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Dublin: 23°C Wednesday 10 August 2022

'I'm anxious that every bit of evidence gets out there, just in case it's a carbon copy of Tuam'

Catherine Corless is calling for a full investigation into a former Sisters of Mercy orphanage in Galway.

Catherine Corless
Catherine Corless

“THE DEATH RATES in all those places were very, very high. I would doubt that St Anne’s was an exception.”

Catherine Corless, the historian whose research led to the discovery of the human remains in sewage chambers at the Tuam site, is calling for a full investigation into a former Sisters of Mercy orphanage as a number of survivors have disclosed recollections of baby deaths on the land to her.

The former orphanage at Lenaboy Castle in Taylor’s Hill – also known at St Anne’s – is about to be changed into a children’s learning hub by Galway City Council and Corless wants an investigation into the Castle’s building and land before that happens.

Corless’ research into the deaths of 796 babies and children at the former Bon Secours Tuam mother and babies home resulted in a State Commission of Investigation earlier this year.

When the word got out that the council was due to convert the Castle grounds, a number of the orphanage’s survivors contacted Corless and appealed to the council to review its plans.

“Some of the survivors contacted me and asked me to try to highlight the fact that there may be a burial ground there,” Corless told 

The survivors who spoke to Corless claim that children died on the grounds.

Corless told that she had evidence from a former orphan who took care of babies while she lived there.

“I have evidence… that when they were young children, they were only 10 or 11 and they were looking after babies – dressing them, feeding them and looking after them,” she said.

There was a little boy she got particularly attached to and when she went in to pick him up one day from the cot he was stone cold.
He was about 18 months old. It more or less traumatised her to this day.

Corless said that there is no graveyard on the grounds but she got the boy’s name, birth certificate and death certificate, however, she couldn’t find a burial place for him.

“This woman claims she saw a little boy going out in a cardboard box. It just deserves a lot of questions and more evidence,” Corless said.

“That’s the question at the moment. There has been nothing proven really. I have to find definite evidence,” she said.

Sale of Lenaboy Castle

The site of Lenaboy Castle has been given to Galway City Council by the Sisters of Mercy as part of the clerical child sex abuse redress scheme.

The order requested planning permission back in 2012 to build accommodation for themselves on the site, but it was turned down.

Since then, the order gave a donation of €750,000 to Galway City Council for the renovation of the site. It was at this stage that survivors began to come forward to Corless.

She said that by opening up about this site that she’s simply speaking on behalf of the survivors and that she will “help anyone who comes forward looking for help or records”.

The thing is, I’m anxious that every little bit of evidence gets out there, just in case it’s a carbon copy of Tuam.

“I have that drive in me to make sure that everyone will come forward and look into this and make sure that there’s a proper inquiry. At the moment, it really just looks like a cover up again and people are very, very cynical,” she said.

Girls made up the majority of orphans at Lenaboy Castle until its closure in the 1970s, but some boys were taken in as babies before being moved to another institute in Salthill, Corless said.

Some of these boys, now men, told Corless about corpses on the grounds.

“The boys went to Salthill when they reached a certain age but many a time they were called back to St Anne’s when they were older to do the garden or big jobs,” Corless said.

“I have the evidence of one man who said he would have seen corpses laid out on the slabs,” she said.

That wouldn’t be enough for me to make claims. It depends on how much evidence and how many people come forward. There should be an inquiry into it.

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Last week, Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said that he wants a full archaeological survey to be done on the Lenaboy Castle site before any renovations or developments are permitted.

“We should not have any development of a children’s creative hub at that site until we are absolutely sure of what is on it,” Ó Clochartaigh said.

A more forensic archaeological investigation may be needed if anything is unearthed, but from contacts Catherine Corless and I have had, we have serious concerns that there may well be another children’s burial site at St Anne’s or at Lenaboy Castle.

Tuam inquiry

Corless said that she’s not satisfied with the ongoing silence from the Commission of Investigation into the Tuam scandal.

However, she commended the independent work of Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, who appointed a team of international experts to investigate the burial site at the Tuam mother and baby home.

“The only real help, I must say, is Minister Katherine Zappone,” Corless said.

“She went out on her own and she decided that something had to be done for Tuam and fast. She’s the only politician who has come down to Tuam, she has been down twice.”

This summer, in its latest update in the Tuam investigation, the Department of Children said in a statement that it will be extremely difficult to identify the individual remains discovered at the Tuam mother and baby home.

It said that as the remains are intermingled with each other, it represents a “significant complication to individual identification”.

Catherine Corless is being presented with The Bar of Ireland’s Human Rights Award next Thursday in recognition of her “tireless work in relation to the Tuam mother and baby home”.

Read: Call for Tuam Town Hall to remove memorial to Irish Confederate major

More: The ‘mixing of remains’ will make it very difficult to identify babies at Tuam site

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