The developers of a housing project on the grounds of the former Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork have rejected claims by a survivors' group that it will intrude on the site of a children's burial ground.
MWB Two Ltd disputed claims by the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) at the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing on Wednesday into its Gateway View complex that the development will intrude on an area marked on a 1950 Ordnance Survey trace map as a children's burial ground.
An Bord Pleanála decided to hold the oral hearing after MWB Two Ltd applied for planning permission under the Strategic Housing Development initiative for 179 apartments on a privately owned 1.5-hectare site on the 24-hectare grounds of Bessborough in Blackrock in Cork city.
The proposal has led to growing controversy after it emerged from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report published in March that 923 infants born at or associated with Bessborough died between 1922 and its closure in 1998.
But the commission could only find burial records for 64 infants, prompting the CSSA, which represents more than 50 families of children who died at Bessborough, to call for an investigation to see if the estate contains the remains of the others.
On Wednesday, opening the case for MWB Two Ltd, David Holland SC said the CSSA was erroneous in its view that there was a children's burial ground on the site of the proposed housing development which comprises a number of apartment blocks.
Mr Holland said the CSSA was relying on a map showing a burial ground marked to the northwest, but he would call expert witnesses that would show it is highly unlikely that there are any children buried at that location.
Expert witness, cartographer Michael Flynn, who worked for Ordnance Survey Ireland for almost 40 years but has not visited the site, said that he had examined closely the 1950 OS Field Trace Map which was a trace map used to update a previous 1932 published map of the Bessborough estate.
Mr Flynn said he was satisfied the label “children’s burial ground” did not refer to the actual spot on the map but rather to an adjacent smaller rectangular area located within an enclosure to the north and next to the folly which is where a number of nuns are buried.
He said that he believed that if the burial ground was actually located where the label is placed on the trace map, the area would be marked off by either a pecked or broken line or a fixed line to indicate a boundary and/or an enclosure, as is the practice in the Ordinance Survey.
“The children’s burial ground at Bessborough is clearly defined on the 1950 field trace as a fenced enclosure bounded by a solid line with the letter F penned in three times [to indicate a fence],” said Mr Flynn, adding that he had no doubt the label referred to the enclosed area near the folly.
Mr Flynn said that a blue line curving around the label, “the children’s burial ground” was “a swoosh that emanated from nowhere and goes nowhere” and the fact that it did not appear in the final published map indicated to him it was not a map detail, identifying the exact burial spot.
“I agree there is compelling evidence that a children’s burial ground existed in Bessborough but I do not agree it was where the label ‘children’s burial ground’ is on the field trace map – the text can be in different positions as it is intended to be as unintrusive as possible on the detail it surrounds.”
The hearing continues.