Mother-and-baby home deaths
+A chara, – Our Government has a responsibility to ensure that the Tuam deaths are properly investigated. An Garda Síochána has an opportunity to redeem its battered reputation by seizing this opportunity to carry out a criminal investigation in the name of all the little children who died due to neglect and perhaps worse in Tuam and in most likely other “care homes”. Dare we hope that this occurs?
I and other friends cannot abide this injustice visited upon defenceless little children by church and State. We will be marching from the Department of Children to Dáil Éireann next Wednesday at 7pm. – Is mise,
The Capel Building,
Mary’s Abbey, Dublin 7.
Sir, – The media should be very wary of using the term “septic tank” to describe the structure containing the child burials at St Mary’s mother-and-child home at Tuam. It is offensive and hurtful to all those involved. The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many part of Europe.
In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries. The stone could be temporarily removed to allow the addition of additional coffined burials to the vault. Such tombs are still used extensively in Mediterranean countries. I recently saw such structures being constructed in a churchyard in Croatia. The shaft was made of concrete blocks, plastered internally and roofed with large concrete slabs.
Many maternity hospitals in Ireland had a communal burial place for stillborn children or those who died soon after birth. These were sometimes in a nearby graveyard but more often in a special area within the grounds of the hospital. It was not a tradition until very recently to return such deceased infants to parents for taking back to family burial places.
Until proved otherwise, the burial structure at Tuam should be described as a communal burial vault. – Yours, etc,
Dr FINBAR McCORMICK
School of Geography,
Sir, – In relation to infant deaths in mother-and-baby homes, James Deeny, who was appointed chief medical officer in the 1940s, provided interesting insights in his biography.
With a death rate in Bessborough, Cork, of over 50 per cent (100 out of 180 babies born), Deeny personally inspected the home. He said that, initially, he could find nothing wrong. Then he asked staff to undress the babies.
In his own words, he found “every baby had some purulent infection of the skin and all had green diarrhoea, carefully covered up. There was obviously a staphylococcus infection about. Without any legal authority I closed the place down and sacked the matron, a nun, and also got rid of the medical officer.”
He added, “The deaths had been going on for years. They had done nothing about it, had accepted the situation and were quite complacent about it.”
Bishop Lucey of Cork complained to the papal nuncio. The nuncio complained to de Valera but Deeny’s report made clear that his decision was the right one.
He recorded that with a new matron, medical officer, disinfection and painting, the death rate fell to single figures.
Deeny wrote of his attempts to deal with infant mortality in the wider community too – “it was very difficult. All sorts of vested interests were involved and the in-fighting was terrific. I came in for a lot of ‘stick’ and abuse.” – Yours, etc,
Dr SANDRA McAVOY,
Sir, – Where the Catholic Church in Ireland is concerned, a nasty streak of intolerance seems to be emerging. No sooner is there a disclosure about some aspect of church-related matters but politicians and opinion-makers are on their high horses condemning priests, bishops or entire religious congregations in the most emotive and abusive language.
Before a verdict of guilty is pronounced, surely the normal legal process should take place with the evidence being analysed and tested. – Yours, etc,
Tuam, Co Galway.
Sir, – Were the poor little innocents afforded the dignity of a baptism before their premature death or were their distraught young mothers told their babies would be residing in Limbo in perpetuity? – Yours, etc,
Dalkey, Co Dublin.
Sir, – We must not forget that “fallen” women who had children out of wedlock were often denounced and abandoned by their own families and by society at large. This is our heritage.
We may blame the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed they are not blameless, and we may blame the State, which has always exhibited a shocking level of spinelessness when it comes to protecting the children of our nation. However the reality is that these women and children were abandoned by their own families. They were an embarrassment; unloved and unwanted, they had no one to protect them. When we apportion blame as a society, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN G GIBBONS,
Nordahl Bruns Gate,