In Ireland, efforts have begun to raise money in order to erect a memorial at a large unmarked grave which is believed to hold close to 800 babies. The location was discovered at what was once a Galway, Ireland Catholic home for unmarried mothers. It was open from the middle 1920’s until the early 1960’s. Catherine Corless, who works as a genealogist and Irish historian, was researching the home when she found death records for nearly 800 children, ranging from newborns to children up to the age of four or five.
This may have started a brand new scandal to hit the Catholic Church, which is an establishment whose reputation in Ireland and also other places is basically in somewhat of a scrap because of the massive child sex-abuse disgrace and the succeeding cover-up.
The bones themselves were first found by two boys who were on the grounds playing. They went to the police who investigated and it was discovered all the skeleton parts turned out to be human and were believed to be all of what was left of the children in the institution. It was locally referred to as “the Home,” and was infamously run by nuns from the Bon Secours order. The deaths happened over a period of nearly 40 years, from 1925 to 1961, which was the year the Home was finally closed up.
There are not death certificates for all of the children, which is why the police began their investigation in the first place. Instead of death records, there are registers and ledgers filled with various causes of death such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, malnutrition, convulsions, measles and gastroenteritis
The unwed mothers and children had to live in congested and at times filthy conditions. It is believed that the death rate of children at the Home might have been as great as fifty percent, a number that has also been seen in other Catholic institutions all around the world which supposed took “good” care of the young pregnant women.
Irish statistics show that one quarter of all the babies that were born outside of marriage during the 1930’s in Ireland passed away before they reached their first birthdays. These high death rates were equal to infants dying back in the 17th century. Many who stayed at the Home died due to not having the proper nutrition or getting correct medical care.
A health board inspection report that was taken in April of 1934 recorded nearly 270 children and just over 60 single mothers living in residence. That was a total of just over 330 women and kids having to stay in a building that only had the official space for 240. It described the children as looking very fragile and emaciated and they had flesh hanging on their arms and legs. The report also took note of 30 babies located in a sun room who did not appear to be “thriving.” The effects of long term mistreatment and malnourishment were observed over and over.
Because there was simply no way that the birth mothers could keep their babies, such shame was far too devastating at that time in history, and the women ended up losing any future claim to them. They were punished by working without any sort of wages for two or three years to “atone for their sins.”
In the few remaining black and white photographs that were taken at the Home, there are almost no children smiling. Instead they just frown straight at the camera, their stares signifying the awful conditions in which they dwell.
Ms. Corless wants to put up the memorial bronze plaque and have it inscribed with all the names of the children who died at the Home, the 800 babies who may have been forgotten both in life and death until now.
By Kimberly Ruble