Tuam is an idyllic town in Ireland. It is second-largest settlement in County Galway. Unfortunately since 2014 it has become know for all the wrong reasons.
The Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home (also known as St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home or simply The Home)that operated between 1925 and 1961 in Tuam. It was a maternity home for unmarried mothers and their children. The Home was run by the Bon Secours Sisters, a religious order of Catholic nuns, that also operated the Grove Hospital in the town. Unmarried pregnant women were sent to the Home to give birth.
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. One would expect this would have been investigated, but that was not the case.
Locals speculated that these were the remains of victims of the Great Famine, unbaptised babies,and/or stillborn babies from the Home. 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. The burial site was nothing more but a septic tank.
In 2012, local historian Catherine Corless published an article about the home in the annual Journal of the Old Tuam Society.
At that stage she did not have the names of all of the children who had died there. In 2013, Ann Glennon, a public servant at the Galway Health Service Executive registrar for births, deaths and marriages, at Corless’ request and expense, retrieved the names of the 796 children who had death certificates listing “The Tuam Home” or the “Tuam Children’s Home” as place of death. Most of the children were infants and had died at the Home during its years of operation (1925 – 1961).
In 2014 the story was brought to the attention of journalist Alison O’Reilly. Alison was a reporter for the Irish Mail on Sunday and was documenting the case of Bethany Mother and Child Home, when a woman, Anna Corrigan, read her articles and decided to contact Alison.
Anna Corrigan contacted Alison to tell her that her, Anna, two brothers were buried in a mass grave in Tuam in Co Galway. Two brothers she was not aware her mother had, she believed she was an only child. Her mother Bridget kept that secret for all her life. After that Alison got in contact with Catherine Corless, the story got international attention, even the New York times covered it. Alison also wrote a book about Anna Corrigan’s mother
Last week I interviewed Alison and asked her about the story of the Tuam mother and baby home and the Bafta winning documentary she was involved in about the home. I left the interview unedited, because I think it is important to get the story across with all the emotions that it brings up.
The children are still buried in that septic tank.