Tuam babies

Reporting on the Tuam story has often been wild and sensational, and out of touch with known facts.
Brendan O’Neill, whose website describes himself as ““A Marxist proletarian firebrand.” (The Guardian)“, has a blog on the story of the misreporting at
The Tablet this week reports: “Fr Fintan Monaghan, spokesman and archivist for the diocese of Tuam said the diocese’s baptismal register showed that 2,005 children from St Mary’s mother and baby home had been baptised from 1937 to 1961.” Proportionately that would mean perhaps around 3000 children were baptised from the Tuam home 1924 – 1961. This, with the 796 recorded deaths, would indicate a mortality rate of about 20% overall. This would need to be related to the national infant mortality rates in those years, and to statistics in other countries.
It seems that mortality rates for what we used to call “illegitimate” children are generally higher in most if not all countries than for children whose parents are married, even today. The reasons for this are unclear. Possible causes may be that the mother did not approach a doctor as early; and the health of the mother may have been be below the average due to poverty in the case of mother and baby homes (better off families could make other arrangements). It would be relevant to know how the funding of the mother and baby homes compared to the funding of maternity hospitals at the time.
Stillbirths in Ireland were not registered until 1995, so a stillborn infant would have neither birth nor death certificate.
The burial of very young infants in the first half of the 20th century in Ireland was not as we do today. They were very often buried in mass graves, like the Holy Angels plot in Glasnevin where over 50,000 infants are buried, and there were no memorials with names. Only in the last 20 years or so has this plot been made more presentable. Poverty was also an important factor in providing a memorial stone on graves. A not uncommon custom was to put the body of a very young infant into the coffin with another burial taking place at the time, with no necessary family connection.
Adoption legislation in Ireland took effect in 1952. We hear stories of adoption of the child of a single mother, where the mother was under such pressure that there was not free consent. This was the case in many other countries as well. Until about the 1980s, adoption was “closed” – no information available which could facilitate later contact between the birth mother and the child. The USA had what is sometimes called the “Baby Scoop Era” (do an internet search).
The question of how to deal with illegitimate births was not just an Irish problem. Social engineering in the form of eugenics was in the fashion in a number of countries. Many European countries, and many states in the USA, had far more draconian measures: compulsory sterilisation of those considered unfit to be parents. In 1927 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr., Associate Justice of US Supreme Court, approved for the sterilisation of a young woman who had been raped: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Just recently, in May 2014, the California Senate passed Bill 1135 to prevent sterilisation of women prisoners in a coercive prison environment.
There are so many factors to be considered before we can come to a more complete understanding of the matter. Those who dealt with these matters in the past in Ireland faced situations which may be very difficult for us to envisage. The fact that we today may judge that some actions taken were not good does not mean that all those who made those decisions were bad people. We must also keep in mind our present-day situation, where the infant mortality rate for Traveller children is 3.5 times that of the general population, and where our provision for those seeking asylum in Ireland leaves so many in deplorable conditions.
Padraig McCarthy

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  1. Rory Connor says:

    Very calm measured response from Padraig McCarthy to another blood libel of a type with which we have become all too familiar in Ireland. He refers to (Marxist firebrand) Brendan O’Neill’s editorial in the Spiked-online website that exposes the lunacy of our latest witch-hunt. A few quotes from O’Neill’s article should be taken to heart before our journalists manage to consign their latest idiocy to the memory hole:
    ‘Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers’, declared the Washington Post. ‘800 skeletons of babies found inside tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers’, said the New York Daily News. ‘Galway historian finds 800 babies in septic tank grave’, said the Boston Globe. ‘The bodies of 800 babies were found in the septic tank of a former home for unwed mothers in Ireland’, cried Buzzfeed. Commentators angrily demanded answers from the Catholic Church. ‘Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves’, said a writer for the Guardian, telling no-doubt outraged readers that ‘the bodies of 796 children… have been found in a disused sewage tank in Tuam, County Galway’.
    The subtitle to O’Neill’s article is “The obsession with Ireland’s dark past has officially become unhinged”. Anybody who thinks he is exaggerating should read the article he refers to here
    A hysterical piece in the Irish Independent compared the Tuam home to the Nazi Holocaust, Rwanda and Srebrenica, saying that in all these settings people were killed ‘because they were scum’.”
    Now that this has been transformed into a general investigation of all Mother and Baby homes, the people responsible for the atrocity stories about the Bon Secour nuns in Tuam should not be allowed to fade into the background. They should be questioned about their allegations!

