken of as dead thereafter. We all knew this was the “policy” from the time we were young children. My sister used it as her ticket out; I managed to use a different route. But whenever I hear people tell young woman who are wailing “My folks will kill me” when they get pregnant that “No, they’ll be angry but they’ll come around” I think “You have no idea…”

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Thanks also to the movie producers of “Philomena” which brought attention to this social injustice. Many would not be aware of this part of history had they not seen this movie.

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Same thing happened to my friend’s father and his four siblings. Their father quit their mother and went to United States, founding another family south of the border. The mother had no other alternative than placing her children in a orphanage in Levis. They were treated like shit, not permitted to look in the eyes and said all the time they were bastards. They were marked forever, and their children after them. My friend’s father was the exception, even if some nuns had tried hard to break him.

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Bravo to Catherine Corless!

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What a sad story and an indictment on those responsible no matter who they were.

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