Tag Archives: Tuam

From top: the former Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork; A map indicicating a children’s burial ground on the grounds of the former institution; Professor Clair Wills

What about Bessborough?

Ireland-born, Cambridge-based. English Professor Clair Wills, in a 10,000-word review of the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation report for the current issue of London Review of Books, writes:

….the home with the worst infant mortality rate was Bessborough in Cork, where over the twenty years between 1934 and 1953 ‘in the region of 25 per cent’ of babies died – five times the rate for Ireland in 1950. In 1944 the newly appointed chief medical adviser for the Republic of Ireland, James Deeny, tried to close the home because in the previous year 180 babies had been born there and 100 had died.

…Bessborough opened as a mother and baby home in 1922, in a Georgian house on 150 acres in Blackrock, to the south-east of Cork City. It was owned and run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (also, initially, a French order) and its remit – as recommended by the Cork Board of Guardians, which was responsible for the poor law union – was to remove unmarried mothers from workhouses.

The grounds were subsequently enlarged to 200 acres, and in 1930 a maternity ward was built so that women who entered the home no longer had their babies in Cork District Hospital (known as St Finbarr’s), but on the Bessborough estate itself. T

he home took in unmarried expectant mothers and women who had recently given birth from all over Ireland, paid for by local health authorities. It also accepted private fee-paying unmarried mothers. Until 1946, when the rules changed, a considerable number of these private patients, willingly or under family pressure, discharged themselves from Bessborough after giving birth, leaving their babies awaiting informal adoption or boarding out through the Catholic Women’s Aid Society.

Infant mortality was highest among those babies whose mothers had left the home, and who seem to have been routinely neglected. From the mid-1950s onwards, another adoption agency, St Anne’s, brought unmarried expectant mothers back from the United Kingdom to have their babies at Bessborough, from where they would be adopted.

All these different organisations – St Finbarr’s, the Catholic Women’s Aid Society, St Anne’s and Bessborough itself – had responsibility for the burial of children who died under their care. Private burial grounds were not legally required to keep records of burials, but canon law did require records to be kept. Yet there are almost no burial records at all.

Given the extraordinarily high mortality rates, the involvement of adoption agencies and the absence of records, it is no surprise that many people believe some of the babies did not die, but were ‘sold’ for adoption. The report did not find evidence for a trade in live babies from Bessborough, although this doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and critics, including the campaigning journalist Conall Ó Fátharta, question the commission’s conclusions. But it does suggest that whatever did happen there, ‘economies’ were at the back of it….

… During the 1920s Bessborough’s dead babies (or some of them) were buried in the ‘Poor Ground’ section of St Joseph’s Cemetery in Cork, at the cost of ten shillings each, which the congregation had to recoup from the health authority responsible for the child’s maintenance. It was expensive, and a hassle, and it would have been cheaper and easier to bury them on public assistance in the Cork District Cemetery at Carr’s Hill, a former famine ground. And perhaps that is where they are, though no burial register has been found to prove it. Or perhaps they are buried in unconsecrated ground somewhere on the Bessborough estate. That would have been the cheapest way of dealing with the problem, and was the way things were dealt with at Tuam.

At Tuam there are bones, but no burial ground. At Bessborough it is the other way round. There is a burial ground, but no bones. Inside the estate there is a small plot, which was opened in 1956 for members of the order:

It seems to have been assumed by former residents and advocacy groups that this is also where the children who died in Bessborough are buried as there are occasional meetings and commemoration ceremonies held there. The vast majority of children who died in Bessborough are not buried there; it seems that only one child is buried there.

More than nine hundred children died in Bessborough or in hospital after being transferred from Bessborough. Despite very extensive inquiries and searches, the commission has been able to establish the burial place of only 64 children. The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who owned and ran Bessborough do not know where the other children are buried.

Unlike Tuam, which closed in 1961, the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home continued to operate until 1998. Members of the congregation claimed not to know where the children might be buried. The commission states that it…

‘…finds this very difficult to comprehend as Bessborough was a mother and baby home for the duration of the period covered by the commission (1922-98) and the congregation was involved with it for all of this time. The commission finds it very difficult to understand that no member of the congregation was able to say where the children who died in Bessborough are buried.’

