It all started with a memory, that of a bad trick played in the schoolyard. Catherine Corless, a stay-at-home mom who learns about local history in evening classes, decides to reflect on the past of the home for single mothers in her hometown, Tuam. She remembers the austere building, pale and skinny children isolated at the back of the classroom. And to have one day wrapped a pebble in candy wrap, to make one of these “illegitimate” believe that it was a candy.
→ READ. In Ireland, 9,000 children are said to have died in former homes for single mothers
This reminiscence taps her: what has become of toddlers? What about their mothers, “fallen women,” pursued by shame and rejection? What was their life like? In the city of 6,000 inhabitants, thirty kilometers from Galway, speaking is difficult. It is necessary “Leave the dead where they are”, they say, do not stir up the secrets of the past. The “Mother and Baby Home”, managed by the religious order of Bon Secours, closed a long time ago and a residential complex has appeared on the ground.
Septic tank filled with skeletons
In the 1970s, two children playing in the ruins came across an old septic tank filled with skeletons. “Deaths of Famine”, according to the authorities – because many did not survive this disaster in the region, dotted with commemorative monuments. Catherine Corless’s investigation will establish a completely different truth: by comparing the death registers, she identifies 796 children who died in the establishment, whose remains are buried in this mass grave.
→ THE FACTS. Catholic Church in charge after Irish single mother homes report
When she contacts the national newspaper Irish Times on Sunday, the Irish see ghosts from the past resurface. The international press and public opinion seized on the matter, forcing the government to establish an independent commission, in 2015. Because the children of Tuam are not alone: their brothers, sisters and cousins without fathers are born and died under similar conditions across the country.
An expected report
The survey covers 14 of these establishments for single mothers and 4 regional centers. It will take five years for the experts to assemble 3,000 pages of data and 1,000 pages of testimony, covering the period 1922-1998. Because the task is vast: through a meticulous work of historical comparison, it is a question of giving depth and complexity to the history of Irish women, ostracized from society for having been pregnant without being married.
Throughout the last century, the “Mother and Baby Homes” have served as a refuge for “dishonored” women, sent there by loved ones, fleeing shame and looking for a place to survive without money. The nuns offer them refuge, but separate them from their newborns. Educated separately, they will be sent to foster families or placed for forced adoption. The women work to reimburse the sisters, before leaving, most often alone. Those who “reoffend” and give birth to a second baby out of wedlock will end up in the Magdalene Laundries, (the laundries of the Madeleine Convent) kinds of prisons where women are exploited as free labor.
In all, 57,000 children and 56,000 mothers, the youngest of whom were barely 12 years old, pass between these walls where they are reserved, according to the report, “A particularly harsh treatment”, approved by the State and the Church which turn a blind eye to their living conditions. “In the years before 1960, homes for single mothers did not save the lives of illegitimate children” more “Significantly reduced their chances of survival”, continues the report. A quarter of babies die there, double the rates at the time.
→ ARCHIVE. Irish Church in the spotlight again
In the house of Bessborough (County Cork), the figures even go up to 75% for the year 1943. Lung infections, gastroenteritis, lack of hygiene, congenital malformations, overpopulation, “marasmus” (a severe form). child undernutrition)…. Several vaccine testing campaigns are even carried out on young residents, without “Consent of mothers” ni « respect for the ethical standards of the time ”. As for the accounts of mistreatment, they are legion.
The groups of survivors who have campaigned for the truth are the adoptees, the ‘illegitimate’ and the mothers who have passed through these centers against their will – men and women treated as’ second-class citizens »Who finally« the opportunity to be on the front of the stage “, According to Catherine Corless. They ask that the investigation finally re-establish the truth about their story, and that they be offered compensation. It is urgent, because this report could be the last of this scale. The public got bored, after five other resounding reports which revealed, one after the other, the dark side of Ireland of the XXe century: Ferns case on pedophilia in the Church in 2005, research on the Magdalene Laundries in 2013 …
Associations do not hesitate to talk about ” guilt “ rulers and a “Misogyny” generalized. But the State and the Church are blaming each other. According to the commission, the relatives of these singles would also have their share of responsibility. While Ireland wasn’t the only country to intern single mothers, it had one of the lowest rates of men admitting paternity.
“I apologize for the deep harm done to Irish mothers and their children who have found each other” in these establishments held by Catholic nuns and the State, reacted, Wednesday, July 13, Micheal Martin, the head of government before the Irish Parliament. “The state has let you down”, he added, referring to a ” dark, difficult and shameful chapter in recent Irish history “, in which “ an extraordinarily oppressive culture » a « treated women exceptionally badly ».
A desire for resolution
In Tuam, the sisters of the home for single mothers apologized for the ill-treatment suffered by the women. Treatments that “Have not lived up to our Christianity”, they specify. There remains the problem of the bodies, those of the fetuses, babies and children up to 3 years. Should we make the pit a memorial accessible to the public? Or, as Catherine Corless asks, bring out the bodies, identify them and offer them a real burial? “ The only thing that prevents a complete exhumation is money », Regrets the one we now describe as a “Tireless champion of dignity and truth”. Her search for the truth will not stop there: alongside other activists, she is firmly awaiting apologies from religious institutions.
Survivors’ hopes also remain: that of having access to their adoption files, of lifting their anonymity in order to find ancestors or children who have been taken from them. For many, yesterday’s revelations and speeches are too little and too late.
Five years of investigation
2015. Investigation into “Mother-child houses”.
January 12, 2021. Publication after five years of investigation of a 3,000-page report.
The investigation reveals 9,000 deaths, or 15% of the 57,000 children who passed through these establishments between 1922 and 1998.
Nearly 800 children born in one of these birth centers, the St Mary home of the Bon Secours sisters of Tuam, had been buried in a mass grave between 1925 and 1961.
In Ireland (Eire), according to the 2016 census, 78.3% of the inhabitants declare themselves Catholic and 9.8% have no religion. The remaining 11.9% are Protestants, Muslims, etc.
Ireland is the western country with the strongest religious practice (between 35 and 50% of regular practitioners), even if this rate has dropped significantly over the past twenty years (nearly 90% of practitioners until the 1980s).