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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Media Frenzy

'These children need to be remembered': It's almost a year since the Tuam Babies controversy

Historian Catherine Corless and some mother and baby home survivors have been looking back at the time the story broke last year.

Niall Carson / PA Niall Carson / PA / PA

Updated at 4pm

WE ARE ALMOST one year on from the revelation that approximately 800 babies were buried in a mass grave at a mother and baby home in Tuam.

The story gripped the nation, and indeed the world, and forced the government into action.

Though an inquiry into the homes has been launched, survivors and those who have worked to highlight the scandal say it is important we do not forget the little babies who lost their lives, nor the women and children whose lives were ruined by their treatment.

In RTÉ’s ‘Would You Believe? The Tuam Babies’ last night, historian Catherine Corless, who first revealed details of the 800 babies, described being overwhelmed by a two-week “media frenzy” that has now died down.

Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

These children need to be remembered. An injustice has been done to them and this needs to be rectified.

The programme centred on two of the survivors, PJ Haverty and Anne Kelly Silke, who both spent a number of years in the home after their mothers gave birth to them there.

“I don’t forget them because I was there with them,” Haverty said of the babies who died at the home. He was one of the lucky children, fostered to parents who were kind and loving.


He said his mother spent 12 months with him in the home and was then forced to leave.

For seven years she tried to visit him at the home but was never allowed to see him.

It was hard on the poor woman. In her mind it was she was going to take me away from there and take care of me eventually.

Later in life, he was reunited with his biological mother and was able to share his life with her.

A painful experience

For Silke, the story was less happy. She went to several foster homes where she was completely exploited, working day and night like a servant. At 14 she was sent to a special school in Dublin and then to a Magdalene Laundry but she escaped and made a new life for herself.

She did meet her mother in England when she was 19 but she said it was too difficult for them both, too painful, and she hasn’t spoken to her since.

“A sadness”

Corless, who worked tirelessly to help survivors find out more about their past, said her motivation came from her own mother’s story.

She always “noticed a sadness” in her mother but it was only after she died that the historian discovered her mother had been an illegitimate child and had been fostered.

“She was carrying a bit of baggage with her, her childhood wouldn’t have been that happy.”

When she found the records of the homes and heard the stories of the women and children, she could not stay silent.

Those children were brought up to believe they weren’t worthwhile, that they didn’t have the same rights as everyone else.
Not many people seemed to care really.

The stories of the 800 babies, as well as the survivors of the homes, were still hitting home with a lot of people last night.

And last night there was massive praise for Corless, who is still working now with survivors to help them find out the truth about where they came from and to speak out after decades of silence:

Related: Mother and baby home survivor: My son is in his 42nd year – I might never get to hug him>

More: “It’s so important to get this inquiry right”>

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