Catherine Corless isn’t happy about the way the discussion of the Tuam mother and baby home has gone. She doesn’t like the framing.
‘I never used that word ‘dumped’,” Catherine Corless, a local historian in Co Galway, tells The Irish Times. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”
The story that emerged from her work was reported this week in dramatic headlines around the world.
“Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves” – The Guardian.
I used the word “dumped” too. That was the word that occurred to me. They weren’t “buried” as we commonly understand burial of the dead. The usual way of naming that is in fact “dumped” – it’s a deliberately emotive word that underlines the brutality. I think it’s the right word. It’s an indictment of the people – the church people – who ran that “home”.
The deaths of these 796 children are not in doubt. Their numbers are a stark reflection of a period in Ireland when infant mortality in general was very much higher than today, particularly in institutions, where infection spread rapidly. At times during those 36 years the Tuam home housed more than 200 children and 100 mothers, plus those who worked there, according to records Corless has found.
What has upset, confused and dismayed her in recent days is the speculative nature of much of the reporting around the story, particularly about what happened to the children after they died. “I never used that word ‘dumped’,” she says again, with distress. “I just wanted those children to be remembered and for their names to go up on a plaque. That was why I did this project, and now it has taken [on] a life of its own.”
She must be thinking that “dumped” will be upsetting to the surviving mothers of those babies and children. Maybe it will – or maybe it will make them feel that at last people care? I don’t know. I do know that my mind shrinks back in horror whenever I contemplate the scene back then when a baby or child died and was then…put or placed or tossed or dumped in a pit out back, with no marker or headstone or separate grave the mother might visit.
Corless has not been contacted by anyone from any State department, asking to have access to her research. Nor has her work been corroborated by anyone else. “I would definitely be willing to share my research,” she says.
In response to Corless’s story, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan confirmed this week that there will be a Government inquiry into all mother-and-baby homes.
Corless has proved that 796 children died while at St Mary’s in Tuam – a shameful statistic that would not have been known without her years of dedicated work. It seems clear that at least some of these children lie in the small plot of land at the back of the Dublin Road housing estate. Excavation might be the only way to be sure. “Our intention in setting up this committee was not excavation,” she says, “but I would welcome the truth.”
The 796 deaths over 36 years is the real point, not the callous disposal of the bodies…except that the callous disposal of the bodies must have been an appalling twist of the knife for the mothers.