A mass grave of nearly 800 babies has been discovered in the septic system of an Irish home, run by catholic nuns, that was formerly used to house unwed mothers. St. Mary’s home in Tuam, west of the midlands of Ireland, was operated by the Bons Secours Sisters and served as a home for unmarried mothers during a 35-year-period from 1925 to 1961. Death records revealed that 796 infants and pre-teens – ranging from newborns to 10-year-olds – were deposited in a “grave” on the home’s property.
A septic tank, full to the brim with bones, was discovered back in 1976, but was initially thought to house bodies of individuals who died in the Great Irish famine of the 1840s, when hundreds of thousands were killed. An AFP report from June 4 said that historians now understand that the septic tank was used as a dumping ground for hundreds of babies and children that died in the home.
Says the AFP: “Thousands of unmarried pregnant women – labeled at the time as 'fallen women' – were sent to the homes to have their babies. The women were ostracized by the conservative-Catholic society and were often forced to hand over their children for adoption.”
The discovery of the bodies, dumped without regard to dignity or respect, is “another damning disclosure of a Church-run institution in Ireland following almost countless revelations of abuse and neglect at Catholic-run schools or institutions in recent decades,” reports the AFP.
“The bones are still there,” local historian Catherine Corless said. Corless traced the death records and discovered the truth regarding the mass gravesite. “The children who died in the home, this was them.”
The shocking discovery, which is also being reviewed by police for potential charges, offers a window into a predominantly gloomy era for an unmarried pregnant woman in Ireland. Shunned by a staunchly Catholic society, the young mothers, with no means to support themselves, often ended up at St. Mary’s.
“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.”
Corless said the children were dying at a rate of two a week, largely due to severe health issues that the home was ill-equipped to handle. Documents that go back as far as the mid-40s show that the children were found to be “fragile, pot-bellied and emaciated,” with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs” and suffering from malnutrition and neglect. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia pushed the mortality rate.
Corless herself was a “Home Baby,” as they were called. “If you acted up in class, some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies,” she said. She remembers once when another young girl wrapped a rock in a candy wrapper and gave it to her friend as a joke gift. When the nuns found out, the children were beaten.
“When the child opened it, she saw she’d been fooled,” Corless said. “Of course, I copied her later and I tried to play the joke on another little Home girl. I thought it was funny at the time…. Years after, I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. A part of me wants to make up to them.”