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Campaign to recognise 800 dead Tuam babies

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Were it not for the tenacity of a housewife who has spent ten years researching her own family tree, the names of 798 children buried in an unmarked grave in Tuam would be lost for eternity.

Catherine Corless is on a quest to have the names of the children born to unmarried mothers in a home run by the Bons Secours nuns immortalised on a plaque which will serve not only as a guide to those in search of their lost family, but also as a spotlight into one of the darkest periods in Ireland’s history.

The project could well get international attention after journalist Martin Sixsmith filmed  the graveyard last week as part of a new BBC documentary about mother and baby homes in Ireland. His story about Philomena Lee’s 50-year search for the son she was forced to adopt is the subject of an Oscar-nominated movie currently being shown in cinemas.

Catherine first learned of the unmarked graveyard when looking up records for the main graveyard on the Athenry Road.

“I was talking to people in the vicinity and someone said there’s a lisheen or plot for unbaptised babies across the road. I got a little hint it was something more than that so I went digging further,” reveals Catherine.

Surrounded on all sides by eight-foot walls, ‘The Home’ – officially called St Mary’s – was where women and girls from across Mayo and Galway would be sent to have babies out of wedlock between 1925 and 1961.

They would have their babies without pain relief, would be offered no stitches following the birth and were expected to work for a year in exchange for their confinement – all in the belief they must pay for their sins, according to Catherine.

“I got a day-to-day account of what life was like in the home from one lady who left there in 1956. When she first got there her job was to clean up after the one to three-year-olds who didn’t wear nappies and had constant green diarrhoea due to the bad diet. She said life was very harsh and the nuns were awfully strict.”

Babies and children were either adopted or fostered. Those who were not claimed by families were kept in the home until they made their first communion and were then transferred to other institutions. Catherine remembers the children coming into school.

“They were segregated and put to one side of the classroom. They were called the ‘home babies’ and we were told not to mind them. They came in ten minutes after us and left ten minutes earlier and we weren’t allowed to mix. People in the town remember the sound of the children marching down, they used to wear clogs in the winter and there would be a line of them with a minder in the front and back with a big stick.”

The home was knocked in 1972 to make way for the Dublin Road housing estate a half mile outside Tuam town.

In the corner of a green left in the middle of the estate, some children uncovered a big tank which had a collection of skulls and bones beneath a pile of rubble.

“I thought why would there be a crypt in the middle of nowhere. I went looking at old maps and found there was a septic tank marked on a 1891 map belonging to the home. The tank became defunct in 1938 when a new drainage scheme came into Tuam.

“It appears they made a crypt out of the old septic tank. I’d hope they’d have at least cleaned it out. It’s not nice to think about it.”

After consulting with the Civil Registrations Office, she made a shocking discovery. The unmarked grave was the final resting place to 798 dead children – among them infants just days old, many toddlers and children as old as eight. The cause of death was varied – from measles, gastroenteritis and various infections which would have spread easily in their dorm nurseries.

Most were buried only in shrouds and without coffins.

She spent €400 getting copies of their records, which included their names, dates of birth and the addresses of their mothers. She cross-checked with Galway County Council archivist Patricia McWalter to ensure they had not been claimed by families and buried elsewhere.

“These poor little things were just put down there. The saddest thing is to have that many children there who had nothing made of their lives when they were alive, here they are in death and there’s wilderness growing over them in an unmarked grave. It’s a scandal really.”

A local family, the Dooleys, took it upon themselves to get the county council to close the tank and put clay over it to create a kind of makeshift grave. They cut the grass, planted shrubs and roses and laid a small cross.

Catherine set up a committee a year ago to raise funds to erect a more permanent monument to the children.

They have plans to build a sculpture and a plaque bearing all their names, at a cost of €6,500. Tuam Town Council recently committed €2,000 to the project.

It was ten years ago when Catherine first dabbled in research while attempting to trace her own grandmother in Armagh. It became a pastime for the housewife from Brownsgrove after her own family were reared. Although she had no luck with her personal search, she has helped several other families reunite.

One Mayo man who was fostered from the home eventually traced his mother to Yorkshire. While she had passed away three years earlier, he found seven siblings and a whole new family he never knew he had.

She is helping another woman who is about to travel over from the UK to see her file being held by the Clann adoption service, a branch of the Health Service Executive (HSE). She is in contact with a woman whose brother was thought to have been adopted to an American family from the home.

“They deserve a bit of respect, they deserve to be remembered. If it’s not properly marked out it could become a dumping ground again. An injustice has been done to these poor little kids, it needs to be made right.”

CITY TRIBUNE

‘Positive response’ to plan for new Wolfe Tone walkway

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From the Galway City Tribune – The submissions process in relation to the new pedestrian walkway to be put in place on the south side of Wolfe Tone Bridge has now closed.

The project – estimated to cost in the region of €1 million – is expected to start later this year once the Part 8 planning process – where the councillors will ultimately decide on whether to proceed – has been completed.

It will involve the provision of a 50-metre steel cantilever (no centre supports) walkway on the southern aspect of Wolfe Tone Bridge as well as a widening of the existing adjoining footpath.

A feature of the proposal will be the provision of a new signalised ‘rainbow pride’ pedestrian crossing on the eastern approach to the bridge.

According to Galway City Council Senior Engineer, Uinsinn Finn, the new pedestrian bridge crossing will be a major positive development in terms of facilitating the increasing numbers of people walking from the city centre towards the Claddagh/West area of the city.

