Historian reveals horror of mass grave for Irish babies born out of wedlock

Historian reveals horror of bodies of babies born out of wedlock and dumped in septic tank

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 4:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 4:43am

In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there is a stone wall that once surrounded a place called The Home.

Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of "fallen women" and their illegitimate children passed through The Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam.

Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left The Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.

More than five decades after The Home was closed and destroyed - a housing development and children's playground now stands there - what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged. Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank at the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.

"The bones are still there," local historian Catherine Corless, who uncovered the origins of the mass grave in a batch of never-before-released documents, said. "The children who died in The Home, this was them."

The grim findings, which are being investigated by police, provide a glimpse into a particularly dark time for unmarried pregnant women in Ireland, where societal and religious mores stigmatised them.

Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at The Home.

"When daughters became pregnant, they were ostracised completely," Corless said. "Families would be afraid of neighbours finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on earth … even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape."

Malnutrition and neglect killed many of the children, while others died of measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia.

Infant mortality at The Home was staggeringly high.

"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 said. "Couldn't they have afforded baby coffins?"