  2. Con Devree says:

    Fr McCarthy’s article is useful, original, and quite comprehensive. The article shows how historical analysis finds it difficult to deal with the complicated nature of past events characterised as they are by issues of motivation, conditions, and individual acumen.
    Writing can be fact-based, agenda based or opinion based. The Brendan O’Neill reference shows the superficiality that ensues when opinion or agenda are passed off as truth. Separating all three is difficult and requires considerable effort when writing Catholic articles. Fr McCarthy succeeds in trashing the assumption of misconduct on the part of many nuns involved in the mother and baby homes.
    Comparisons are sometimes useful but one has to be careful with them. They are not necessarily sources of consolation to either agent or client. Offences happen and open the spectre of the gaping “barn door.” Comparisons do not ameliorate pain or genuine regret.
    This leaves the question regarding what to do? Where is consolation to be found? For some it is vindication, by acknowledgement, by analysis of conditions or on receipt of financial recompense. In Ireland now there seems to be widespread support for suitable memorials for victims.
    These have some value but are limited in terms of healing.
    In his letter to Ireland Pope Benedict suggested something far more effective – prayer including Eucharistic adoration and penitential exercises on Fridays. These are aimed at evoking the healing power of God and at reconciliation and repentance. Whether one wishes to follow his precise suggestion or not, the Catholic approach he advocates is the best one.
    That’s in relation to past events. The “Prayer for Life” issued by the Irish Bishops prior to the abortion legislation (still recited daily in my church) offers a suggestion for the here and now. It contains the phrase “Grant that we may welcome every child as a unique and wonderful gift.” This accords totally with the spirit of Pope Francis. My parish priest in his homily this morning pointed out that, difficult as it may seem, each person is a sign of God’s love. This is a pointer in how to avoid “scandals” now and in the future.
    As Fr McCarthy points out this thought is still ignored. I think that people sometime in the future, generations yet unborn will ask of our legalised social policy practices, including abortion: “How could they?”

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    Padraig, I do admire your taking on this horrible story and with your usual attention to detail and the relevant statistics. The silence on our ACP site was truly deafening all week. While I accept that we do not know, as yet, the full story, this could yet be the greatest scandal of them all. Just when you think — hope –that the worst must surely be past us now and things cannot possibly get any worse, they actually could get much, much worse. Even if the story remains confined to Tuam and does not eventually include Cork, Tipperary and God knows where else.
    I cannot accept any attempt at justification or rationalization that is based on the premise that this kind of thing happened in other counties too — infact probably was much worse in other countries. Nor does the argument that society as a whole must accept the blame. To a large extent our society was unthinking and uneducated until Donagh O’Malley’s famous stroke of his ministerial pen. Our morals and attitudes were completely moulded by the institutional church and the blame must rest squarely with that institution.
    One thing that baffles and bothers me; how come those who were among the “educated” in our country , clergy and religious, seem to have been untouched — to a large extent — by the wonderful good news of the Gospel message of Christ?
    I read all the articles in last Sunday’s Sunday Independent on the this awful topic. I had to ask myself; how can we, as a church, ever hope to regain respect among the masses?

  4. Sean O'Conaill says:

    This concluding paragraph from Brendan O’Neill’s article in Spiked is worth quoting:
    “Was the Ireland of yesteryear a sometimes harsh and unpleasant place? Yes. Did the Catholic Church mistreat some of the women and children in its care? Undoubtedly. But the unhealthy obsession over the past 10 years with raking over Ireland’s past has little to do with confirming such facts and instead has become a kind of grotesque moral sport, providing kicks to the anti-Catholic brigade and fuel to the historical self-flagellation that now passes for public life in Ireland. There’s a terrible irony here: in desperately searching for demons that they can hate, in obsessing over evil and its capacity to destroy lives, in frequently substituting speculation for evidence, these history-combing Catholic-bashers employ the very same irrational tactics of demonology and mythmaking once beloved of Ireland’s old Catholic establishment.”
    History often seems to be process in which one set of brokers of honour and shame is replaced by another. The Irish ‘Catholic establishment’ of the 20th century (never exclusively clerical) has been displaced by a generally secularist and anti-Catholic establishment of the 21st, while the shamed pregnant single woman of the mother-and-baby homes is now replaced by the shamed cleric so often pilloried by the media establishment..
    However, we would do well to remember that this new establishment was mostly educated in Catholic schools. How come this historically and biblically pervasive dimension of social honour and shame was never identified by the Irish Catholic intelligentsia, and all social shaming ‘outed’ as unjust and self-serving by our Catholic educational system?
    In a recent interview in the Derry Journal, Bishop Donal McKeown identified ‘greed and snobbery’ as the human qualities he least admired. How come Irish snobbery is still never identified in Irish homilies as an indicator of the mortal sin of pride? How come social climbing has still not come under the church’s moral lens as the root of the corruption that led to the crash?
    And how come the crucifixion of Jesus is still framed primarily as the endurance of physical pain, rather than as an exposure of the injustice of social shaming? Had Ireland’s clergy been able to see this in the 20th century, how could the shaming of pregnant single women, and of their least fortunate children, have endured for so long?
    God’s compassion for the shamed woman is as obvious in the story of Susannah and the Elders in the Book of Daniel as it is in the story of the woman accused of adultery in the Gospel of John. So why was it that this never became a major theme of Catholic evangelisation in Ireland? Surely the male celibate monopoly of the pulpit and the homily – and the bishop’s chair – must be part of the explanation?

