The corpses of at least 796—and possibly many more—abandoned Irish infants and small children are thought to be crammed together underground in what is variously described as an old water tank or septic tank behind a Catholic home for unmarried mothers and their children that has been closed since 1961.
Francis Hopkins and Barry Sweeney were 12 years old and playing on the grounds when they accidentally discovered the alleged grave in the 1970s. Sweeney now says:
It was a concrete slab. We used to be in there playing but there was always something hollow underneath it so we decided to bust it open and it was full to the brim of skeletons.…I had nightmares over it, I could see all the skulls, it’s like what you would see on the Discovery Channel.
The Irish Mail reported on Sunday that a relative of one of the boys who had lived at the now long-abandoned home for unwed mothers and their children has filed a complaint with local police after research failed to yield the boy’s death certificate. It is thought that an investigation will lead to the excavation of an unmarked mass grave next to the grim building that locals have for decades referred to only as “The Home.”
The Home was operated by the Bon Secours—which is French for, ironically, “Good Relief”—nuns from 1925 to 1961. Back in those days, it allegedly served as a sort of Catholic slave-labor camp for “fallen women” who’d become pregnant out of wedlock, which at the time was considered a disgrace even if they’d been raped. Using each woman’s unpaid labor for two or three years, the nuns ran a laundry service for the state and private companies, with all profits going to the Catholic Church. The women were reportedly forced to wear uniforms, give up all parental rights to their children, and do menial work in the laundry factory to “atone for their sins.”
Irish locals were largely unaware of conditions in The Home, surrounded as it was by an eight-foot wall. Official documents reveal that The Home suffered from overcrowding and a child death rate as high as 50 percent. The UK’s Mail Online quotes a woman, now 85, who claims to have attended The Home at age four:
There was a massive hall in it and it was full of young kids running round and they were dirty and cold. There were well over 100 children in there and there were three or four nuns who minded us. The building was very old and we were let out the odd time, but at night the place was absolutely freezing with big stone walls. When we were eating it was in this big long hall and they gave us all this soup out of a big pot, which I remember very well. It was rotten to taste, but it was better than starving.…We were filthy dirty. I remember one time when I soiled myself, the nuns ducked me down into a big cold bath and I never liked nuns after that.
The Irish Examiner cites an alleged 1944 health board report that describes children at The Home as “pot-bellied,” “fragile,” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” Thirty-one children who’d been placed in the “sun room and balcony” were said to be “poor, emaciated, and not thriving.” The report allegedly describes a 13-month-old boy as a “miserable, emaciated child with voracious appetite and no control over bodily functions and probably mentally defective.” It also cites a five-year-old child said to have had “hands growing near shoulders.” The local press of the time routinely referred to children who lived at The Home as “inmates.”
The children who lived in The Home were known locally as “Home Babies.” According to Irish historian and genealogist Catherine Corless, nuns segregated Home Babies from other students in classrooms and treated them as social untouchables. Corless describes an incident where a fellow classmate wrapped a small stone in a candy wrapper and presented it to a Home Baby as a gift:
When the child opened it she saw she’d been fooled. Of course I copied her later and I tried to play the joke on another little Home girl. I thought it was funny at the time.…Years after I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. A part of me wants to make up to them.
Poring over local records, Corless estimates that the bodies of at least 796 Home Babies are interred without coffins in the unmarked grave that allegedly used to serve as a septic tank. She says many of them died of tuberculosis, pneumonia, and gastroenteritis; she assumes others died merely of malnutrition and neglect. Corless is leading a campaign to place a commemorative plaque at the burial site listing the names of the 796 Home Babies believed to be buried there.
It is speculated that the Catholic Church in Ireland has kept this alleged burial ground secret for fear of the massive lawsuits that would result.