The Irish government has made an unsettling discovery in a former home for unwed mothers in Tuam, County Galway. After much speculation, the remains of 796 babies and fetuses were discovered in underground chambers under the former orphanage's sewage system.
A Shocking Discovery: The First Burial Site
There were already many rumors surrounding the old orphanage ran by the Bons Secours sisters from 1925 to 1961, but the story that sparked outrage against St. Mary's or the "Home" for unwed mothers and their children was an article published by local historian Catherine Corless in May 2014.
In her story, Corless claimed that there were about 800 children's remains buried in the old orphanage's septic tank. People were quick to pressure the government to begin an inquiry based on the study.
The government was appalled at Corless's findings and promised that a full investigation would be launched to find out the truth.
A public relations representative for the Bons Secours sisters denied that a mass grave existed in the old orphanage and insisted the sisters knew nothing about it when the first site was found in the winter of 2014.
A Harrowing Follow-Up: A Second Burial Site
To discover the whole truth, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation launched a probe on other unwed mother and baby homes, but concerned citizens never stopped pulling them back to St. Mary's. In response, the commission scheduled test excavations at the site again. The first one was a five-week excavation from October to November 2016, and a second excavation was arranged from January to February 2017, which yielded distressing results.
Minister Katherine Zappone from the Ministry for Children and Youth Affairs came forward on March 3 and finally announced the commission's findings, and they aligned with Corless's claims.
"It was not unexpected as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years. 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 said.
Further scientific tests need to be done to identify the remains, but radiocarbon dating confirms that they were buried during the time St. Mary's was operational and that the remains had a time-of-death age ranging from 35 fetal weeks to 3 years old.
What Happens Now
The commission is pursuing investigations to find out who was responsible for the inappropriate treatment of the remains and the unmarked graves, and will continue its attempts to identify the remains.