  5. John Loftus says:

    the facts will soon be known. stick up for your own ‘type’.

  6. Con Carroll says:

    Anyone outside the Dail, Wednesday evening 11 June, would have experienced the emotion and stress from people who gathered. These were women of the Magdalene laundries, women who were mothers in the mother and baby homes, also women who were daughters, men who were sons of mothers in the mother and baby homes.
    It has to be said again that these people have a right to justice, an end to the stress in their lives and to live in peace. Remember that there are people getting on as years roll on. Their health is another factor. It has to be said that anyone who has survived these institutions should contact qualified professional counselling services
    People who are looking to contact their families should contact Barnardos, Adoption Rights Alliance.
    For years certain people who had political power within the institutions of the Irish state, treated working class women with contempt. There were fire and damnation denunciations about the sins of the flesh from the pulpits of our churches. After all, these women were to be in the image of the Blessed Virgin, who was to be revered. These women were often referred to as brazen hussies who had fallen from grace.
    I was thinking, when was the last time in political history did we read from the media about the disappearance abduction of children from their families? From the junta governments of Argentina, El Salvador. Chile, Brazil.
    Let’s not forget the prophetic words of Pastor who was in the concentration camps.
 ‘first they came for the Jews, I didn’t speak out, then they came for the Communists, I didn’t speak out. Then they came for me. There was no one to speak out.

  7. Paddy, You read all the articles in the Sunday Independent (8 June) about this topic and you wonder how the Catholic Church can regain people’s respect. Does this mean you fully accept the truth of the article which Brendan O’Neill summarised as follows:
    A hysterical piece in the Irish Independent compared the Tuam home to the Nazi Holocaust, Rwanda and Srebrenica, saying that in all these settings people were killed ‘because they were scum’.”
    I take it you noticed that the Independent journalist specifically REJECTED the term “mass grave”, itself bad enough, and preferred to describe it as a “septic tank” and later as a “cess pit”? Did you also notice that in a separate article in the same newspaper the journalist wrote about the “800 bodies of children SAID to be found BY a septic tank run from 1925 to 1961 by the Good Shepherd Sisters”. [My emphasis and note that she also gets the name of the congregation wrong.]
    The second article was presumably written shortly after the first to reflect the fact that the atrocity story was falling apart with great speed. In the Irish Times on the previous day, local historian Catherine Corless said she never used the word “dumped” and never told anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. According to an article in the Sunday Times (Irish edition) by Justine McCarthy on 8 June “The location of the grave in Tuam has been widely reported as the site of a septic tank, but contemporaneous maps show it to have been a water tank”. In fact the whole issue of a “tank” – water or sewage – would appear to be irrelevant. It is clear from the Irish Times report that in 1975 two local boys lifted up a concrete slab and found bones underneath. “In his kitchen, Sweeney demonstrates the the size of the concrete flag as he recalls it; it’s an area little bigger than his coffee table, about 120cm long and 60cm wide.” And later in the article: Would [the tank] have taken up the entire space of what is now known as the unofficial graveyard for the babies who died at the home? “No” [Catherine Corless] says. “Maybe a third of the area.”
    The claim that Bon Secour nuns dumped the bodies of children in a septic tank is what caused this story to go viral world-wide and caused the Government to order an inquiry. What MAY have happened is that bodies were buried in the general area of what once was a water tank. But these bodies may well have been Famine victims from the previous century – which is what the Gardai appear to believe! (More on this later). It is grotesque for people to use this non-scandal as a means of expressing their hatred of the Catholic Church. It is also an insult to the dead – whether Famine victims OR children from the home.