But perhaps forgetting where babies were buried is a way of forgetting that they died.

One sister who lived at the home for fifty years between 1948 and 1998 could not recall the deaths of any children at all during that time, although 31 children died there between 1950 and 1960 alone. Her name is given as the informant on a number of death certificates. It is a powerful act of erasure.

No grave, no baby. No baby, no grave.

Architectures of Containment (Clair Wills, London Review of Books)

Previously: Archeology of Containment

Solicitor Kevin Higgins (top left) and Peter Mulryan (top right) in the Dáil today

This afternoon in the Dáil.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration discussed the Institutional Burials Bill with contributions from solicitor Kevin Higgins and Peter Mulryan, both of the Tuam Home Survivors Network.

From his opening statement, Mr Higgins said:

“… if this proposed bill was genuinely conceived as a measure to bring dignity to these children and a measure of closure to their families, it would probably would have been adopted on all sides and the need for pre-legislative scrutiny would not exist.

“To the members of this committee, I say: if you permit this measure to progress, you do so with your fingerprints all over it. And I believe you will come to regret it. This bill should be returned to whence it came. Nothing of worth, humanity or integrity, can be retrieved from it. I thank you, Mr Chairman.”

Later, in response to a question from Independent Senator Lynne Ruane, solicitor Kevin Higgins said:

“Dignity is one thing and it’s become an overused word throughout this process. The thing I know is that I’ve been involved in this for the past 7 years and, whereas the commission has acted independently, I know of not one single solitary, substantial thing done by any agency of the State, and certainly by the Department of Children, which has made any difference whatsoever.

Dignity and justice are inseparable. If you cannot give these children a bona fide death certificate… this Act which may decide, is essentially asking us in many ways: would we like roses around the mass grave or would we like bluebells? We don’t want either.

“We want these children, the death certificates of these children are a fantasy. There is not, senator, a single medical certificate existing for one of those children in Tuam. You cannot get a death certificate without a medical certificate. This is not new law, that pertained then.

“These children, 25 per cent, according to the death certificates, died from something as nebulous as dibility. We’re all familiar with deaths too premature, births of children. The medical attendant certified that a child of three and a half, who never showed any symptoms of illness, had actually died of prematurity. Dignity without justice, justice without dignity, we need these children to be treated with respect.

“This bill, it’s a little bit like the Commission of Investigation Act. People say it’s not fit for purpose, it’s clearly not fit for anything. How many of them have been run into the ground?…”


“…I think the existing law is quite adequate. There is nothing to prevent, in the terms of Tuam with which I am familiar and which of course is perhaps the most documented, I would say that it is possible to excavate; it is many cases, from the oleo-archaeology I have seen, to carry out post-mortems; it is possible to reach, in many cases, a determination as possible or probable cause of death. And I think not leaving us behind collectively, this is not a matter just for survivors, the bill which created Mother and Baby Homes was something as innocuous sounding as the Local Government Temporary Provisions Act 1923.

“Just for your own benefit, deputy, I can tell you that bill was finally repealed in the year 2000. That’s 21 years ago.”

“….I would just say I don’t think we need this bill. I think we need to follow the law. I believe we need to resource the coroner’s service and allow people to give evidence at the coroner’s service as to what transpired, those still living, as to what transpired within those homes, in order to allow a coroner make a determination.”


Peter Mulryan said:

I would like to know where my sister is at this moment. I’m years now looking for records of my sister. Every time I go to bed at night, I think about her. Why am I left this way? Is she dead or alive? I do not know. The information I got is so scant.

It is unbelievable they do this to a human being that was recorded as born as a healthy baby. And yet nine months later, she died. From what? Was it malnutrition? Neglect? Were they drowned? We don’t know?

“But I want to know, about my sibling, where she is now. I’m being denied all this information.

“Like to do that to an innocent baby. Now they’re trying to stop us to find out anything about where she is. And we’re denied and denied, it’s so inhumane to think that the present stated governments and what they are doing to us is beyond, beggars belief.

“I am so, so disheartened with it, that they’re still trying to make those babies suffer when they’re out there, soul-searching for their lives. To be brought into the world and to be incarcerated, and the same with my mother, what was done to her also. It’s horrendous. That’s it.”

