We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
mother-and-baby homes

Planning application denied for apartments on former Bessborough Mother and Baby Home site

Cork City Council admitted in June that it was unable to find the burial place of twin babies who apparently died in Bessborough.

LAST UPDATE | 22 Jan 2023

CORK CITY COUNCIL has denied an application to build two apartment buildings on the estate of a former Mother and Baby Home institution in Bessborough in Co Cork.

MWB Two Ltd had applied to build 90 units in two apartment buildings ranging in height from five to eight stories.

The rejected development would have included 43 one-bed units, 30 two-bed units, 18 three-bed units, a creche with capacity for 25 children, parking and bike storage.

The application to Cork City Council was received on 17 November last year and was denied on Friday but this decision was not announced until today.

Survivors rejoiced last year when the company’s plans for a fast-track strategic housing development (SHD) were rejected by An Bord Pleanala.

At an oral hearing in April 2021, MWB Two Ltd argued to An Bord Pleanala it was “highly unlikely” the site in question contained a burial ground.

bessb A render of the rejected development

In its decision, ABP said it was “not satisfied that the site was not previously used as, and does not contain, a children’s burial ground”.

Despite “very extensive inquiries and searches”, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was only able to establish the burial place of 64 children – meaning the burial place of 859 children is unknown.

The current state of the site was already highly controversial after Cork City Council admitted in June that it was unable to find the burial place of twin babies who apparently died in Bessborough. 

A CCC official checked the records of 13 graveyards within the local authority’s boundary after a councillor intervened on behalf of the twins’ sister.

MWB Two Ltd has stated that it intends to appeal the council’s decision to An Bord Pleanála.

A statement from the company read:

“This decision is regrettable and does not reflect the quality of the application for the proposed development, which has been meticulously planned and designed with a focus on social and affordable housing units, and which is also guided by the core principles of sustainability and accessibility.”

“The company notes that the refusal to grant planning permission is not related to the much-publicised legacy issues concerning Bessborough House.”


Carmel Cantwell, whose brother William was just a few weeks old when he died in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork in 1960, welcomed the decision but said that the delay in the council’s announcement had been highly stressful.

“I’m very happy it was refused, I was a bit worried there. I’m delighted that, for now anyway, that piece of land is left alone. Especially because it’s so near the folly area,” she told The Journal.

The folly is a historic stone structure at Bessborugh with a small garden used for  commemorations every year.  

“To think that apartments could overlook that area was worrying for us.”

“We know from witnesses that there were random burials throughout the grounds. So as far as I’m concerned, what’s left of the ground should be preserved in memory of the nearly 19,000 women and children that went through Bessborough, as well as for those that died,” Cantwell said.


“I wrote to Roderic O’Gorman to ask him to appoint a Director like they have in Tuam to investigate whether there is a mass burial at Bessborough and I was refused, there’s a Catch 22.”

Cantwell said that a Director can’t be appointed to investigate unless human remains are found.

“We know that there were burials in Bessborough but they won’t actually appoint a director to find the actual remains.”

“None of us getting any younger. I’m the daughter of a mother that was in Bessborough, my mother’s 80 and I’m nearly 60. They’re just dragging it out. We’ll all be gone and there’ll be no one left site,” she protested.

Last winter, The Journal launched a six-part documentary series about mother and baby homes, telling the stories of women and children who passed through the system.

Redacted Lives follows the experiences of mothers who ended up in institutions because they became pregnant outside marriage, as well as people born into the system.

If you missed it, you can catch up on all episodes here.