Galway-based historian, Catherine Corless has called for the exhumation of the bodies of all children buried at the mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.
Ms Corless was speaking in Dublin on Thursday where she was presented with the annual Human Rights Award from barristers’ organisation the Bar of Ireland, for her work in relation to the home.
Her research led to the discovery of the remains of hundreds of babies on the site of the former institution for unmarried mothers run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours, and she continues to advocate on behalf of survivors.
A “terrible injustice” had been done to “innocent children” at the home she said, “both the people who went through the home and survived it and also . . . the children who died there” .
The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes earlier this year announced that “significant” quantities of human remains had been found buried under the Tuam home site. The commission was set up in February 2015 after Ms Corless, published research that revealed death certificates for 796 children home with no indication of their burial places.
“I couldn’t get my mind around how the sisters could leave that home in 1961, close the gates when it closed down, with 796 children buried beneath in the tunnels in coffins, a lot of them in the sewage tank area as we now know,” she said. “What kind of mentality would leave that place without acknowledging that so many burials were there, so many precious lives were lost?”
She said she hoped the commission would make recommendations which would restore some dignity to the dead.
“The ideal would be to exhume those little bodies and just show them some dignity and reverence and to perhaps reinter them in the main Tuam graveyard which is only across the road.”
The commission must also provide justice for the survivors, she said.
“Hopefully the commission of inquiry will give them justice. All they want is an apology and an acknowledgment of what happened to them and their mothers.”
Paul McGarry SC, chairman of the council of the Bar of Ireland said Ms Corless had shown “incredible courage and determination” in her advocacy work on behalf of survivors of the home.
“She has worked tirelessly on their behalf and has shone a light on a dark period of our history, passionately represented the victims and their rights at all times, often in the face of adversity,” he said.
“She epitomises the very essence of a humanitarian and is a very deserving recipient of this award.”
The Bar of Ireland’s Human Rights Award is presented to a person or organisation who has shown exceptional humanitarian service. Last year it was awarded to the Irish Naval Service for its work on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.