Bessborough babies may have been buried in local authority cemetery, suggests order

Congregation points out commission had speculated about baby burials at Carr’s Hill

The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary ran the Bessborough Home in Cork city for almost 80 years. File photograph: Provision.

The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary ran the Bessborough Home in Cork city for almost 80 years. File photograph: Provision.

 

Babies born at the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork who died within months of their birth may have been buried off-site in a local authority-owned cemetery, the order which ran the home has suggested.

The Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, which owned and ran Bessborough from 1922 until its closure in 1998, has acknowledged that no burial records exist for 859 babies born at the home.

The congregation said in a statement that it accepted a finding by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes that 923 babies associated with Bessborough died, but burial records could only be found for 64 of them.

But the congregation pointed out that the commission had recognised in its fifth and interim report, published in 2019, that burial practices for children, who were born in Bessborough and later died, changed in June 1928.

Up until June 1928, 54 children who died in Bessborough and were not claimed by their families were buried by the congregation at St Joseph’s Cemetery on Tory Top Road in Ballyphehane, said the commission.

The congregation paid the Society of the African Missions “10 shillings for the burial of each child in the Poor Ground” section of St Joseph’s and recouped the cost from the health authority responsible for the child’s maintenance.

However, the congregation pointed out that the commission had suggested in its 2019 interim report that the abrupt cessation of child burials at St Joseph’s Cemetery in June 1928 “may have had something to do with costs”.

It noted the commission had speculated that if these deaths had occurred in Cork County Home or the Cork District Hospital, then they might well have been buried at the Cork District Cemetery at Carr’s Hill.

The commission had suggested the burial of any child who had died in the Cork County Home or Cork District Hospital would have been arranged for Carr’s Hill by the local welfare authority, the South Cork Board, at no additional cost.

And the commission further speculated that it seemed “plausible to suggest that the remains of unclaimed Bessborough children who died between June 1928 and 1960 may have been buried by the South Cork Board in Cork District Cemetery.”*

Evidence

The congregation acknowledged that while the commission posited such a theory in relation to the burial of Bessborough babies born between 1928 and 1960, the commission had been unable to find any direct evidence to support it.*

“We are distressed and saddened that it is so difficult to prove with legal certainty where many of these infants were buried especially with regard to Bessborough,” said the congregation in a statement.

It apologised for failing to provide proper support and care to the 8,768 women admitted to Bessborough, including 31 who died there, and 8,938 children who were either born or admitted between 1922 and 1998.

The commission spoke to several members of the congregation in an effort to find the burial places of the 859 infants for whom no burial records exist.

And it said it found it “very difficult to understand the seeming inability of any member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary” to assist in finding the burial places of children who died in Bessborough.

But the congregation insisted it did everything it could to co-operate with its sisters testifying before the commission, while it also gave the commission access to its records in the UK where the order has its provincial headquarters.

It said all its records relating to Bessborough and its other two Irish homes, Sean Ross in Co Tipperary and Castlepollard in Co Westmeath were handed over to the Health Service Executive in 2009/10 and it has had no access to those records since.

The congregation also assisted the commission in facilitating an examination of the Bessborough site by an archaeologist who was accompanied by a landscaper who had worked on the estate between 1983 and 2003.

The issue of finding where infants from the home are buried has been given an added urgency by the fact a developer has applied for planning permission for an apartment complex on a 3.7 acre part of the Bessborough estate.

A campaign group, Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance, has called for no decision to be made on planning until the site has been properly examined to see whether it contains any of the infants’ remains.*

*This article was amended on February 2nd 2021