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Redacted Lives: How boys robbing apples, and a local historian, uncovered a dark part of Irish history

The third episode of our new documentary series explores Tuam mother and baby home.

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THE THIRD EPISODE of Redacted Lives, a new six-part documentary series by The Journal about mother and baby homes, is out now.

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

Tens of thousands of pregnant women and girls were sent to mother and baby homes in Ireland throughout the 20th century. Their children were usually adopted or sent to industrial schools – often without their mother’s consent.

Mother and baby homes existed in many countries but the proportion of unmarried mothers sent to institutions here is believed to have been the highest in the world.

Many women have tried to find their children over the years, but to no avail. Adopted people also struggled to find their parents, or information about their early life.

These people were silenced for decades – and when the State finally said it would investigate the system via a Commission of Investigation, many survivors felt that their experiences were dismissed and disregarded.

But why was this Commission established in the first place? To understand that, we need to go to a small town in the west of Ireland.

Tuam

Episode three in the series – Tuam – is being released today.

In 1975, two children hiding after being caught robbing apples found a slab of concrete with a crack in it in a Co Galway town. They looked underneath and saw what appeared to be piles of tiny bones.

Decades later, their accidental discovery at the site of a former mother and baby home was researched by a woman named Catherine Corless for an assignment for a local history class.

IMG_7200 Catherine Corless pictured at the grotto at the site in Tuam Source: Órla Ryan

When she started researching deaths at the former institution 10 years ago, Corless had no idea of the chain of events she would set into motion.

Her tireless research uncovered the fact that hundreds of babies and young children were buried at the site. Her work eventually resulted in the establishment of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

In this episode, Corless recalls: “I had to find out first of all how many [children] died and I got that from the births, deaths and marriages registration office in Galway because they’re public records.

So I got the staggering number of 796 babies, children, that died in the home in Tuam. Babies up to three years or four years old, some of them a bit older, mainly up to one year and then a lot were two to three years old.

“I got the number and I said: ‘Where are all these babies?’ So again I was told: ‘They’re probably in a plot in the main Tuam graveyard’.

“But I said, ‘There’s no plaque or nothing’. And I was getting destroyed then, [people] said: ‘Ah, there are lots of babies buried [in various places] and no plaque or nothing on them. What are you on about?’”

A decade after Corless first published her research in a local history journal, the Commission of Investigation has been and gone – but the remains of these children are still buried.

Archaeologists who carried out a test excavation at the Tuam site in 2016 and 2017 previously said the measures put in place to protect the site and the remains were “not designed to last longer than six months”.

These temporary measures have now been in place for almost six years.

IMG_7245 The grotto at the site in Tuam where the remains were found Source: Órla Ryan

Legislation that will allow for the excavation of the site in Tuam finally passed through the Oireachtas earlier this year.

The Institutional Burials Bill means that remains at Tuam can be excavated, and DNA testing can be carried out in a bid to identify who was buried there. The remains will then be reinterred at a more appropriate site.

An independent office that will oversee the excavation in Tuam is due to be established in the coming months.

Recovering the remains buried in Tuam, and then trying to identify them, could take several years. And it may be impossible to identify some of the remains.

Survivors and relatives have also expressed concerns that other sites may not be excavated for several years, if ever.

Find out more in episode three.

Redacted Lives was created by the award-winning team of News Correspondent Órla Ryan, who has written extensively about mother and baby homes, producer Nicky Ryan, from the critically-acclaimed Stardust podcast, and executive producer Sinéad O’Carroll.

New episodes will be released every Thursday. Subscribe to the series wherever you get your podcasts.

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If you passed through a mother and baby home or another institution and want to share your story, you can contact us in confidence by emailing redactedlives@thejournal.ie.

Redacted Lives is presented by Órla Ryan and produced by Nicky Ryan. Sineád O’Carroll is the executive producer.

Daragh Brophy and Christine Bohan were production supervisors.

Taz Kelleher is our sound engineer, and design is by Lorcan O’Reilly.

With thanks to Laura Byrne, Susan Daly, Adrian Acosta, Carl Kinsella and Jonathan McCrea.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in these episodes, you can contact the Samaritans by calling 116 123.

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