  8. I wrote above: “What MAY have happened is that bodies were buried in the general area of what once was a water tank.” I just came across the following from a Daily Mail article on 2 June
    The babies were usually buried in a plain shroud without a coffin in a plot that had housed a WATER TANK attached to the workhouse that preceded the mother and child home. [My Emphasis]
    This ties in with the Sunday Times article on 8 June but the TITLE of the Daily Mail article is still “Mass Septic Tank Grave ‘containing the Skeletons of 800 Babies’ at site of Irish Home for Unmarried Mothers“. Our journalists appear to be amending their atrocity stories on the hoof!
    Of course I appreciate that local historian Catherine Corless is upset by the way she was misquoted by a hysterical mass media. However the article in the Irish Times on Saturday 7 June also had this curious paragraph:
    When Corless was researching the home she looked at old maps of Tuam. One was an 1840 Ordnance Survey map that shows the then workhouse. At the rear of the site is a space she believes to be the sewage tank for the workhouse, although it is not labelled as such. Later maps have “sewage tank” written in the same space. But there is confusion about what dates these maps relate to. One map Corless shows The Irish Times is dated 1892. It describes the building on the site as “Children’s Home”, but in 1892 the building was a workhouse. It did not become a home until 1925. Corless had not noticed this until her attention was drawn to it.
    It is extra-ordinary that she did not notice this discrepancy. The 1892 map is presumably that shown in Philip Boucher-Hayes blog here
    and HE doesn’t comment on the discrepancy either! He does quote a reply the Gardai sent him:
    Hello Philip.
    The grounds in Tuam were being surveyed in 2012 and bones were found, they are historical burials going back to Famine times, there is no suggestion of any impropriety and there is no Garda investigation. Also there is no confirmation from any source that there are between 750 and 800 bodies present.

    Boucher-Hayes goes on to state that The location of that site [of the Famine era bones] is about 100 yards away from the septic tank burial site. So the Gardaí are misinformed on this or have decided to find a reason not to investigate any closer.
    [My Emphasis: Perhaps the Gardai are afraid of a belt of the crozier?]
    In his latest post dated 12 June he does concede that at least one of the two plots possibly used by the Bon Secours nuns was not a septic tank as previously thought and also 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.
    Well now THAT is a great relief. The trouble is that the Government inquiry is set to include all Mother and Baby homes, plus issues about Adoption, Vaccinations etc. So are the people who published atrocity stories about the nuns dumping babies in septic tanks, going to be questioned about their allegations? I suspect that the Investigation Report will ignore all the OBVIOUS lies and accept as true any claim that the Bon Secour nuns cannot PROVE are false. Since all the Sisters who worked in the Tuam Home are now safely deceased, my fear is that they will be demonised by the same kind of people who published the “babies in the septic tank” atrocity stories.

  9. Paddy Ferry says:

    Rory, I have to say fair play to you, you have mounted a strong and well-researched defence and I sincerely hope you are right and this is just a sensationalist false alarm. I say that even though I feel Fr. Gerard Maloney’s reaction ( in the most recent article above ) to the “maybe” scandal is a better approach and one that I would empathise with more. However, you obviously feel strongly that the church is being unfairly treated. The article with the reference to “scum” may well have been the piece written by Gene Kerrigan. Now, I cannot check it because even in this high tech, digital age I receive my Sunday Independent on Tuesday and I pass it on to my Tipperary born mother in law on Friday. So, I don’t have it now. However, I have to say I greatly admire Gene Kerrigan. He is an excellent journalist as are many of his colleagues and he has been my first port of call when I get the paper and his analysis of, not just the church, but bankers and politicians as well, over the years has been excellent, in my opinion. I have just had a quick look at Sunday’s paper which came to-day and the piece by Eilis O’Hanlon on victimhood seems very reasonable and mature. And, Rory, you know as well as I do that young women who had a child outside marriage were looked upon as scum at home in Ireland and were frequently denounced as such from the altar. And, with all due respect to you, Rory, I feel we would do better to be exercised more by the terrible attitudes and treatment– definitely unchristian — young, unmarried women and their children received in our native land not so very long ago

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    The terrible treatment unmarried mothers received is quite a different thing from how mother-and-baby homes handled the great number of mothers and babies confided to their care by the state and by the families. In the case of the Tuam home it is quite possible that the Bon Secours nuns are guilty of no wrongdoing whatsoever. The dangerous overcrowding of the home was probably not their choice. The death rate was lower than in most such homes (about 20%, as opposed to 90% in some US homes). The babies were given respectful burial in a vault grave (coffins were purchased from a local dealer). Contrary to the Daily Mail (aka the Daily Insult, says Salman Rushdie), the children were properly baptised. Why were the children not buried in the Holy Angels plot in the nearby cemetery? Could it be that that the locals did not want their children’s bones mixed with those of the unwanted?
    As to the treatment of Irish unmarried mothers today, Fintan O’Toole has pointed to our huge abortion rates. As to non-Irish mothers and babies in Ireland, there are other questions to be asked.

