More Bethany graves found

 

The number of children who died as a result of neglect at the Bethany mother and baby home in Dublin is far greater than previously thought, new research has found.

Griffith College lecturer Niall Meehan, who discovered 40 unmarked Bethany Home graves at Mount Jerome cemetery at Harold's Cross earlier this year, has uncovered a further 179 graves that date from between 1922 and 1949.

The Bethany Home was run by evangelical members of the Church of Ireland but had no formal connection with that church. It operated at Blackhall Place in Dublin from 1921-34 and at Orwell Road, Rathgar, until it closed in 1972.

It was also a place of detention for women convicted of petty theft, prostitution, infanticide and birth concealment. In 1935-36 the home was required to register child mortality, under the Maternity Act of 1934.

According to Mr Meehan, who has published details of his discovery in the latest issue of History Ireland, 54 of those children whose bodies have been found, died from convulsions, while a further 41 died from heart failure and 26 from marasmus, a form of malnutrition. Nineteen were still-born.

The research indicates that nearly two-thirds of all the children's deaths occurred between 1935 and 1944.

Mr Meehan discovered that 1936 saw the highest number of mortalities at Bethany with 29 deaths that year, six of whom were buried the day they died. This is eight more than the number reported to Bethany’s managing committee.

The information was discovered in Bethany Home minutes by Mr Meehan who then traced the unnamed children to Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Mr Meehan said there are a further 28 Bethany Home residents whose bodies have not been found but which are not believed to be in Mount Jerome.

Mr Meehan said the State "did little or nothing" about reported increases in illness and mortality at the home during these years, despite it being brought to the attention of the then department of local government and public health by its own inspectors.

"The Irish State failed to do anything substantive about death, neglect and export of children in a home it inspected, to which its courts sent convicted women and young people," he writes in History Ireland.

"It misused its Maternity Act inspection regime to achieve merely a level sectarian playing field. The state then delayed providing financial resources throughout the 1940s, until recognition under the 1939 Public Assistance Act was achieved in 1948. Had it been otherwise lives might have been spared and life experiences improved."

Mr Meehan has also found that Bethany Home sent children to England to similar organisations, and also to Barnardos and the Salvation Army. A number of residents were also sent for adoption to the United States in the 1950s.

The Bethany House Survivors' Group comprising of former residents at the home, has reiterated its call for the Government to include its members in the redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse.

The Department of Education has previously said that children were admitted to Bethany on a voluntary basis and therefore do not qualify for the redress scheme.

However, a letter sent on behalf of Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to Mr Meehan in July confirms the institution was designated as a place of detention in 1945,  which Mr Meehan said strengthens the group's claim for admittance to the redress scheme.