Vigil held in Tuam for residents of mother and baby home

Test excavation on possible burial site at Bon Secours institution enters final stage

People take part in a candlelit vigil in memory of the residents of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. Photograph: Ray Ryan

When PJ Haverty joined a candle-lit walk into Tuam, Co Galway on Wednesday night, he could only think of the distressed steps taken on the very same route by his late mother, Eileen.

“For 5½ years she was in and out of the town on foot to the mother and babies home, begging for me to be returned to her,” Mr Haverty said.

Mr Haverty was one of more than 300 participants in a vigil which began at the unofficial burial grounds for the former Bon Secours home on the Dublin Road and continued to Tuam Town Square.

The vigil, organised by artist Sadie Cramer and local historian Catherine Corless, is part of a series of community events recognising the legacy of the institution which housed unmarried mothers and their children from the 1920s to 1961.


The excavation has been conducted by archaeologists on behalf of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, with a five-week time frame.

The commission was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but it has explained that the purpose of examining a “sample of the site” is to “resolve a number of queries . . . in relation to interment of human remains at this location”. A geophysical survey of the area was conducted in October 2015.

It was as a result of the research by Ms Corless on death records for some 796 toddlers and babies in Tuam that the commission was established in January 2015 by then health minister Dr James Reilly. Led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, it is examining 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes and is due to report in February 2018.

Foster parents

Mr Haverty, who now lives in Ballinamona in


parish, is married with three sons and farms land left to him by his foster parents. With the encouragement of his foster mother, he made contact with his birth mother, Eileen, in Brixton, London, and met her on three occasions.

He learned she had taken a job in the local hospital, hoping to be reunited with her son, and eventually made a “most saddening and heartbroken journey” by ferry to London.

“Imagine the cruelty she experienced,” he said, adding that his foster parents had been very kind.

Fellow survivor Peter Mulryan, who also attended the vigil, was in the home from 1944-1949. He was fostered as a five-year-old to a woman in her mid-70s and her son. He endured suffering and beatings and would "dread when summer would come as I would be hit with nettles".

He met his mother Brigid in 1975 and discovered that she had been in Tuam for a year. She was then sent to the Magdalene Laundry in Galway city where she remained for the rest of her life.

Two years ago, through the work of Ms Corless, Mr Mulryan discovered that he had a sister, ten years younger than him, who was recorded as having died of a convulsion at nine months.

“I am not sure if she died or if she was sent for adoption to America, as we believe many of those death certs may have been falsified,” Mr Mulryan said.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times