  11. Des Gilroy says:

    Thanks to Padraig McCarthy for his balanced piece on the story emerging from the Tuam mother and baby home over the past fortnight. Regretably, too many commentors have gone overboard on this particular home and it is very hard for the public now to separate fact from exaggeration. A public enquiry has now been promised and the calls for its enlargement to take account of many other institutions makes one wonder whether this will ever get off the ground.
    In the meanwhile, it would be most helpful if commentators could just concentrate on the facts before coming to conclusions.
    So what are the facts as we know them? We know that it was taboo in our Irish society to have a child out of wedlock. This was not just a Catholic thing – it was the predominant view held by those of all religions and of none. Nor was it strcitly Irish – it was regarded as taboo in the UK and thoughout Europe. In such a climate, the pregnant girl was not welcome in her family and needed a refuge in which to have her baby.
    So the second fact we are aware of is that our Irish society left it to certain religious orders to take care of both mother and baby and keep them hidden from the neighbours.
    Fact number three is that these institutions were dangerously overcrowded and totally unsuitable for infection control at a time when various deadly diseases were rampant, resulting in a much higher death rate than existed among babies cared for in the isolation of their own homes.
    The fourth fact – these babies were overwhelmingly unwelcome in the single mother’s homeplace and needed to be fostered or adopted. There was no other place to go.
    The fifth fact is that many in the various orders of nuns, as was the case in the Christian Brothers, were totally unsuited to the religious life and to a caring vocation.
    We do not need a public enquiry to inform us of any of the above. However, there are important questions to be investigated. What medical expertise was available in these homes? What was the role of the Department of Health and what was the inspection regime? How were these homes financed? What contributions did the State pay for the upkeep of mother and baby? Why did so many babies appear to be malnourished? Why was the death rate so high? What adoption procedures were in place? If monies changed hands, was it used to keep the homes open or was it siphoned off for some other uses? What were the burial procedures and how did they differ at that time from those in place for babies who died in maternity hospitals or in their homes? There are probably some more questions but I think we have enough above to be getting on with.
    What is unhelpful at this moment is the media hysteria with the various commentators coming to their conclusions before the facts are known. We do know that shock horror stories sell newspapers and whip up tv and radio ratings but some of the comments made by people who should be more responsible have been very surprising. It was most disappointing, therefore, to hear one of our national treasures, Brian D’Arcy, referring to Tuam as “an atrocity” , “a serious crime” and finally referring to it “as shockable as something that happened in Germany in the war.” This latter comment has now been misrepresented in this weeks “Northside News” as Brian “ drawing parallels with Nazi Germany”. I am sure Brian never intended to equate the Bon Secours with the Nazis but it just shows how careful high profile leaders should be with their language.

  12. Eddie Finnegan says:

    As always, thanks to Pádraig McCarthy for attempting to place all this in the context of “not just an Irish problem” (his penultimate paragraph above). Thanks, too, to Des Gilroy@12 for his rational pursuit of “the facts”.
    Vincent Twomey SVD has an Opinion piece in this morning’s Irish Times which, I’m sure, deserves reproduction on this site: “Catholic Church should set up its own commission of investigation following mother and child home controversy.”
    His additional suggestion: “Government commission should be chaired by someone of evident distinction who is not Irish or of Irish extraction.”
    [I realise that an appearance by Vincent Twomey on the ACP website may be something of a culture shock for both parties 🙂 ]