Previously: ‘Tread Softly, For Your Tread On The Bones Of My Family’

Peter Mulryan lived in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway for four and a half years before he was adopted out. He believes a sister called Marian died at the home or was trafficked out of Ireland as a child.

This morning/afternoon.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration is discussing the Institutional Burials Bill.

The proposed legislation will allow excavations and re-interment of remains at former mother-and-baby home institutions. Coroners will not have jurisdiction in respect of bodies exhumed from sites

Chairman of the Tuam Home Survivors Network, Peter Mulryan, who will address the committee this afternoon, had sought legal advice as to whether the committee was acting within its powers in considering the Bill.

Peter writes:

This Bill reflects work undertaken during the tenure of former Attorney General Mr Séamus Woulfe.

It has two clear objects, (1) to circumvent existing law by dispensing with Inquests into the deaths of children lying in mass graves at Tuam, Bessborough, Sean Ros and (2) to clear the way for the commercial developments on other sites which are stained with the cruelty to generations of Irish women and children.

I am not aware of when the responsibility for burials, burial grounds and the exhumation of human remains became the responsibility of this so-called “Department of Children”.

Neither, am I aware of when responsibility for dealing with unexplained deaths was removed from the Coroners Service, the Department of Justice or An Garda Síochana to this “Children’s Department”

But perhaps the members of the Committee know best. They are perhaps better educated than I was. I was simply a hungry and frightened child in the Tuam ‘Home’ before being ‘boarded out’ as a child farm labourer in a cruel environment. They have ‘satisfied’ themselves that they are acting lawfully.

I am aware of course that it is ‘customary’ that the advice of the Attorney General is not published. I simply asked the Committee if they had sought advice. Their reply was to tell me to ‘take a hike’ that it was none of my business, whether they had or not.

I find their reply whether intended to be or not, offensive. I find it insulting and disrespectful.

My sister who I never met and who has no recorded burial place, lies in the Tuam cesspit into which hers and the bodies of other infants were thrown.

Not a single “Medical Certificate” is to be found for the children of Tuam.

Their Death Certificates are works of fiction.

This Committee now sits to consider a Bill which denies my sister and so many other children, even the dignity of possibly determining her cause of death.

Shame, I say. Shame on you all for even looking at this get out of jail card for the State and the Institutional Catholic Church.

I do not want your soft words.

I do not want your sympathy.

I want justice for all the children whose lives were lost due to the indifference and cruelty of Church and State.

I note that the only amendments to this Bill since the departure of Mr Woulfe and the creation of this new Government are designed to ensure that the owners of the sites where these children lie, are are adequately compensated for any inconvenience when removing the bones of the children.

It would indeed be a crime if the dandelions and weeds that sprout from mass graves of children were to be disturbed before these lands are converted into commercial developments.

Tread softly, for you tread on the bones of my family and those of my fellow survivors

Yours respectfully,

Peter Mulryan
‘Former Inmate of the Tuam Mother and Baby Prison’.


The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is calling for the Institutional Burials Bill to be significantly reformed.

ICCL and others believe this [not having a coroner] could impede an effective investigation into the cause and circumstances of death.

Overall, it believes the bill is inconsistent with a transitional justice approach.

Call for reform of mother-and-baby homes excavations legislation (RTÉ)

Anne Kelly Silke was fostered out of Tuam Mother and Baby Home aged nine.

January 12.


‘Anne was moved from one home to another, more often treated as an unpaid servant than as a family member. Her childhood was one of beatings, deprivation and loneliness. As she grew up, she experienced prejudice for being a “Home Baby” and even found it hard to find a partner locally…’

From a Would You Believe? documentary on Anne and the Tuam babies, RTÉ One.


Friday: Mother and Baby Home Report Update

Last week: Whitmore Time


The grounds where the unmarked mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of infants who died at the Bon Secours mother-and-baby home in Tuam, County Galway from 1925-1961 rests

Terry Prone on behalf of the Bon Secours in 2014


Statement from the Sisters of Bon Secours in Ireland this morning

Earlier: “This Is Not How Inquiries Into Human Rights Violations Are Supposed To Happen”


Deora Dé Fuschia.

Tears of God.

Breeda writes:

Holly Mullarkey, clay artist and poet, has completed her most recent piece to honour Tuam babies and survivors of the former Mother and Baby Homes.

