TUAM AND OTHER ATROCITIES AGAINST CHILDREN

CONTENT

"It is wrong for any church or institution to separate a mother from her infant. You can't commit a greater crime against humanity."

 

A mass grave containing the remains of babies and children has been discovered at a former Catholic care home in Ireland where it has been alleged up to 800 died, government-appointed investigators said on Friday.

Excavations at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, have uncovered an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing “significant quantities of human remains”, the judge-led mother and baby homes commission said. 

The commission said analysis of selected remains revealed ages of the deceased ranged from 35 weeks to three years old. It found that the dead had been mostly buried in the 1950s, when the facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unmarried mothers and their children. The Tuam home closed in 1961.

 

The home, run by the Bon Secours Sisters, a Catholic religious order of nuns, received unmarried pregnant women to give birth. The women were separated from their children, who remained elsewhere in the home, raised by nuns, until they could be adopted. The Ireland at the time was anything but a true republic. One faith, Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular, dominated so many aspects of life. Sex outside marriage was more than just a sin. The domination of the church was one in which the state and the people at the time willingly colluded.

 

Dr Lindsey Earner-Byrne, an historian at University College Dublin, has studied the period and said the new Irish state set itself up as a bastion of Catholicism and moral purity in opposition to its former master, Britain. But she said a high price was paid for that puritanical intolerance. She said: "It was black and white and if you deviated you were ostracised. And one way of deviating was having sex outside marriage. "So, women who did paid the highest price along with their children - and that was to be relegated to an institution or to take the boat to Britain."

 

The Tuam grave issue is something the people of the County Galway town have given a lot of thought to. One woman said that as, a single mother, a midwife asked her whether she wanted to give her son up for adoption as recently as 22 years ago. Another said: "The church got away (with it) for so long and it's not right". But an elderly man took a different view: "We all knew about the home for unmarried mothers and pregnant ladies. "The babies had to be buried somewhere. It was a sign of the times."

 

In this whole affair, little has been said about the role of men in fathering children outside marriage.

Others said we are seeing the past through the prism of the present. But how much has changed?

Some might say: "Not much". As recently as 2012, more than 100 children in Irish state care were reported missing in the five-year period up until then.

 

Nine thousand children died in Ireland's brutal homes for unmarried mothers and babies run by the Catholic Church in the 20th century, a damning report has revealed. In total, 15 percent of the 57,000 children at the 18 institutions investigated by the Mother and Baby Home Commission died between 1922 and 1998.

 

The report published yesterday said the homes 'provided refuge' for the mothers when they had nowhere else to turn and found that blame 'rests mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families.' But the women faced appalling emotional torment at the hands of the nuns - forced to work scrubbing floors while being called 'fallen,' 'sinner', 'dirt' and 'spawn of Satan.' 

 

The Commission said that the high death rates among infants were 'probably the most disquieting feature of these institutions.' In 1945 and 1946, the death rate among infants at the homes 'was almost twice that of the national average for 'illegitimate' children.'The inquiry was launched six years ago after evidence of an unmarked mass graveyard at Tuam, County Galway, was uncovered by amateur local historian Catherine Corless. 

Then-Prime Minister Enda Kenny described the burial site as a 'chamber of horrors'. 

From 1921 to 1961 (when it closed), 978 children died at Tuam, 80 percent aged under 12 months, 67 percent between one and six months. Three quarters of those children died in the 1930s and 40s, with the most deadly years recorded as 1943 and 1947.  The report singled out the home for its 'appalling physical conditions.' 

 

It comes after a report in 2017 revealed that a mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children was discovered at a former Catholic home for unmarried mothers and their children in Ireland. The remains were found in a disused sewer during excavations at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. The ages of the dead ranged from 35 foetal weeks to three years old and were mostly buried in the 1950s. 

In 2014, it emerged that the bodies of nearly 800 babies were believed to have been interred in a concrete tank beside a former home for unmarried mothers. 

More than one in 10 children admitted to Ireland's mother and baby homes died, the report said. 

The major causes of death were respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, an independent commission which investigated the 'appalling' toll said. It added: 'The absence of professional staff, combined with what must be acknowledged as a general indifference to the fate of the children who were born in mother and baby homes, contributed to the appalling levels of infant mortality.'

The institutions were established for unmarried women and their mothers at a time when society looked down on them. The proportion of women admitted to such homes in Ireland was probably the highest in the world in the 20th century. They were run by religious institutions and overseen by the Government. Women were admitted after they had babies while unwed.

 

The Commission of Investigation Into Mother and Baby Homes' report said: 'The high rate of infant mortality (first year of life) in Irish mother and baby homes is probably the most disquieting feature of these institutions. 'It is particularly disquieting that the high mortality rate was known to the authorities both local and national and was even described in public reports. 'About 9,000 children died in the institutions under investigation - approximately 15% of all the children who were in the institutions.' In one year, 1943, 75% of the children who were born or who were admitted to the Bessborough home in Cork died.

The commission said that before 1960, the homes did not save the lives of 'illegitimate' children (as they were legally termed then), that children were more likely to die in the institutions than outside them. Reviewers said Ireland was a cold harsh environment for many, probably the majority, of residents during the earlier half of the period under consideration. The report said: 'It was especially cold and harsh for women. All women suffered serious discrimination. 'Women who gave birth outside marriage were subject to particularly harsh treatment.'

 

Taoiseach Micheal Martin acknowledged it was a time of societal and church pressure on unmarried mothers dating back decades.