  13. Gene Carr says:

    I think that Fr Twomey (todays Irish Times) is not correct in attributing a excessive moral rigourism and “distrust of the body” to the Counter-Reformation. Such new rigourism were more characteristic of the reformers–particularly Calvin, than they were of the Catholic Church of that period. Consider for instance the contrast with the Catholic Culture of the Baroque. As the Austrian thinker Erik von Kuehnely Leddhin has shown, in the transition from the Medieval to the Baroque, the Catholic World View evolved from a closed circle to an eliptic form–from the Glory of God alone to the Glory of God and the Glory of Man (since man is made in God’s image). The key to understanding the Reformation is its rejection of this Christian humanism. Kuehnelt Leddhin contrasts the Catholic Baroque world view with that of Protestant rigourism by comparing two paintings. Representing the reformed view is Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Here were see a farmer and his wife, he holding a painfully pointed pike. He is painfully thin and emaciated looking and she is prim. The picture is profoundly anti-Erotic. Behind them is a wooden Gothic church illustrating that the Reformers never really thought their way out of the Middle Ages. Representing the Catholic humanistic view is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. The painting follows a pagan pattern, but the discerning eye will see that it is a Christian Venus–the representation is a perfect synthesis of Agape and Eros. When we explore all these contracts it is not surprising that all the great humanists of that age rallied to the Catholic Church. Now Kuehnelt’s Leddhin’s make a strong point that the fact that Ireland never went though such a development is of paramount importance in understanding its Catholicism and thence Catholicism in the English speaking world. It is the reason why we never associate the word Puritanism with the Catholic cultures of the Continent, and probably one of the reasons we do not find institutions similar to the Magdalene or Mother and Baby homes.

  14. There are interesting articles in (the Jesuit) America magazine and in Forbes magazine by Kevin Clarke and Eamonn Fingleton respectively regarding this fake scandal. I see that these critical commentators have succeeded in extracting apologies (or “clarifications”) for some of the most disgusting allegations – or at any rate for such allegations that can be readily disproved. This is Kevin Clarke in his Second and Third third articles on the subject:
    “Babies born inside the institutions were denied baptism and, if they died from the illness and disease rife in such facilities, also denied a Christian burial.”
    It is a sentence, unattributed to any source, which repeats—either word for word or in a close approximation—in HUNDREDS [my emphasis] of articles concerning the now infamous deaths and burials of hundreds of children in Tuam, Galway between 1925 and 1961. This appalling sacramental indifference is referenced in major U.S. and U.K. publications and cited in leading online opinion journals like Salon as more evidence of the cruelty of the Bon Secours sisters who ran the home and the Catholic Church in Ireland in general.

    After our June 18 report on baptismal certificates recorded in Tuam, I queried the Associated Press regarding their stories on the Tuam Mothers and Babies Home.
    Today AP issued the following correction:
    Ireland-Children’s Mass Graves story
    DUBLIN (AP) — In stories published June 3 and June 8 about young children buried in unmarked graves after dying at a former Irish orphanage for the children of unwed mothers, The Associated Press incorrectly reported that the children had not received Roman Catholic baptisms; documents show that many children at the orphanage were baptized. The AP also incorrectly reported that Catholic teaching at the time was to deny baptism and Christian burial to the children of unwed mothers; although that may have occurred in practice at times it was not church teaching. In addition, in the June 3 story, the AP quoted a researcher who said she believed that most of the remains of children who died there were interred in a disused septic tank; the researcher has since clarified that without excavation and forensic analysis it is impossible to know how many sets of remains the tank contains, if any. The June 3 story also contained an incorrect reference to the year that the orphanage opened; it was 1925, not 1926.

    It is interesting that Forbes the famous business magazine, which has NO connection with the Church, has published two highly skeptical articles about this witch-hunt. The second one by Eamonn Fingleton is here:
    I recall that several years ago, Forbes published a long and highly sarcastic article about people making child abuse compensation claims based on decades old “memories” which they had suddenly “recovered”. In that case, I believe that Forbes were worried about the implications for the American Insurance industry but that issue hardly arises here! However it may be worth recalling that journalists on the Wall Street Journal were instrumental in discrediting the Satanic Ritual Abuse craze in the 1990s. Evidently, BUSINESS journalists are less likely to believe in witches and witch-hunts!

  15. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    An interesting snippet from the Enda Kenny interview with Gay Byrne (22 June), “The Meaning of Life”. The Taoiseach’s mother gave birth to triplets who died: two died before she returned home, and one a few days later. These were buried (in two different locations), and it appears that they were laid to rest in unmarked graves. This was just how this was normally dealt with at the time. It was not a matter of poverty or neglect. The father of the children was a prominent GAA player, and the mother had worked for Fianna Fáil and RTÉ.
    Memorials were erected just a few years before the death of the Taoiseach’s mother in 2011.

