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.”
Street fight thugs from viral video outside Garda HQ avoid jail
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Two men and a woman who were involved in a ‘staged’ fistfight outside the new Garda HQ in Renmore were warned they will serve prison sentences if they don’t stay off social media for two years.
Suspended sentences were imposed on all three over the incident which was recorded on mobile phone and footage went viral on social media.
The altercation between John Maughan (27), formerly of Rinville Park, Oranmore, who now lives in Dublin, and Patrick Maughan (31), of 122 Laurel Park, Newcastle, was filmed on Patrick Maughan’s phone by his wife, Ellen Maughan (31), who is John Maughan’s sister.
The footage was uploaded that evening to YouTube, where it gained a lot of traction.
Galway District Court heard this week the trio were sitting in their cars when Gardaí arrived at the scene within a matter of minutes.
They were subsequently charged with affray at Dublin Road, Murrough, Renmore, on November 2, 2018, in that all three used or threatened to use violence towards each other, thereby putting other people present in fear for their own safety and the safety of others.
Both men were also charged with breaching the peace.
Garda Pat Casey told the sentence hearing the incident occurred at 2.30pm on the main road between GMIT and the Garda HQ.
He said the men’s cars met, whether by accident or design, at that location where they got out and had a fist fight in the middle of the road.
Judge Mary Fahy asked if the location chosen for the fight, right outside the new Garda HQ, was deliberate.
Garda Casey said the men claimed they met by accident, “but that was where they met”, he added.
“The inference is they did it deliberately outside the Station to make it even better on social media. They are an absolute disgrace to do that in public and to do it in front of their children,” Judge Fahy said.
This is a shortened preview version of this court report. To read the article in full, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Cycle plans for Galway City get bumpy ride from councillors
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A €24 million plan to transform the greater urban area into a cycle friendly zone got a bumpy ride when introduced to city councillors at a meeting this week.
Councillors were presented with four consultants’ report outlining a framework for the narrowing of many city roads to facilitate cycle lanes and better pedestrian access.
However, several councillors hit out at the way the cycling proposals which were presented to them just hours before their scheduled meeting.
Former Mayor of Galway, Cllr Frank Fahey (FG) said that it just wasn’t good enough to have to consider such detailed proposals on city transport issues after only being emailed the details that morning shortly after 11am.
Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind), said that there was no joined-up thinking as regards the proposals and he asked if the residents of the east side of the city were consulted about what was being proposed.
“There is a real issue here with communication and consultation. We have businesses in Salthill that are down €25 million in terms of their business turnover and yet there was no consultation with them. It’s absolutely crazy going forward with no consultation,” said Cllr McDonnell.
Independent Knocknacarra councillor, Donal Lyons said that he had only received these detailed consultants’ reports just four hours before the meeting – he also wanted to know why Salthill was being treated differently to other areas.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read extensive coverage of the proposals, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Four-storey apartment block planned at Renmore cottage site
Planning permission has been sought to construct a four-storey apartment block and three two-storey homes on a 0.8-acre site off the Renmore Road.
K King Construction Ltd is proposing to demolish the existing cottage at 78 Renmore Road to create access to the site, which backs onto Nolan Park.
The plans include 19 residential units in all, consisting of three detached four-bed houses to the south of the site, adjacent to Dún na Mara; 10 two-bed apartments and six one-bed apartments, to be accessed by a new vehicular entrance road where the cottage currently stands.
According to the planning application, the development would provide “a positive net gain of new residential units on an under-utilised infill plot” on lands which are zoned ‘Residential’ in the City Development Plan.
Some 22 car parking spaces are to be provided on-site – two for each detached house and one space per apartment unit; in addition, 34 covered bicycle parking spaces are provided for.
Each apartment will have a balcony while a children’s playground is proposed for an area south of the apartment block.
The materials and finish of the buildings are to be similar to those used in the adjacent Dún na Mara development that was completed in recent years by the same developer.
The development would include provision for new pedestrian access for residents to Nolan Park/Renmore Playing Fields by utilising “previously inaccessible” recreation and amenity lands.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read it in full, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.