Some pregnancies were the result of rape; some women had mental health problems, some had an intellectual disability, the Government-ordered review said. Overcrowding probably contributed to excess mortality, the investigation found. Women were admitted to mother and baby homes and county homes because they failed to secure the support of their family and the father of their child, the report noted.

 

The commission said they had no other option but to enter the institutions. 'Their lives were blighted by pregnancy outside marriage, and the responses of the father of their child, their immediate families and the wider community,' it added. There were about 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children in the mother and baby homes and local authority owned county homes investigated.

In 1921, some women ate their meals 'squatting on the floor' with most heating by open fire.

The food 'was often adulterated or unfit for consumption'.

In the early decades most women who were admitted were domestic servants or farm workers or they were carrying out unpaid domestic work in their family home. In later years, however, many of the women were clerical workers, civil servants, professional women and schoolgirls or third-level students. The commission said: 'Many were destitute. Women who feared the consequences of their pregnancy becoming known to their family and neighbours entered mother and baby homes to protect their privacy. 'Some travelled to Britain, for the same reason.'

The commission made recommendations covering compensation to survivors, memorialisation and creating a central repository of the records of institutions and adoption societies so that information can be obtained from one place.

A report from an independent commission of investigation said: 'In the years before 1960, mother and baby homes did not save the lives of 'illegitimate' children; in fact, they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival.' Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the Government-ordered report, which covers events dating back decades, describes 'a dark, difficult and shameful chapter of very recent Irish history'. 

The proportion of women admitted to such homes in Ireland was probably the highest in the world in the 20th century, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes said, and many of the unmarried women were denigrated.

Its review said: 'The high rate of infant mortality raised serious questions about mother and baby homes: the large size, unqualified staff and inadequate staffing, poor management, and the limitations on the local and national authorities' willingness and capacity to implement reforms.'

It added that infant mortality fell sharply in the late 1940s.

 

This may have removed the motivation for major reforms, which would have involved fraught negotiations with religious congregations and members of the Catholic hierarchy,' it said.

It added: 'There is no evidence of public concern being expressed about conditions in mother and baby homes or about the appalling mortality among the children born in these homes, even though many of the facts were in the public domain.' The homes were largely run by religious institutions and overseen by the Government. The Taoiseach said: 'It holds up a mirror to aspects of our past, which are painful and difficult, and from the present-day perspective, often hard to comprehend,' adding: 'We treated women badly, we treated children especially badly. 'We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy. Young mothers and their sons and daughters paid a terrible price for that dysfunction.' 

 

Carmel Larkin, who was born at Tuam in 1949, remains furious at how her mother was treated.

Ms Larkin was fostered aged five and never saw her mother again. She doesn't even have a photograph of her or know where she is buried. Ms Larkin told Sky News: 'Well it's our holocaust isn't it? They had the holocaust in Germany but the mother and baby homes were our holocaust.' 

'I was horrified,' she said of the investigation into Tuam. 'Horrified that any human being could treat babies and mothers like that. The mothers walked in here and they were sinners.  'To give birth to a baby is the most precious gift any woman can have.'

 

At another notorious home, Bessborough in County Cork, 75 percent of the children born or admitted in a single year, 1943, died.

 

The highest mortality rate of all the homes was at Sean Ross (1931 to 1969), in County Tipperary, where 1,090 infants out of 6,079 died - 79 percent of those fatalities were between 1932 and 1947. 

The high death rate at Sean Ross was partly attributed to infectious diseases, including diphtheria and typhoid. 

 

Overall the report said that the infant mortality at the homes was down to respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, despite the public attention on malnutrition. Women were rejected by their families and forced out of their homes after falling pregnant because of the shame it brought in the devout Catholic society.  One witness described to the Commission how her mother had 'called her a prostitute and a whore. 'Three of her uncles were priests and her parents were worried about how her pregnancy would affect them. 'Both sets of parents were also very concerned about how an 'unmarried pregnancy' would affect the careers of the witness's brothers.' 

 

Witnesses told the Commission that labour provided sisters at the homes with a chance to 'punish' the unmarried mothers. A woman who was adopted from Sean Ross said that her mother was tied to the bed while giving birth and that 'a nun sat on her chest' to help her push.

A woman who went to Bessborough aged 17 told the inquiry that she was terrified of one of the midwife's. 'She was cutting the girls down below and would tell them this is your punishment for what you have done and you are never doing this again,' the witness said. 

 

Another woman at the home said that when she was sent to the local hospital to give birth she was 'butchered' and given no anaesthetic. 'They just split me open to deliver the baby,' she said. 

Another former Bessborough woman said that the mothers were forced to work even if they were sick. 'It was just as if the nuns had no hearts at all,' she said. 'You could hear the girls crying at night. We went to bed frightened and always woke up frightened.' 

 

According to a report in the BBC, one Bessborough woman named Bridget was forced to stand in the corner for hours while heavily pregnant. She gave birth to her son three weeks prematurely. 

Bridget said: 'I still see him. His eyes were looking around. Very inquisitive, beautiful, perfect baby, blonde, blue eyes and he sort of had hair as if it was combed beautifully.'  She knew she would not be able to keep the baby, who she wanted to call William but the nuns insisted Gerard was a more appropriate Catholic name. The baby fell sick after a couple of days and Bridget was told he had been moved to the 'dying room'. She never got to see him agai n as the baby was sent to hospital over two weeks after initially falling ill, where he later died.

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