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Monday, June 9, 2014

The dead babies of Tuam

Francis Fitzgerald

Ireland has had such a sad history and now there's been a discovery that gives us an insight into just how cruel society could be if you were unlucky enough to be an unmarried Irish girl and pregnant. In the small Irish town of Tuam in County Galway, they have discovered the bodies of nearly 800 babies in a septic tank.

The Catholic Sisters of Bon Secours bought the workhouse in the 1920s and converted it into a home for unmarried mothers.  For 36 years, they took in thousands of pregnant single women who had their babies taken away as soon as they were born.  It is estimated that 60,000 babies were taken for adoptiion in the 1950s and 1960s, and many went to America.

When some local lads went fishing and were digging for worms, they discovered the entrance to a Victorian septic tank which was built for the workhouse.  When the sewerage was connected to the home in the 1930s and no longer needed, it was sealed up.

The boys hit a concrete slab but they could tell there was something hollow underneath it so they decided to bust it open and found it was full to the brim with small skeletons.

As most of Ireland was under the thumb of the Catholic Church, being unmarried and single was a terrible sin and all pain relief during child birth was denied because the pain was "God's punishment for your sin."

Babies were crowded into nurseries where disease and malnutrition killed hundreds.  There were no doctors and infant mortality was five or six times worse in church homes than in the rest of Ireland.

One woman who was there knows the horror of what went on.  "I came in pregnant and was put to work in the nursery" she said.  "It was awful, there was no medicine and the babies were always getting sick. When one of them caught something, they would all get it and the nuns did nothing about it.  The worst was the green diarrhoea, it just poured out of the little things, it was so bad you couldn't even put nappies on them, they just lay there in it."

The Tuam home was demolished in 1972 and the nuns left.

Some locals still remember seeing grave diggers late at night bringing out little bodies wrapped in white shrouds and putting them in the tank.  A search of records shows that 796 babies died there.

With so many dead babies and little children on their hands and nowhere to put them, the nuns used the septic tank as a convenient answer to their problem.

Now we learn that mass graves like this one can be found all over Ireland but the Catholic Church doesn't want to talk about it.  The Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary was quick to blame others.  "As the diocese did not have any involvement in running the home, we do not have any material relating to it.  There exists a clear moral imperative on the Bon Secours Sisters to act upon their responsibilities."

When the Bon Secours Sisters were approached, a spokesman said the nuns involved were now deceased or very old and were not able to talk to the media.  "Unfortunately, I cannot take the matter any further" he said.

Finally, the Irish police have been brought in to investigate after Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she wanted the facts behind the deaths.  

The wheels of justice turn slowly but grind exceedingly fine.