Catherine Corless is an Irish historian. She is known for her work on
investigating the deaths of children at Bon Secours Mother and Baby
Home in Tuam, Co Galway. She received a People of the Year award
in 2018 in recognition of her work as well as the Bar of Human Rights
Award. This award is presented to a person or organisation who has
shown exceptional humanitarian service. She has been called ‘a
tireless crusader of dignity and truth’ by the Taoiseach Micheál
Martin.
This piece contains challenging material that some may find
confronting. Please practice self care before, during or after as
necessary.

The Mother & Baby Home in Tuam opened its doors in 1925 to receive
pregnant unmarried mothers, and with the invitation of the State, the
Religious Sisters of Bon Secours arrived to oversee and run this Home.
The State had arranged that the Sisters would be paid per head of each
mother & child who passed through the Home, and the Galway County
Council who owned the 7-acre site on which the Home was built, had
agreed to give maintenance grants whenever requested. The Tuam
Home differed in this respect from the other Homes throughout Ireland,
where the religious would have owned both the buildings and
surrounding ground.
One would have thought that this was a perfect arrangement at the time,
to have a nursing congregation of nuns onsite, with midwife skills, a
steady income of support, and a County Council on hand for practical
maintenance. Perhaps this is what was perceived outside of the 10ft
high walls that surrounded and enclosed the Home, but what I
discovered through intensive research on this Home told a very
different story.

I started my research into this Home back in 2011 at the request of the
Editor of the local Tuam Historical Annual (JOTS), as I had already
contributed a historical chapter for another local history book on the
19th century English landlords in our area. This time I expected to
follow the same format, a history of the Bon Secours and their work in
Tuam, perhaps as before to find an abundance of literature and records
in our local library of the Home itself. It was the absence of any records
either in the library, or Galway County Council offices that aroused
my curiosity. I did happen to find just one source of information, a
Thesis by a University student on the Home, and what I read astounded
me, something I never knew. The student wrote about the heartbreak
of mothers having to leave their babies behind in the Home after
spending a year there to pay for their confinement. This revelation was
the catalyst that spurred me in a totally different direction of research.
As there didn’t seem to be any paper trail, the next option was to contact
the authorities who had any connection with the Home. i.e.. The present
Order of the Bon Secours Sisters, Galway County Council, the Church,
the Health Board, local Town Council, Business in Tuam who had
benefited from the Home, and of course the local town’s people.
Realising that the Home had closed since 1961, and the building itself
now razed to the ground and the Dublin road Co.Council housing estate
now occupying the site, I had expected some lapse of memory, but what
I didn’t expect was a blank denial all round. Of course, this only
aroused my curiosity a few more decibels, and I began to rely on some
very helpful locals who had remembered the Home babies as emaciated
sickly children who attended the main schools up to their first Holy
Communion, and then just disappeared. Further research explained
that these girls and boys were either fostered or farmed out from about
the age of 4 to 8. The biggest revelation was yet to come.
Again in speaking to the Tuam cemetery caretaker, he brought me
across the Athenry road to a corner of the open space that was left
behind the housing estate, untouched, to a walled off area and explained
that in 1975 as the last of the houses was being built, two young boys

came across a type of tank with a cracked concrete lid, which they duly
lifted and found within many little skulls and skeletal remains of
babies. All Authorities were informed of this at the time, but nothing
came of it, except that children were warned not to go near this area
ever again. The Galway County Council took action, two foot or so of
clay covered the tank site, a wall went up, and that was the end of it. Or
so they thought! Fast forward now to March 5th 2017 after many years
of further intense research, I got early news of an imminent
announcement from our then Minister for Children, Katherine
Zappone. At 11am that morning on the RTE Radio 1 News came her
words:
“Significant quantities” of human remains have been discovered at the
site of the former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway. It
comes after the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation
began test excavations at the site of the children’s burial ground on the
Dublin Road housing estate in Tuam, Co Galway in October 2016.The
commission was established following allegations about the deaths of
800 babies in Tuam over a number of decades and the manner in which
they were buried. In a statement today, the commission said significant
quantities of human remains have been discovered in at least 17 of the
20 underground chambers which were examined earlier this year. It

added: “These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-
death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to two-three

years.”The mother-and-baby home operated from 1925 to 1961; a
number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s, the
commission said. Further scientific tests are being conducted.
“Up to now we had rumors. Now we have confirmation that the remains
are there, and that they date back to the time of the mother-and-baby
home, which operated in Tuam from 1925 to 1961,” Minister Zappone
added.”
Both my husband Aidan and I breathed a sigh of relief that morning,
especially Aidan for he had been uneasy over the past years because of
what my research was showing up, because I was taking on both
Church and State, who had been in denial of what I was disclosing, but

I knew what my research was telling me, and I knew in my heart that I
must continue to be a voice for those innocent babies who didn’t have
a voice. I was frowned on by many, declared a liar, a church hater, a
lover of the limelight, but I chose to ignore those comments because I
had the facts. From early 20th century maps I had discovered that
where the boys found the babies remains was in fact an old sewage tank
complete with many chambers which had openings to separate effluent
and water. I also discovered from newspaper articles that in the late
1930’s this sewage system became defunct and it seems that the nuns
decided that as these babies were illegitimate, they were unworthy of a
dignified Christian burial, even though they were in fact all baptized. I
had found records of Inspectors reports from the Tuam Home
indicating malnutrition, swollen bellies, emaciation, sores, weak and
sickly babies. Local people would have heard children screaming from
beatings, stories of heartbroken mothers having no choice but to leave
their babies behind because they were seen as unfit
mothers. Unmarried mothers were branded by a sex obsessed Church
as henious sinners (the man’s act was never considered somehow) and
this violation of women continued right into 1980’s Catholic Ireland.
And now to go forward to the present day, another announcement came
from our new Minister for Children, Roderic O’Gorman on Tuesday
February 2022, that the long awaited Burials Bill was finally published,
which would give way to further excavation at the Tuam site, complete
with exhumation of the babies with DNA forensic testing, DNA
samples will be taken from prospective relatives and matched with the
babies and lastly those babies will be given a dignified Christian burial
with a white coffin which was denied them at death.
An apology has come from the State, Church and the Bon Secours
Sisters to all the Survivors of those Mother & Baby Homes throughout
Ireland. This was welcome, but it has to be followed by action. I am
grateful that I have managed to open doors for so many Survivors of
those Institutions in that presently another Bill is to be passed, that is
the Adoption Bill which will allow Survivors full access to their files,
for there are still many out there who do not know their true

identity. Also, there will be redress in the form of an agreed sum of
money, free counselling and a medical card.
My free time now is spent on researching, tracing family for those who
simply do not know who they are, which I do voluntarily.

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