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Hunt for details on child burials at Bessboro mother and baby home

The burials took place between 1922 and 1998.

PEOPLE WITH INFORMATION on burials at Cork’s Bessboro mother and baby home are being asked to contact the commission of investigation into such homes.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and a number of county homes (MBHCOI) has put out advertisements asking for people to contact it about the issue.

The commission is investigating and reporting on the burial arrangements of children and mothers who died while resident in a number of institutions, including Bessboro. But so far, it doesn’t have enough information on the burials and how many there might be at the site.

It is currently investigating “the burials of a large number of children who died while resident in the Bessboro mother and baby home in Cork between 1922 and 1998″, it said.

Now it wants to hear from anyone “who has personal knowledge, documentation or any other information concerning the burial arrangements and/or the burial places of children who died in Bessboro in this time period”.

It is looking for written submissions by email or post to arrive on or before 1 April 2018.

A spokesperson from the MBCHOI told TheJournal.ie that they have some information on burials related to Bessboro, but not enough information. They would be interested in information from people who saw burials, who know where children are buried, or who have heard information related to this.

Bessboro is one of a number of mother and baby homes which operated in Ireland in the twentieth century. Questions have been raised about the deaths of babies at the homes and where they were buried.

In March of last year, TD Mick Barry told the Dáil:

We heard from Carmel Cantwell, whose brother William died in the [Bessboro] home in the early 1960s. She does not know for sure where her brother is buried – perhaps in the angels plot but perhaps not. How many more babies such as William are buried there and where are their graves? Where can their relatives go to pay their respects? It is not good enough just to point to a tiny plot and say “He is in there, somewhere”. Do William’s sister and his elderly mother not deserve better than that?

There is a Little Angels plot at Bessboro, which contains the burial sites for some children.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance told TheJournal.ie that Bessboro has a chequered history.

She said that the death rates at the home were so high, according to records detailed by Dr James Deeny, Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer at the time, that the home was shut down in the late 1940s. It subsequently reopened.

The mortality rate for Bessboro was 44.6% in 1944.

Lohan said that the Adoption Rights Alliance fears that there there will be a mass grave discovered at Bessboro.

“In the absence of easy to detect, easy to research burial records for that home I suspect that there will be some form of a mass grave in Bessboro – that’s certainly our suspicion,” she said.

Lohan pointed out that there is currently a small burial plot on Bessboro land, but said “there’s absolutely no way it could accommodate the numbers of babies who have died there over the years”. The Adoption Rights Alliance questions where all the babies who died at Bessboro were buried, and if there are burial sites across the campus.

“It is imperative that we discover not just where the babies are buried but why they died in the first place and who was turning a blind eye to this,” she said.

She also noted that the mother and baby home at Tuam – where a burial plot was discovered – ceased operating in 1963, and was run by a different order of nuns to Bessboro.

In 2015, the Irish Examiner carried out a special examination of Bessboro home. It said that a previously unpublished HSE report on Bessboro, from 2012, showed that it was a place where “women and babies were considered little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders”.

The terms of reference for the inquiry were completed in 2014, under the then-Minister for Children James Reilly. At the time, the terms were criticised, and the Adoption Rights Alliance believes the terms were too narrow.

The terms of reference are here, and include that the commission is:

  • To examine mortality amongst mothers and children residing in these institutions (to determine the general causes, circumstances, and rates of mortality) and to compare it to the literature on mortality amongst such other groups of women and children as might be relevant
  • To investigate post-mortem practices and procedures in respect of children or mothers who died while resident in these institutions, including the reporting of deaths, burial arrangements and transfer of remains to educational institutions for the purpose of anatomical examination

The commision said that if people have information on burials:

  • It can be contacted by email at info @mbchcoi.ie
  • Or by post at Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, 73 Lower Baggot St, Dublin 2, or PO Box 12626, Dublin 2.

It is not able to assist any person who wants to resolve their identity or trace a birth relative. People who want information on their identity or tracing relatives must do so through Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Read: Mother and baby homes: It will be difficult to ‘establish facts’ on burial records say investigators>

Read: Adoption in Ireland: ‘We’re still going through it, we’re still carrying the shame’>

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