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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.”

Connacht Tribune

Confusion reigns – but publicans continue serving pints outdoors

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Galway City publicans continued this week to serve alcohol in newly created on-street outdoor dining sections – despite warnings from Gardaí that it was against licensing laws.

The local branch of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said it is hoping Government will, if necessary, introduce legislation that facilitates pubs serving alcohol in public spaces reclaimed for outdoor hospitality.

On Friday last, our sister newspaper, Galway City Tribune revealed that Gardaí had visited a number of city pubs warning they were not legally permitted to serve alcohol outdoors in temporary on-street seating areas created by Galway City Council.

Publicans were told that if they continued to flout the rules, files would be sent to the DPP.

When the crux subsequently hit the national headlines, Justice Minister Heather Humphreys urged Gardaí to ‘use their discretion’.

“The overwhelming majority of licensed premises are operating safely, and we in Government are determined to continue to support them. If local issues arise, I would urge local authorities, Gardaí and businesses to engage.

“However, I will also examine whether further measures are required from Government. Licensing law is a complex area but I have spoken to the Attorney General this morning and we will take further action if necessary,” Minister Humphreys said.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Apple plans second bite at Athenry data centre

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An artist's impression of the proposed Apple Data Centre.

Apple intends to have another bite at plans to build a data centre in Athenry.  Apple Operations Europe has applied to Galway County Council for more time to construct a controversial data centre on a greenfield site at Derrydonnell.

The company said it will identify “interested parties to develop the project” between now and 2026 to meet global growth in demand for data storage facilities.

It will spark hope in the County Galway town of a revival of the €850 million project that was dogged for years by planning delays and court appeals and was subsequently shelved. It may also attract fresh objections.

The world’s largest technology company was granted planning permission to build a €850 million data centre near Athenry in 2015.

An appeal to An Bórd Pleanála by a handful of local residents was not successful, and the planning appeals board confirmed the local authority’s decision in 2016.

But the company ultimately aborted its plans for County Galway in 2018 after three objectors sought a review of the decision through the courts.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Mum’s dream holiday turns to nightmare after cancer diagnosis

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Julia McAndrew, in hospital in Mexico.

A mother who went to Mexico on a dream holiday to spend Christmas with family is too weak to return home after being diagnosed with advanced cancer.

From the minute Julia McAndrew landed in the South American country, her health took a major downward spiral.

Her son and daughter were shocked when she asked for a wheelchair to make it through the airport.

She and daughter Eliska had flown out to see her son Patrick, who had relocated to Mexico to run an online learning business.

They initially thought she had fallen ill due to the rigours of a 22-hour, multi-stop flight.

But when her stomach problems did not improve and she began to lose a lot of weight and suffered from very low energy, they sought medical help.

This had to be done privately and without the financial help of an insurance company, Patrick reveals.

She was initially diagnosed with anaemia and kidney failure and underwent various treatments, including blood transfusions that appeared to be working.

But three weeks ago, medics discovered that what she had was Stage 4 breast cancer. Julia had cancer a decade ago but was given the all-clear after receiving treatment and a major change in lifestyle.

“It’s returned with a vengeance this time around. It’s spread to her pelvis, ribs and lungs,” reflects Patrick.

The cost of the treatment is $40,000 (€33,000) a month. Her family are hoping to build up her strength enough to endure the long flight home to Oranmore.

They have launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise €280,000 to pay for her treatment and in less than a week a phenomenal €36,000 has been donated.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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