Not dumped but…carefully placed?

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.


  1. Jackie the wacky says

    Taking exception to the word “dumped” when that is exactly what you do to bodies in a an unmarked mass grave is ridiculous.

    People bury pets with more respect than the Catholic Church “buried” their victims.

    It was a hole left by an old septic tank for goodness sake! They literally dumped them in a shit-hole.

    They dumped the bodies to hide their crimes just like any other murderer would. Pretending that people owe the church any more charity than other killers of children is what is offensive.

  2. Al Dente says

    Dumped is the right word. If dead bodies are put into a tank rather than being buried then they were dumped. Mass graves are appropriate when plague, large scale natural disasters, or war have suddenly caused large numbers of deaths. That’s when the survivors need to dispose of the bodies for sanitary reasons. But 796 deaths in 36 years averages 22 deaths per year or about two per month. The home had handymen or sextons who could dig individual graves or the nuns could have hired workmen to dig graves. There was no reason why each child could not have been given an individual grave other than the indifference of the nuns.

  3. Omar Puhleez says

    I assume that the septic tank site was not consecrated ground, By the Catholic Church’s own standards, it was no place to bury the baptised. To the nuns, they appear to have been untermensch: inferiors unfit to be buried in the company of those the Church had redeemed and saved from the clutches of Satan.

  4. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    Gah of course we mustn’t make the RCC look too bad. Clearly they were just working with impossible conditions and it’s just the way things were back then and we mustn’t judge. *puke*

  5. latsot says

    I don’t care in principal what happens to bodies when they have no more life left in them. But I care in practice because other people do care, The Catholic church is chief among those people who make a big deal out of caring. They have extremely fancy rituals that they believe are really, really important. They weren’t important in these cases, though. Or the cases weren’t important to them.

    And there’s another reason I care. When a group decides that some people are worth fussing over when they’re dead and some aren’t, that group is certain to treat some people differently than others in life, too. They decided in advance that these children were going to a different place than children of ‘good’ families. Even though the notion of an afterlife is about the most idiotic thing imaginable… perhaps *because* of it,,,, that is just about the most morally bankrupt thing I can imagine. They were treated in death as they were treated in life. I strongly suspect that the callous shovelling of the bodies into cess pits bolstered their resolve to enslave children and women in the first place. It’s sure as shit how I’d go about convincing credulous people to be cruel.

    There are no kind words to be said about this. There’s no weasely argument that shit was shit back in the day. The church treated some people – and not others – in horrific ways and their disposal of those people is nothing but evidence of their disdain. It is yet another thing the Catholic church has done which is absolutely fucking disgusting. If you still harbour any sympathy for, fond memories of, or bleating, crazy nostalgia for this or any other church then let me tell you this: you are a horrible person, stop it.

  6. says

    In my world, funerals are for the living. The dead body is just that: dead matter, but it is a possibility to say goodbye, to remember (I’m used to humanist funerals).
    In the christian world, funerals are about god and the soul and eternal life. Very important if you believe.
    In both worlds those children were dumped and they and their mothers were left without the care needed to move on.
    Actually, if you think about the fact that they were all catholic and have some very specific rules about dead people, it becomes even more disgusting.

  7. johnthedrunkard says

    The number of dead was derived from the county records. Which charged Corless 4 euros for EACH listing. 796 dead children/babies, and only ONE recorded burial.

    The boys who broke through the concrete 40 years ago, reported skeletons and skulls lying randomly. So ‘dumped’ was entirely appropriate. We have no sense of how many victims were actually under the rather small slab.

    But no one investigated the site then, or since. For all we know, there might be a thousand babies, children, and mothers stuffed in that pit. Or perhaps the ‘good’ sisters just fed the babies to the pigs…

    The Tuam home is a crime scene that the Irish authorities have declined to investigate for FORTY YEARS. There should be forensic archaeologists and anthropologists on site RIGHT NOW. Ground radar and aerial surveillance teams should be checking for secret burials, not just at Tuam but at EVERY catholic institution in Ireland.

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