As It Happens

'It was a prison': Man born in Irish orphanage where mass grave discovered demands apology

A man who was born in a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland where a mass child grave has been discovered is demanding an apology from church and the government.
P.J. Haverty, left, a former resident of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Ireland, has been working with local historian Catherine Corless, right, to sound the alarm about hundreds of the children who died there in obscurity. (Eithne Fitzsimons)

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A man who was born in a former Catholic home for orphans and unwed mothers in Ireland where a mass child grave has been discovered is demanding an apology from church and the government. 

P.J. Haverty was born at the state-sanctioned and church-run Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Galway County, in 1951. He lived there until he was 6 1/2 years old, at which point he was put into foster care against his mother's will, he said.

"They call it a home, but I call it a prison, 'cause that's what it was, it was a prison," Haverty told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "There was no love, no nothing."

A judge-led government commission announced Friday the discovery of an underground structure at the site of the home containing "significant quantities of human remains."

I knew in my heart and soul that they were there.- Catherine Corless, Tuam historian 

DNA analysis confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to three years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the overcrowded facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers and their children. 

Lost brothers and sisters

Haverty has been in contact with other people who lived at the home, which closed in 1961. Many of them were separated from their siblings there and never learned what became of them.

"Maybe now when they check the bones here maybe they might be able to find out that it's their brothers sisters, and at least they'll be able to give them a decent burial," Haverty said.

A statue of the Virgin Mary adorns the site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home. (Niall Carson/Associated Press)

The commission was set up in 2014 to investigate Ireland's mother and baby homes after amateur Tuam historian Catherine Corless tracked down death certificates for nearly 796 children who had died as residents of the facility. The children died mostly of natural causes, but she could find a burial record for only one child.

Five long years

Corless made the discovery in 2012 and for five years has been sounding the alarm ever since. She says it was a "huge, huge relief" to see the government finally acknowledge what she long suspected. 

"I was just overwhelmed," Corless told As It Happens. "I knew in my heart and soul that they were there because the research I had done pointed just to the children being buried there."​

Catherine Corless' research is what prompted the government in Ireland to launch a commission to investigate what happened to the hundreds of children who died at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. (Eithne Fitzsimons)

Haverty, who has been helping raise awareness about Corless' research, echoed the sentiment.

"It means an awful lot to me. It goes to prove what went on, and it was all covered up and we were afraid that it never would come out in the open," he said. "There's great comfort in it, fantastic comfort, because now we realize that things did go on at that time."

The report states the remains were found in underground chambers. One site appeared to be a septic tank. Corless said she found records stating that the sewage systems were used until 1937, when the home was connected to a modern water supply.

We were afraid that it never would come out in the open.- P.J. Haverty, former orphanage resident 

The Bon Secours Sisters order of nuns, which ran the home until it closed, said in a statement that all its records, including of potential burials, had been handed to state authorities in 1961. It pledged to co-operate with the continuing investigation.

Taken from his mother 

But that's not enough, Corless and Haverty say. 

"I would like an apology from the state and from the church to what was done to me and mother," Haverty said. "I didn't choose to come into this world. I didn't choose to live in a prison for the first six and a half years of my life."

Corless says she can't understand why an apology hasn't come sooner. She doesn't believe those responsible are still alive. 

"I don't know honestly what it is and why they're in denial. Maybe it's because an apology usually means they have to accept responsibility ... Is it money? I just don't understand them."

Homes now surround the site of the shuttered orphanage. (Google Maps)

Haverty says he was able to track down his biological mother with the help of his foster parents after he'd left the orphanage. His mother told him the church made her go to the home when she became pregnant.

"The local priest came down to her mother and told her to keep her indoors, that she was a bad influence on the young people around," he said.

"Because that was a big crime in Ireland, to be pregnant outside of marriage, so he said there was a place in Tuam run by nuns and that when the baby was ready to be born, she was to be taken down there."

P.J. Haverty says the church and the state should apologize for the treatment families received at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Ireland. (Eithne Fitzsimons)

Because his mother had no money to pay for Haverty's care, she stayed at the home for 12 months after he was born "cleaning and washing and looking after the other babies."

After she left and found work, she repeatedly went back for her son, he said, but they "just closed the door in her face and told her to go away."

His mother is deceased. But Haverty wants an official apology in writing so he can read it over her grave.

"I think it's very bad for a Catholic country to do the likes of that to a mother."

With files from Associated Press


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