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IRELAND'S PANDORA'S BOX: Mother & Baby Homes Scandal - Ireland

The Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home (also known as St Mary's Mother and Baby Home) operated between 1925 and 1961 in the town of Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. It was a maternity home for unmarried mothers and their children and run by the Bon Secours Sisters, a religious order of Catholic nuns, that also operated the Grove Hospital in Tuam. Unmarried pregnant women were sent to there to give birth and interned for a year doing unpaid work.

In 2012, the Health Service Executive (HSE) raised concerns that up to 1,000 children from the Home might have been sent to the United States for the purpose of illegal adoptions, without their mothers' consent. Subsequent research discovered files relating to a lower number of 36 illegal foreign adoptions from the home and concluded that allegations of foreign adoptions for money were "impossible to prove and impossible to disprove".

Local historian Catherine Corless published an article documenting the history of the home in 2012. The following year, she uncovered the names of the many children who died in the home from the Births & Deaths office.

In 2014, Anna Corrigan uncovered the inspection reports of the home, which noted that the most commonly recorded causes of death among the infants were congenital debilities, infectious diseases and malnutrition (including marasmus-related malnutrition). Corless' research led her to conclude that almost all had been buried in an unmarked and unregistered site at the Home, and the article claimed that there was a high death rate of residents. Corless estimated that nearly 800 children had died at the home.

The Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home was investigated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, a statutory commission of investigation under Judge Yvonne Murphy. Excavations carried out between November 2016 and February 2017, ordered by the Commission, found a significant quantity of human remains, aged from 35 foetal weeks to two to three years, interred in "a vault with twenty chambers". Carbon dating confirmed that the remains date from the time the home was operated by the Bon Secours order.

The Commission said that it was shocked by the discovery, and that it would continue its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way. Corless's original research noted that the site was also the location of a septic tank when overlaid with maps of the period of use as a workhouse.

The 2017 report by an Expert Technical Group, commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, confirmed that the vault was a sewage tank after reviewing historical records and conducting a magnetometer survey; it concluded, "The combination of an institutional boarding home and commingled interments of juvenile remains in a sewage treatment system is a unique situation, with no directly comparable domestic or international cases."

In October 2018, the Irish government announced that it would introduce legislation to facilitate a full excavation of the mass grave and site, and for forensic DNA testing to be carried out on the remains, at a cost estimated to be between €6 and €13 million. The Mother and Baby Home Commission finalised its report in 2020, and it was published in January 2021.

The Bon Secours Sisters issued an apology in the wake of the report's publication, stating "We did not live up to our Christianity when running the Home." In May 2023, a team of forensic investigators was tasked with exhuming, analysing and identifying the remains.

In 1975, two boys, ages 10 and 12, were playing at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home. They found a hole or chamber "filled to the brim" with children's skeletons underneath a concrete slab. The number of bodies was then unknown, but was assumed to be small. It was re-sealed shortly afterwards, following prayers at the site by a priest.

For the next 35 years the burial site was tended to by a local couple, who also built a small grotto there.

IRELAND'S PANDORA'S BOX - Mother & Baby Homes - is the account of its survivors, their families, and the unravelling of one of the Irish state and church's biggest scandals.


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