The discovery of “significant quantities” of human remains in County Galway comes as yet another horror of the saga of Ireland’s dark side. The mass grave, essentially in a sewage system, was uncovered following research by a local historian, Catherine Corless. The mass grave was described by the Commission as “a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers and appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water”. The rolling green fields and majestic mountain views hide a darker side to the emerald isles.
There is no denying that women’s rights are still struggling to be truly liberated on either side of the Irish border, with abortion illegal on both sides and the hold of the Catholic Church creating an enate mindset within its believers on the role of women. These events occurred only a few decades ago, well within living member of most of the population, and show the reach the church had into the private lives of Irish citizens. It’s even more as many of the mother-and-baby homes were funded by the state.
Within the twenty chambers uncovered during the investigation, human remains were uncovered in at least seventeen of them. At the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuman, Co. Galway, the remains of likely almost eight hundred infants have been discovered, aged from 35 foetal weeks and up to the age of 3 years old.
The infamous mother-and-baby homes were run by the Catholic Church across Ireland to house unmarried women during their pregnancies. Some children, an exact total unlikely to ever be unearthed, were sent across the water to the United States for adoption, usually without the consent of their mothers. The spotlight was shone on this issue in the oscar nominated movie, ‘Philomena’, based on the real life events of Philomena Lee, whose son was forcibly taken from her by the nuns at the convent that she had been sent to upon falling pregnant before he was sold for adoption in America.
The Chairperson of Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors warned on RTE that the remains found at this particular mother-and-baby home were simply “the tip of the iceberg”. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is not an isolated case or even one of a few. Katherine Zappone TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs released a statement on the discovery, stating that it was “very sad and disturbing news” but that “it was not unexpected”.
It is time for Ireland to face its demons of the past, review its treatment of women, and give the remains of the children discovered at Tuman the proper burial that the Christian faith demands.