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Dublin: 17 °C Monday 22 September, 2014

‘It’s time to do something’ – The forgotten mass grave of 800 babies in Galway

A campaign is now under way to construct a memorial.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Updated 23:00

EFFORTS ARE UNDERWAY to raise enough funds to build a memorial at an unmarked grave of as many as 800 babies in Tuam.

The site is located at what was a home for unmarried mothers, run by the Bon Secours order, from the 1920s until the 1960s.

Catherine Corless, a local historian and genealogist, was researching the home when she discovered death records for 796 children, ranging from infants to children up to the age of nine.

There was a high infant mortality rate over the forty year period, with many of the children believed to have died from malnutrition and infectious diseases.

She could also find no record of their burial in other graveyards in the county, or in areas where the mothers had been from.

“We can safely assume that they’re all in that plot,” Corless told TheJournal.ie.

She added that she is now trying to have the grave marked.

A group of us came together late last year, formed a committee, and decided that, when we discovered the enormous amount of children in that plot, it was time to do something.

Local authorities have so far donated €2,000 towards the memorial, but those involved hope to raise €5,000 to build a plaque containing all 796 names and a small statue.

However, fundraising efforts have been slow so far.

“People aren’t really talking about the discovery,” she said.

People don’t seem shocked, I don’t understand.

“If two children were discovered in an unmarked grave, the news would be everywhere. We have almost 800 here.”

The site was previously known to be a graveyard, locally suspected to be one for unbaptised babies or famine victims, but it was thought that a small number of children were interred there.

After the home was closed in the 1960s, two boys were playing close to the site when they discovered partially broken concrete slabs covering a hollow – a disused septic tank, which had been in use prior to the 1920s when the building was a workhouse but then emptied.

‘Filled with bones’

The boys broke the concrete and discovered a hole “filled to the brim with bones”.

A housing estate was build where the home used to be, and a local couple had been tending to the graveyard plot for 35 years, trimming the grass and planting flowers.

The husband, Padraic, had built a small grotto as well.

Tuam Single Mothers and Babies Homes

Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

“Sadly, he passed away a week ago”, Corless said, “Padraic’s wish was that this little graveyard would be remembered with a plaque.”

Corless spoke to a number of people who were residents at the home, and said they were treated very harshly.

“Some of the children from the home would attend the local school,” she said.

“They were treated differently, went home earlier, and were all shipped off to an industrial school when they were around 7-years-old.”

The Irish Mail on Sunday reports that a garda investigation is underway into missing death certificates at the home.

As a result of this investigation, the site may be excavated.

Corless has said that if anyone is looking for information about relatives who may have been at the home, or wishes to donate, they can contact her on catherinecorless@hotmail.com.

Originally published 17:45

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