Earlier Holly planned supporting survivors making the teardrop shaped boats in the video above, but Covid19 put paid to those plans.

Undeterred Holly, who worked with Clay Galway in a collective for Galway 2020, set about constructing boats out of clay to represent containers of stories needing to be shared as various groups experiencing marginalisation merged for a performance on Grattan Road Beach in Galway.

Holly’s dedication to the story of the ‘Children of Tuam’ is captured and the poem recalls the lost lives of the 796 babies and children.

Holly Mullarkey



Also yesterday.

Earlier: “I Didn’t Want The Survivors To Wait More”

Previously: Terry Prone on Broadsheet

This morning.

The Irish Daily Star (above) revealed the official death toll at Sean Ross Abbey (top) in Roscrea, County Tipperary.

The abbey was a mother and baby home from 1930 to 1970 run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Journalist Alison O’Reilly, who broke the Tuam story, says a total of 1024 children died at the home with 455 deaths listed as ‘heart failure‘ and  a further 128 children dying from severe malnutrition.

Last week, an Aljazeera investigation claimed a sewage system was built on the site where children are buried.

Last week; Evidence Of A Sewage System In The Angel’s Plot

From top-: Former Minister for Children Katherine Zappone with Pope Francis during his visit in 2018; Saturday’s Irish Daily Mail exclusive; Ireland’s Papal Nuncio Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo ; historian Catherine Corless; Letter to Ms Corless from the Papal Nuncio last week.

Saturday/This morning.

Historian Catherine Corless hailed as ‘uplifting’ support from the Vatican for the exhumation of remains of babies at the former Tuam mother and baby home.

Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Pope’s ambassador to Ireland, has backed the call for re-burial.

A 2017 report, commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, confirmed a significant quantity of human remains, aged ‘from 35 foetal weeks to two to three years,’ were discovered in a vault that had served as a sewage tank.

After several delays, the final report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was postponed again in June and will not be ready until October.

Via The Irish Times

Ms Corless said: “It is really degrading for all survivors. They are being treated like they always were, as if they’re not important, they are second class citizens.

I hope this might make the Government aware that we are very much here and we haven’t gone away.

“It is heartbreaking to think that it doesn’t seem to matter, that hundreds of babies were disposed of in this manner. It is beyond my understanding how anyone can leave them there. It is a disgrace that this hasn’t been sorted long ago.”

Ms Corless said it “is a boost, now the Vatican is behind us.

Ms Corless said the suggestion by Archbishop Neary that the Tuam site could be blessed if the Government objected to the exhumation of bodies was unacceptable.

You can’t bless a septic tank and leave the remains there. That is out of the question,” she said.

Vatican backs campaign for reburial of Tuam babies’ remains (Brian Hutton, Irish Times)

Previously: A Further Delay


Thanks Bebe


Voice by Majella Kelly.

Situated at the burial ground in Tuam.

Pics: Breeda Murphy

Peter Mulryan

Free Saturday, December 7?

Peter Mulryan lived in the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway for four and a half years before he was adopted out. He believes a sister called Marian died at the home or was trafficked out of Ireland as a child.

Peter, of the Tuam Home Survivors Network, writes:

Please join me to turn on the Christmas tree lights at 3.30pm on Saturday December 7 at the Tuam Mother & Baby Institution site.

Christmas is a time where families unite, so let us unite as one family at the Tuam site to acknowledge what happened to the babies and mothers who continue to lie in a sewage pit.

Let us join together and turn on the Christmas tree lights, for the love of those little souls and to show our love and respect for every woman and child who was denied their human rights in life and continue to be denied them in death.

I simply ask, as a survivor of an institution and as someone who has a family member missing, that you would come along and give an hour of your time on Saturday December 7.

Let us all take a moment together to reflect on the babies and mothers who didn’t make it through and to stand in solidarity with all survivors of all institutions who continue to be haunted by the trauma.

I would much appreciate if you could invite your friends and family. I hope that as many survivors of these institutions, their families, friends and members of the public can make it to this Christmas gathering. Please remember to share our event on social media to spread the word.

Thank you for reading this and I hope to see you there on December 7th.

Lights on at 3.30pm, December 7.

Tuam Home Survivors Network