Tuam: New understanding

I’ve pulled in on the road back from Tuam in response to demand for a blog from those who missed this evening’s report on Drivetime.

That report (which I can’t podcast just yet) revealed new evidence that has emerged in Tuam about the nature of the burial sites in the grounds of the old Mother and Baby Home.

The most significant aspect to which is that at least one of the two plots possibly used by the Bon Secours nuns was not a septic tank as previously thought.

A woman has come forward who has related to me a credible first hand account of falling into a burial plot at the rear of the home in in the mid 70’s where she discovered a large amount of infant remains wrapped in swaddling.

Her interview suggests that one of the two spots where baby and child remains were placed could not have been a septic tank.

The Mail on Sunday has identified two sites side by side each other in its radar survey. Frannie Hopkins and Barry Sweeney discovered one as boys in 1975. The Mail called it Plot B.

Plot A is the square shaped one Mary Moriarty says she fell into in the 1970’s when the ground subsided. A child was found playing with a baby’s skull and when Mary and neighbours investigated she discovered a large underground space with shelves from floor to ceiling stacked with infant bodies. She says she saw in excess of 100 tiny figures swaddled and guessed from the size they were newborn or stillborn.

Subsequently she talked to a woman called Julia Devaney who had been a resident of the home and later an employee. By then in her late seventies she told Mary how she had assisted the nuns carrying dead babies along a tunnel running from the back of the home to this vault.

Now obviously it will take excavation to confirm any of this but her description of the space and the possible existence of a tunnel used to access this burial plot would suggest that plot A (whatever of Plot B) at least was not a septic tank.

Albeit untested and unproven this is significant anecdotal evidence from within the home that the nuns were burying children in these sites. That a skull was found with teeth suggests not all were stillborn.

It also raises more questions – why weren’t the nuns using the cemetery just on the other side of the road? Even if these were unbaptised remains there was an angels plot in that graveyard so it is perplexing why they wouldn’t have used it.

But it is yet more evidence that these remains were from the mid twentieth century and not from the famine era.

It still doesnt explain why so many died in Tuam and where they are buried.

But the most significant aspect to this information is this – whatever cruelties you could lay at the nuns feet, however harsh or medically incompetent the regime they ran was, it was always hard to believe that they would have knowingly put babies in a septic tank. Because there may have been a tunnel running up and into this vault/crypt/space – this one at least is highly unlikely to have been a septic tank.

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The tireless Catherine Corless has found documentary evidence proving the existence of a tunnel (WWII era proposals to use them as air raid shelters) and Frannie Hopkins has clear memories of playing in a tunnel as a child but not one that extended as far as the burial sites. So there is limited corroboration for Julia Devaney’s posthumous testimony but Alison O’Reilly of The Mail on Sunday tells me their GPR Survey showed no tunnel.

The other burial plot we cant say that of yet because the plans do indicate the presence of a tank in the vicinity.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Tuam: New understanding

  1. Toni Maguire

    Didn’t I warn you, this site gets more
    complex by the day, just let it unfold.

  2. Pingback: Mass unmarked grave in Tuam for 800 babies - Page 623

  3. Why did not the nuns inter the dead children in the nearby graveyard, in the angels’ plot if necessary?

    It seems to me most likely that it was financial considerations. It is widely recorded that County/City councils and ratepayers all over the country resented the fees payable to the mother and baby homes simply to put bread in the “inmates” mouths and clothing on their backs. How much more of an uproar would have ensued in the council chambers if large bills were coming in for burial costs? Crypts and charnel houses are rare in Ireland, but not unknown.

    Like you, I have had difficulty believing that babies were unceremoniously dumped in a disused septic tank, but now that that genie is out of the bottle, it will be impossible to eradicate the image of the septic tank from the public discourse, should the evidence disprove the “tank theory.” I suspect that the awful pain of women who delivered in Tuam has been grievously increased by wild speculation.

    An enquiry is needed as a matter of urgency. (Not to mention a memorial and a commitment to decently commemorate and, if necessary, re-inter the remains of the other mass graves which will undoubtedly come to light in the other homes.)

    http://orlamcalindenwrites.wordpress.com

    • LittleBat

      Angel’s Plots would not have existed at that time – they are post-1970s thing.

      • You’re right of course, Little Bat, that there would not have been an angels plot at that time, when the concept of Limbo was still in full force. I should have used quotes instead of lazily paraphrasing Philip’s question; it is he who mentions the Angel’s plot.

  4. Pingback: Lessons from Tuam: an essay | The Catechesis of Caroline

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