The first part of this story is old, but the full understanding of what happened is new. Decades ago the bodies of nearly 800 babies were found in a septic tank at a place called The Home, a facility for unwed mothers and their babies, near Galway, Ireland.
In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot 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 — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in 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, told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “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 stigmatized them. Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home. “When daughters became pregnant, they were ostracized completely,” Corless said. “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.”
So how did all those babies die? From utter neglect, apparently.
According to documents Corless provided the Irish Mail on Sunday, 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?”…
According to Irish Central, a 1944 local health board report described the children living at the Home as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.”
There are so many elements to this story that are appalling. First, the shunning of these women and their children almost makes one sick. The treatment they then received under the care of an order of nuns is just as nauseating. With all the wealth and power of the Catholic Church, they couldn’t afford to provide proper nutrition and medical care to these children? And when they died, they were just thrown into a mass grave? Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic himself, is horrified:
Let us call this what it is: a concentration camp with willful disregard for the survival of its innocent captives, a death camp for a group of people deemed inferior because of the circumstances of their birth. When we talk of mass graves of this kind, we usually refer to Srebrenica or the crimes of Pol Pot. But this was erected in the name of Jesus, and these despicable acts were justified by his alleged teaching.
“Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do unto me also.” Remember that? Apparently the Catholic Church doesn’t.