Children at The Home in Tuam (Photo: Brian Lockier/Adoption Rights Alliance)
A researcher in Ireland says she's found records of a mass grave beside a former orphanage that may hold the remains of 796 children, AP reports.
According to Catherine Corless, a historian in County Galway, Ireland, the records indicate that most, if not all, of the bodies are buried in a septic tank next to a site which once held an orphanage for children of unwed mothers.
UPDATE: Some have questioned whether all the children were buried in the septic tank. According to the New York Times, one local man said that he'd seen 15-20 small skeletons in the tank four decades ago when he was a child. Corless maintains that the bodies of all 796 children are likely buried in the nearby vicinity, if not directly in the tank.
The orphange, in Tuam, operated from 1926 to 1961, and was used to incarcerate unwed pregnant women and their children who were "a "risk to public morality."
Last night on As It Happens, Susan Lohan, Director of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said that the deaths were likely the result of babies not being allowed to breast feed — and were thus probably preventable. “I think I’ve only ever met one mother who escaped from one of their dreadful places with her child,” Lohan said.
According to AP, children born to unwed mothers at these so-called "Magdalene Laundries" were often denied baptism and a Christian burial, and were instead interred in mass graves. Women and children often ended up in the homes after the state handed over those areas of social services to the Catholic Church.
In 2013, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Irish head of government, issued a full state apology for the Magdalene Laundries, and introduced a compensation program for survivors — although some have complained that the requirements to claim compensation are prohibitive.
“As a result of the fact that inadequate records were kept in some places, an enormous burden of proof has been placed on some of the ladies involved," Maureen O'Sullivan, an Irish politician, told the Irish Examiner. “The effect is that some ladies are being excluded from redress, while others are being offered less than that to which they might be entitled."
The story of the Magdalene Laundries came to international attention in part due to Philomena Lee, who was sent to a convent for unwed mothers in 1955, and whose son was taken away and adopted by an American family. Lee, whose story was adapted into the film Philomena, recently returned to the Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea for a memorial service in honour of the mothers and children who lived there.
For more on the Magdalene Laundries, see this documentary from Irish broadcaster RTÉ One.