  16. Rory Connor says:

    As this particular discussion seems to be coming to an end, maybe it’s time to put it into perspective. The following is based on comments I made to an article in The New Republic by Jason Walsh:
    (Incidentally it’s remarkable how SOME secular and Marxist style publications have denounced the atrocity stories while our senior clerics grovel before the accusers)
    This fake atrocity story is the latest in a series of grotesque claims that began in 1997 with a claim that a Sister of Mercy had murdered a baby girl by burning holes in the baby’s legs with a red hot poker. However at least that baby existed and actually died. This claim was followed by a long series of similar blood libels against the Christian Brothers – some of which related to periods when no boy died of ANY cause. Accordingly I coined the phrases “Murder of the Undead” and “Victimless Murders” – try Googling these. …….. the Blood Libels were published/broadcast by our “intellectual” Irish Times, our best-selling Irish Independent, the state broadcasting company RTE and the independent broadcaster TV3.
    …… for those who want to sample Ireland’s history of hysterical allegations against Catholic religious see
    Letter to Sunday Tribune re Child-Killing Allegations
    where I attempted to give a summary of the child-killing claims up to 2006.(There have been more since then).
    At the time I actually forgot the one about the murderous nun with the hot poker but you can find the story here:
    Note the title of the UK Mirror article
    How did I manage to forget this when I was doing my summary article in 2006? Because the torrent of lunatic claims is so huge that it overwhelms you. The “babies bodies in a septic tank” is just the latest in a long and demented series!

  17. Paddy Ferry says:

    This is definitely my last word on this topic — I am not even sure what is the main issue we are discussing now. It may be — sensationalist and inaccurate reporting aimed at damaging the Catholic Church in Ireland. That would not be my take on this, Rory. It would be hard to make some of these stories more sensational than they already are. However, my main reason for responding to you is because I am puzzled as to why you gave us the link to the piece in the Mirror concerning the treatment of Christine Buckley and the child, Marion Howe in Goldenbridge. You are surely not calling into question the harrowing accounts that Christine gave of the treatment she and others were subjected to. I did not see the original interview when Christine Buckley appeared on the “Late Late” nor did I see the subsequent documentary. However, when she passed away earlier this year, I read quite a bit about Christine who was obviously an incredible woman who had the courage to speak out not just for herself but for all the others who experienced similar brutality in Goldenbridge.
    However, when I read or hear the word “Goldenbridge”I do not think immediately of Christine but of the little child, Marion, who, sadly, did not live to tell her story.
    Rory, I would not trust British tabloidism either but I would trust –yes indeed — the Sunday Independent, and it was in the Sunday Inde that I first read about Marion Howe. It is some years since I first read the story and my memory of some of the details may be a bit hazy. At the time it made a major impact on me. As I remember it, Marion’s Dad had gone to England to look for work and a short time later her Mum became ill. There were four children at that stage and they were all taken into care,– Marion to Goldenbridge. Sometime later she died. Her father came home and saw Marion in the mortuary and saw evidence of injury/wounding to the child’s leg. He subsequently made a request to see the death certificate which had mysteriously disappeared. He then went to the Gaurds and the Guard he spoke to told him he would be as well forgetting all about it. As far as I can remember, the family took no further action at that time.If anyone feels that any of this is not accurate then I stand to be corrected.
    Rory, I have to say to you that defending the indefensible does not do our Church any favours nor does it bring any credit on ourselves. I am as concerned as anybody about the damage that has been inflicted — self-inflicted – on our Church and I am equally concerned about our prospects of regaining some respect and credibility. However, I would respectfully suggest that we would be better employed focusing on the ill-treatment and brutality inflicted on the weakest and poorest in our country by those who should have been influenced more by the Gospel of justice and love rather than continually fussing about the reporting of the atrocities, sensationalist or otherwise.

