In today’s Irish Times, Rosita Boland speaks with Catherine Corless, the Tuam historian who spent thousands of Euro and many years researching the case of Tuam’s Bon Secours dead.
The IT draws a strange conclusion:
‘Tuam mother and baby home: the trouble with the septic tank story – 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’
The paper has received heavy criticism for not reporting the story in the first week after the Irish Sunday Mail’s Alison O’Reilly led with it in May. O’Reilly herself noted, yesterday, that over 2,000 articles have been published internationally.
All the while the Irish Times ignored it save a report on TD Ciaran Cannon’s call for an investigation. So abject was their failure to acknowledge the story that their own journalists were on Twitter asking why it was not being covered.
And so this morning, another report.
The overarching tone of the piece is to call out media – Guardian, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, New York Daily News, ABC Australia – for talking about a septic tank. No, not congratulating these international media organisations for covering an Irish story that the IT ignored but focusing on a pecific of the story; the septic tank and it’s size.
We pointed out to the Irish Times that they mistakenly called it a ‘water tank’ in their first report and the author acknowledged our comment and said it would be passed on. They never changed that report. And it seems editorial policy was to rename the septic tank as a water tank. The septic tank was a remnant from the Workhouse days prior to the Home’s opening.
The subheading reads:
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.
But the glaring contradiction of this piece, which has been lauded by commentators as ‘reasoned’ or ‘calm and considered’ lies at it’s very core.
Catherine Corless: I started out to do the history of the nuns and the children who went there and I wasn’t expecting the stories that came up. Because we never really knew the home babies as we called them. I kind of remember them going to school in the lower classes. I do remember that they came down in rows, down a double-row down to school.
Everybody remembers the sound of the boots because they made a rattle when they came down because the girls and boys wore these hob-nail boots, big black hob-nail boots, summer and winter, and I do remember they were treated that little bit different than the rest of us. We always knew not to play with them and to keep away.
This whole area was enclosed with an eight-foot wall right around an acre perimeter, and very few people could see in or out. If you were in there you couldn’t see what was going on in the outside word. A car would come and drop off a mother I suppose and she would go in and once they went in there they just didn’t see outside again until they left.
So it was only in my research when I was talking to people in the area, they said ‘Do you know there’s a little graveyard at the back?’ The older residents in the area – now, before these new houses went up – they had the story that two little boys were playing in the area back in the early 70s/late 60s and they came across a huge hollow in the ground. Then they went further and saw there was a slab – a few slabs going across this hollow and so the lads tried to peer in to see what was in there, and they got some stones and broke open more. They said when they cracked open the slab – he said he was just doing this – it was full, full to the brim with skulls and bones. I said ‘Were they big or small?’ ‘Oh’, he said ‘they were little ones, all little ones’ he said.
Rosita Boland: And do you believe him?
Corless: Well, it’s not just the boys talking, it’s from other people around the area if you talk to them. They say that a few people came to see what the fuss was about. Someone called the parish priest to come up and to look at the area and to bless it. It’s only in the last month or so that I found out that these boys – now men – were still around. I didn’t have their names until about a month ago and spoke to them then.
Boland: Do you believe that there are all of the children in that grave, do you think that that is possible?”
Corless: I think it’s quite possible going from the boys’ explanation that it was full to the brim of bones. But still how many children in the tank, does it matter if it’s 500, 600? If there isn’t a full 796? 10 children in a septic tank? 20? Isn’t that horrific? Is it the numbers that makes it horrific?
Boland: Would you welcome excavation in that spot?
Corless: I would welcome the truth, always, always. The evidence strongly suggests excavation is the only way, if anyone wants to do that. That wasn’t our intention, our intention was to name the children, have them remembered, put up a plaque. I’m thinking of the other mother and baby homes in Ireland, I’m thinking of the groups that are out there, desperately trying as we were, struggling to have children remembered. And if this investigation helps and pushes it forward, I would welcome it. It’s justice, justice to children, justice to the people who gave birth there.
Update: Catherine Corless’ daughter, Adrienne, has taken to Twitter (here) to take issue with Boland’s report: