Bessborough site should never be built on, Cork councillors tell hearing

An Bord Pleanála hearing into application to build 179 apartments on site has ended

The Mother and Baby Home in Bessborough, where more than 900 babies and women died, has cast a shadow over Cork, and the people of the city do not want any development on the grounds there, a member of Cork City Council has told a planning hearing.

Independent Cllr Lorna Bogue told the closing session on Friday of the An Bord Pleanála's oral hearing into an application by developer MWB Two Ltd to build 179 apartments on the Bessborough grounds, that city councillors were opposed to the development.

“We are public representatives and we have said many times during this hearing and in our submissions that we don’t think there should be development on this site at all until such time as there has been 100 per cent confirmation that there is nothing on the site,” she said.

“Our position would extend even beyond the position of the survivors’ group – we don’t think this site should be developed but should be left as a sacred ground – the survivors have spoken about developing wildflower meadows there to celebrate the short lives that existed and we agree.


“The impact of this development will be permanent and it will reduce the capacity of survivors to have a place where they feel there is respect for the people they have lost and the experiences they had in this institution which has cast a shadow over the entirety of Cork for as long as it existed.”

Earlier, Labour local area representative Peter Horgan said the only way to properly preserve the memories of the 19,000 women, and the near 9,000 babies who were born in Bessborough between 1922 and 1998, was to take the 60-acre estate into State ownership.

“As the oral hearing into developments at Bessborough concludes today we must keep the memories of those who passed through Bessborough over the decades at the centre of this entire process which will have been distressing for survivors and their family members,” he said.

“It is clear from cross-party views expressed at the hearing the development should not proceed . It is my view the entire site at Bessborough should be taken into ownership by the State and created into a public amenity, rather than an area of development, so that memories can be preserved.”


Green Party Cllr Dan Boyle pointed out in his submission that the oral hearing was taking place to deal with a highly controversial project which was being sought under the Strategic Housing Development initiative, which itself was the subject of considerable controversy.

“The applicants (MWB Two Ltd) are operating in a very narrow legislative window. This hearing is taking place under the Strategic Housing Development legislation which itself has a sunset clause; in 10 months’ time, this legislation will not exist anymore,” he said.

Cork South Central Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire also voiced opposition to the project, saying that while he recognised the need for housing in the Cork South East ward, he believed that building on Bessborough grounds would cause huge hurt to survivors.

“I am opposed to this development, or any development more generally on this site. It is my view that the local community, and the people of Cork more generally, are deeply uncomfortable with and upset by the proposals,” he said.

“The site’s history is profoundly sensitive, and its significance for those who lived and spent time there is enormous. For many, the significance of Bessborough is not just relating to the past; families today are still seeking answers.”

Mr O Laoghaire pointed out the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes had found that 31 women and 923 babies died at Bessborough and the burial places of 19 women and 859 infants remain unknown and that it seems likely that many of their bodies remain on the site.

“My understanding is that if this proposed development is allowed to proceed, the children’s burial ground will be partially destroyed and the remains of the dead disturbed in a most distressing and inappropriate manner ... this presumably vast burial ground must be protected.

“The developments proposed are insensitive and hurtful to those who believe, not without basis, that their relatives are buried on the site. Many thousands of mothers and children passed through Bessborough, and many suffered grievously.

"These wounds are still raw, and the survivors must have their concerns listened to …. this development has the potential to cause immense hurt and pain, and An Bord Pleanála must reject this entirely unsuitable proposal."

The hearing has now concluded and An Bord Pleanála will issue its decision in due course.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times