THE discovery of “significant” quantities of human remains at Tuam, in Co. Galway, believed to be those of infants ranging from a foetal age of 35 weeks to three years, was announced by the Irish Commission of Investigation into 14 mother-and-baby homes run by Roman Catholic institutions between 1922 and the 1970s.
The announcement has led to demands from survivors of the homes to excavate at least two other sites in the country, where it is suggested that thousands more may be located.
The Commission announced the discoveries, made in a decommissioned septic tank and associated chambers on the site of the former home in Tuam, last Friday. The home, which no longer exists, was run by the Bons Secours order of nuns, and the existence of the burial site adjacent to the buildings was known to local people for decades.
It was never formally acknowledged in scale or detail, however, until a historian, Catherine Corless, began detailed research some years ago, and acquired death certificates that did not specify the burial locations. Ms Corless’s research suggested that 796 children died at Tuam over 36 years.
Responding, the Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney TD, acknowledged that the State had a part to play in the investigation: “This is a site that was owned by the State, and it’s a site that is still owned by Galway County Council; so there’s a significant responsibility on the State here, as well as the Bon Secours Sisters.” It was likely that there was local Garda involvement at the time, he said.
The support group Justice for Magdalenes — a title derived from the term “Magdalene homes”, and referring to single mothers who were shamed into incarceration, often for life, to operate laundries , after having babies out of wedlock — is calling for the excavation of other sites in Dublin, Cork, and Co. Westmeath. It has compiled a list of almost 200 institutions and agencies who may have been involved with unmarried women and their children.
The organisation has also demanded a halt to the redevelopment of two former “Magdalene” laundry sites in the capital, where it is suspected that there may be more remains. A co-founder of the group, Claire McGetterick, said after the Commission’s announcement: “In terms of the identification of remains, a sample isn’t going to cut it. They are all real people who deserve to be identified and have their final resting-place marked.”
The RC Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, said at a mass in St Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, on Sunday that he was “horrified and saddened” at the discovery, and was determined to seek dignified reinterment of the children’s remains in consecrated ground, with the co-operation of the deceased children’s families.