Catherine Corless’s research revealed that 796 children died at St Mary’s. She now says the nature of their burial has been widely misrepresented.
‘I never used that word ‘dumped’,” Catherine Corless, a local historian in Co Galway, tells The Irish Times. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”
The story that emerged from her work was reported this week in dramatic headlines around the world.
“Tell us the truth about the children dumped in Galway’s mass graves” – The Guardian.
“Bodies of 800 babies, long-dead, found in septic tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” – The Washington Post.
“Nearly 800 dead babies found in septic tank in Ireland” – Al Jazeera.
“800 skeletons of babies found inside tank at former Irish home for unwed mothers” – New York Daily News.
“Almost 800 ‘forgotten’ Irish children dumped in septic tank mass grave at Catholic home” – ABC News, Australia.
Corless, who lives outside Tuam, has been working for several years on records associated with the former St Mary’s mother-and-baby home in the town. Her research has revealed that 796 children, most of them infants, died between 1925 and 1961, the 36 years that the home, run by Bon Secours, existed.
Between 2011 and 2013 Corless paid €4 each time to get the children’s publicly available death certificates. She says the total cost was €3,184. “If I didn’t do it, nobody else would have done it. I had them all by last September.”
The children’s names, ages, places of birth and causes of death were recorded. The average number of deaths over the 36-year period was just over 22 a year. The information recorded on these State- issued certificates has been seen by The Irish Times; the children are marked as having died variously of tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis and meningitis, among other illnesses.
The deaths of these 796 children are not in doubt. Their numbers are a stark reflection of a period in Ireland when infant mortality in general was very much higher than today, particularly in institutions, where infection spread rapidly. At times during those 36 years the Tuam home housed more than 200 children and 100 mothers, plus those who worked there, according to records Corless has found.