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Conscience Magazine

Grave Uncovered at Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Ireland

April 19, 2017

An unmarked grave containing the remains of close to 800 children on the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Ireland, has been confirmed. Ranging in age from 35 weeks in vitro to three years, the remains were unearthed in a 20-chamber underground structure located beneath a playground. The remains span from the 1925 opening of the home—originally established to provide a space for unmarried women to give birth to their children and later used as an orphan shelter—to its shuttering in 1961.

Rumors of the unmarked grave site have been longstanding. With high child mortality rates during much of the 20th century, the practice of interring wedlocked, orphan children in unmarked graves at Catholic-operated facilities was well known. This knowledge, paired with a mid-1970s discovery of numerous bones by boys playing in the area, led Tuam historian Catherine Corless to search records for children formerly under the organization’s care. Corless’s research—which led to the 2014 creation of a nationwide commission looking into the subject of unmarked mass graves for Catholic women’s homes and orphanages—brought to light death certificates for 796 children during the 36 years of the home’s operation, but only two corresponding burial records. Her research also revealed additional documents dating back to the 1970s that provided maps of the current estate built on the site. “They obviously didn’t see the importance,” emphasized Corless. “There is an area across the map marked ‘burial ground.’ First the houses were built, around that area. Finally a playground was built on part of the burial ground itself.”