Excavations at other mother and baby homes are being demanded after the discovery of “significant quantities” of infant remains at Tuam.
Mother and Baby Homes Commission announced its findings after the
completion of a test excavation of the site which made global headlines
after research by local historian Catherine Corless revealed 796
children died in the home run by the Bon Secours Sisters from 1925-1961.
Following test excavations in November/December 2016 and in
January/February this year, two large structures were found. One appears
to be “a large sewage containment system or septic tank” that had been
decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and covered with top
The second structure is long and divided into 20 chambers. The
commission has not yet determined what the purpose of this structure was
but it “appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage
and/or waste water”. It has not yet determined if it was ever used for
In the second structure, “significant quantities of human
remains” have been discovered in at least 17 of the 20 underground
chambers. The dead babies’ ages range from approximately 35 foetal weeks
to two to three years.
The commission said carbon dating of the remains suggests they date
from the timeframe relevant to the operation of the mother and baby
“The commission is shocked by this discovery and is continuing its
investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains
in this way.
“Meanwhile, the commission has asked that the relevant State
authorities take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the
remains. The coroner has been informed,” said a statement.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said she is “very disturbed” by
the discovery: “It was not unexpected as there were claims about human
remains on the site over the last number of years. Up to now, we had
rumours. Now we have confirmation that the remains are there, and that
they date back to the time of the mother and baby home, which operated
in Tuam from 1925 to 1961.”
The commission has not commented on the exact number of remains found or if other sites will be excavated.
The Irish Examiner previously revealed that almost 470 infants and 10
women died at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home between 1934 and
1953. Over half of these children died in a six-year period between 1938
and 1944. The cause of death in around 20% of the deaths is listed as
“marasmus” or malnutrition.
A death register listing these details, as well as those for infant
deaths at the Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, was
maintained by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and has
been held by the HSE (and now Tusla) since 2011.
Ms Corless said she was relieved her work has been vindicated but
said an investigation should have occurred long before now.
the nuns just walked away and said nothing about a grave. The county
council must have known as well. It wasn’t marked, it was just
forgotten. It was like these children didn’t exist. This is exactly what
people are looking for, just the truth and answers,” she said.
Claire McGettrick of the Adoption Rights Alliance emphasised that
Tuam was not an isolated case and that deaths at other mother and baby
homes such as Bessborough, Sean Ross Abbey and Castlepollard needed to
The group also called for an extension of the commission’s
terms of reference to include all institutions, agencies and individuals
involved with unmarried mothers and their children.
Paul Redmond of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors said
Tuam was likely the tip of the iceberg and the “worst is yet to come” as
the scale of deaths in other homes like Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey
The Bon Secours Sisters had “no comment” to make other than to
confirm their continued co-operation with and support for the
Labour TDs Joan Burton and Jan O’Sullivan were distraught at the
findings, with Ms Burton saying it appears “these children were interred
in some kind of mass grave, and maybe even without their wider families
having been made aware”.
She said the commission’s investigation may
have to be extended, a view backed by the Greens and Sinn Féin.