“There has been a very positive response to the proposal for the provision of this extra pedestrian facility which will complement a similar walkway on the northern side of the bridge.

“The new signalised rainbow pride crossing on the eastern side of the bridge will also make it safer and improve access for pedestrians using this route,” said Mr Finn.

He added that the proposal would probably be coming up for approval at the September meeting of the City Council with plans for the new structure to begin shortly after.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway Greenway plan moves up a gear

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The design phase of the Galway to Oughterard Greenway will begin in 2023, Galway County Council has confirmed.

Several potential routes are now ‘on the table’ – with the information website for the project now ‘gone live’ until mid-July – to enable all interested parties to look at the options and make submissions.

David Joyce, Engineer with Aecom Consultants, said that the preferred route for the greenway was likely to emerge in the first quarter of 2023 followed by the design phase later in the year.

He told Conamara area councillors at a meeting that a cycle track would be part of the greenway – three metres wide for most of the route widening to five metres closer to the city.

Initially, the potential routes would have 200 metre corridors to ‘capture everything’, said Mr Joyce, but that width would be reduced in the final preferred option.

In response to queries from a number of councillors, he said that at least two to three of the options did not envisage using the current N59 roadway for the greenway.

“There will be extensive face-to-face consultations with the public before any decision on the final preferred route,” said Mr Joyce.

County Councillor Noel Thomas (FF) said that in his view it would be better if the greenway did not use the existing roads network while Cllr Eileen Mannion (FG) asked about the necessity for 200-metre-wide corridor options.

Cllr Tom Welby (Ind.) said that the Clifden to Oughterard section of the greenway would be using the old railway line route which only involved a corridor width of about 50 metres.

In the city, Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) said the project would serve as a route for cyclists and also as a tourist attraction.

“The delivery of the Conamara to Galway Greenway will bring so many benefits to Galway City and County. This week, this project moved a step closer and I hope there is progressive engagement with all stakeholders in the coming months.

“URDF (Urban Regeneration and Development Fund) funding was received last year for the development of a bridge along the pillars of the old Clifden Railway line at Woodquay. This is the proposed landing point for the Greenway coming into Galway city.

“This project can serve as both an active travel route for cyclists and also a major tourist attraction for visitors and I just hope it can progress and be delivered in the coming years,” said Cllr Hoare.

A total of €11 million in URDF funding was allocated last year for a pedestrian and cycle bridge across the River Corrib – along the buttresses for the old Clifden railway line, which is regarded as forming an integral part of the city’s cycle network.

(Image: an architect’s impression of how that cycle and walkway over the Corrib would look).

The Galway City Tribune is in shops every Friday, or to buy online HERE

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CITY TRIBUNE

Public order offences on the rise in Galway

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From the Galway City Tribune – Galway is headed in the wrong direction unless anti-social behaviour and public order problems are sorted, a meeting of the Galway City Joint Policing Committee has been told.

Former mayor Mike Crowe said: “There are too many people begging; there are too many people sleeping rough; and there are too many people drinking on the corner of the streets, organised drinking.”

The Fianna Fáil councillor said he was not surprised that the official Garda crime report had confirmed that public order offences detected in the first five months of this year were up by 26%.

That represented 46 additional cases compared with last year, bringing the total number of public order offences in the first five months of 2022 in Galway City to 225.

“It needs to be addressed; I think Galway is on a precipice,” he said.

Cllr Crowe said that the City Council, through various housing charities, had provided ample resources to ensure that homeless people were accommodated.

“There is no need to be sleeping rough,” he said. He added there was no need for tents to be erected along the city’s main shopping thoroughfare by rough sleepers.

Another former mayor, Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) agreed and suggested that some people who were sleeping rough were not homeless as all, and they were involved in ‘organised begging’. He claimed that many of those sleeping rough ‘were all gone off the streets by 3am and 4am’ when revellers have gone home. “They’re making a living at it [begging]”, he said.

Chair of the JPC, Cllr Níall McNelis (Lab) said if anyone had evidence that begging was being carried out by an organised gang then they needed to supply that information to Gardaí.

Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley agreed and said that evidence not rumour was needed in order to bring prosecutions and secure convictions.

Cllr Crowe and Cllr Fahy said the Garda presence at Eyre Square, 24-hours every day, was having a positive impact, and Chief Supt Curley said public order offences have reduced in the city centre since that additional resource was deployed to the Square.

Cllr Fahy, however, said that “public drinking and public urination” remained a problem.

Cllr Crowe welcomed a commitment from Superintendent Damien Flanagan, who was now responsible for policing Galway City, that a “permanent presence of Gardaí is in place in Eyre Square” and would remain there.

Supt Flanagan clarified that that meant a Garda or Gardaí would be in Eyre Square “at all times”.

He also said he was liaising with Galway City Council on some design issues in Eyre Square that could be changed to deter anti-social behaviour and discourage people from congregating there for drinking.

Chief Supt Curley said that he would prefer to use the Gardaí elsewhere but he acknowledged that a 24/7 Garda presence in Eyre Square was working, and would be deemed a success if it saved even one victim from suffering a serious assault.

There were 17 offences of ‘begging’ detected in the first five months of the year, down 29%.

Cllr Niall Murphy (Green) said begging in itself was “not a crime”, it was “a failure of society”.

The offence relates to people who are causing an obstruction or nuisance while begging; begging beside an ATM is also an offence.

The Galway City Tribune is in shops every Friday, or to buy online HERE

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