  18. Paddy,
    One major reason I mentioned the 1997 “Hot Poker Was Used On Little Marion” atrocity story is that it bears some resemblance to the stories being published and broadcast about the Bon Secour nuns in Tuam e.g. claims that they allowed children to starve to death, buried the bodies in a septic tank and that the Church refused to baptise the children of unmarried mothers. For example today’s Sunday World has a story subtitled “Councillor Seeking Justice For ‘Murder’ of Babies” about People Before Profit councillor Deirdre Wadding. The following is an extract:
    Deirdre said that what was happening to single mothers in Ireland even in the 1980s was a form of “torture”. “In later years, there was brutality, what you would call torture,” she said, describing the babies bodies found in the septic tank in Tuam as “nothing short of murder”. “Children seem to have been allowed to die. No doubt the cracks will uncover as time goes on and we can be sure if it happened in Tuam it happened elsewhere. We have to seek justice. Somebody has to be responsible for this. ……If that means individuals being brought to court, jail sentences, whatever it means, we cannot hold back”.
    Another woman describes a “sinister scene” in the Good Shepherd convent in New Ross in 1964.
    I saw a baby in a nun’s arms and blood dripping along the floor. I saw another nun standing with a shovel in her hand. I was a 12 year old. I knew they were going out to do something, or dig a hole for that child but nobody would listen to me.”
    This is very much in line with the “Hot Poker was Used on Little Marion Story”. I don’t know the Sunday Independent article you refer to, but the allegation was dealt with in an article in the Sunday Times (Irish Edition) on 28 April 1996 – article entitled
    “Medical View ‘Inconsistent’ with Goldenbridge Abuse”
    ……. One of the more chilling allegations to surface was that an 11-month-old baby died four days after she was put into Goldenbridge. When the infant’s father, Myles Howe. returned from England and went to St Ultan’s hospital, he was told by a nurse that his baby had burns on her knees but the staff had got her too late to save her. The postmortem said the child died of dysentery.
    The Howes have never been satisfied by the official response.
    [Doctor] Prendiville [1] recalls that St Ultan’s was established largely for dealing with bowel complaints such as dysentery or gastroenteritis, a common illness among children which at that time could reach epidemic proportions in Dublin. He speculated that Marian Howe was more than likely admitted to St Ultan’s with a bowel complaint. “I wouldn’t say that burns of that size on a child’s legs would have been the cause of death. They didn’t treat burns in St Ultan’s. If the baby died from a burn, there would have to be an inquest. But failure to communicate information is a defect in many hospitals,” he said.
    But if the burns were not the cause of Marian’s death, asks Howe, why was he told by Xavieria that it was an “accident” and not dysentery that killed his child? Why, on his arrival at St Ultan’s to see his dead child, did a nurse indicate to him that his daughter had died of burns? And why could nobody explain to him the large burn marks on the sides of her knees?
    The outrage that followed the Prime Time programme was directed as much at Xavieria’s denials of abuse as at an apparently “soft” line of questioning. The allegation that a baby in her charge died of burns was not put to her on the programme. The reason was that after researching the allegation, the Prime Time team could find no evidence to support it. according to an RTE source. The reporter did ask Xavieria about the incident, he said, but her response was edited out of the programme.
    [Emphasis is mine]
    1] Doctor J. B. Prendiville was a senior surgeon who worked at the hospital where children from Goldenbridge were treated during the 1950s.
    It wasn’t only Prime Time that failed to find any evidence to support the allegation – neither did the Gardai. This is despite the fact that the original “Dear Daughter” documentary contained allegations that could easily be checked even decades later.
    In the words of Irish Times journalist Eddie Holt (writing on 24 February 1996) “Christine Buckley was once beaten so badly by the unidentified Sister Sadist of the Shining Stick that she had to get about 100 stitches in her leg. On another occasion, perhaps too tired from walking up a flight of stairs, Stick just poured a kettle of boiling water over 10 year old Christine’s right thigh”.
    Perhaps the Gardai did not investigate because they were afraid of a belt of the crozier? The child-killing and related allegations were also omitted from the Ryan Report published in 2009. Was Judge Ryan also afraid of the Bishops?
    It is very important that the forthcoming investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes DOES produce a Report that deals with the allegations that have been made, especially the ones that can actually be proved/disproved even decades later e.g. child-killing and burials in a septic tank.

  19. Joe O'Leary says:

    Paddy Ferry, in the Tuam Babies scandal what “atrocities” were committed? The state authorities seem to have been well aware of mortality rates in these homes (more than matched in other countries) and vault burial of children must also have been known.

  20. Joe O'Leary says:

    In the case of the baby Marion Howe it is not clear that an “atrocity” occurred either:
    “In a statement read to the court yesterday, the Sisters of Mercy said: “We, the Sisters of Mercy, accept that Marion had a burn to her leg at the time of her death and died of acute dysentery infection. We have been unable to establish how this burn occurred.”
    “The statement continued: “We, the Sisters of Mercy, wish to express our deep sorrow to Myles and Christina Howe for the anguish and distress they experienced on and since the death of their baby daughter, Marion, while in our care in May 1955.”
    “”We also wish to express our sorrow and regret if there was any lack of courtesy and compassion at that time,” it added.”

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