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800 babies in septic tank: Horror story or sign of the times?

800 babies in septic tank not meant to be horror story says researcher.
800 babies in septic tank not meant to be horror story says researcher.
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The 800 babies found buried in a septic tank on the grounds of an old unwed mother's home in Ireland has taken on a gruesome headlines and has gained global attention. It was the research done by Catherine Corless that brought this story to the world's attention, but maybe not in the way that she intended, suggested by the Irish Times on June 7.

Yes, there are 800 skeletal remains that are inside an old septic tank in Galway, Ireland, but Catherine's report on the research never included the word "dumped." This is a word found in the headlines describing the disposal of bodies of the children.

Headlines like Yahoo's this week that claims: "Galway Horror: 800 Dead Babies Found in Septic Tank at Irish Home Run by Nuns, doesn't really reflect the story she wanted to tell. ABC News also describes the grave as bodies being "dumped" in their headline this week: "Almost 800 'forgotten' Irish children dumped in septic tank mass grave at Catholic home."

This is not at all what Corless was trying to convey with her research and story. This also tarnished the Catholic Church in the news, as this was an unwed home run by Catholic nuns. Shining an unfavorable light on the church, was again not something that was meant to come out of this research.

Even without the word "dumped" in the headlines, the discovery of that many children's bodies in an unmarked mass grave is disturbing. Corless reports that the long-gone Catholic-run unwed mother's home had about 200 children and 100 mothers living there at any given time, along with the people who worked there.

The death rate for these children was approximately 22 a year, which is astonishing by today's standards, but these children died during an era where infant mortality was very high. The children buried at this site died of tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis and meningitis, among other illnesses.

This was during an era where families often lost a child to any of these illnesses, which isn't any different than what this unwed mother's home was experiencing. Coreless got a copy of every death certificate for the 796 children who died at the home and who were buried inside that septic tank.

She paid approximately $4,350 to get all those death certificates and she said he if she hadn't done this, who would have? The town of Galway never forgot these kids once it was discovered that the bones belonged to the children.

Back in the '70s concrete slabs covering the grounds around the septic tank cracked and the bones were discovered. They were originally thought to date back to the days of the potato famine, where masses of people died in Ireland. That put this find from about the 1840s, but that wasn't the case. The last of the children were most likely entered into this mass grave in the 1960s, before the home closed.

Coreless's research showed that the bones were not from the potato famine era, but from a more modern time. The unwed mother's home opened its doors in the 1930s and closed its doors in the mid 1960s and in the 35 years it was in operation, this site was used as a burial site for the children.

The research Coreless completed and wrote about has taken on a life of its own and this is a bit discouraging to her. It was a report on the forgotten children but it has morphed into something else. Coreless said:

“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.”

New homes sit on the site of the old unwed mother's home and the town of Galway has maintained the area around the burial site that has been left as a grassy area. They place flowers and keep the area well manicured as a memorial site for the deceased buried there.

The town is in the process of fundraising to erect a monument to the children on that site. They plan to put all 796 names on that monument. This was the story that Coreless was trying to convey, it wasn't meant to be the horror story that festered up in the headlines.