Mother and Baby Homes: Commission’s findings on five sites
Bessborough, Bethany, Castlepollard, Pelletstown and Sean Ross: what we have learned
Site of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Blackrock, Cork city: was operated by the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary nuns. Photograph: Provision
More than 900 children born in, or admitted to the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home outside Cork city died in infancy or early childhood, but the Commission of Investigation has discovered the graves of just 64 of them.
Bessborough was run by the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, but the order of nuns has told the Commission of Investigation, which produced its fifth interim report on Wednesday, that they do not know where the other children are buried.
Describing the order’s declaration as “difficult to comprehend”, the commission said an affidavit on burials, including institutions in Castlepollard and Sean Ross, “was, in many respects, speculative, inaccurate and misleading”.
The record of deaths at Bessborough does not include any information about burials, said the commission, adding that the identification of burial places has “proven to be very challenging”.
Many former residents and advocacy groups assumed that the children who died at Bessborough were interred in the small burial ground there, but the commission thinks this “unlikely”.
Oral evidence and affidavits from members of the congregation provided “remarkably little evidence”. One member of the congregation said they remembered no deaths during her time there, which spanned a period of 50 years.
In one 10-year stretch during this time, 31 deaths took place. “It is rather surprising that she does not remember any deaths,” the commission notes.
The commission conducted extensive searches for alternative burial grounds within Bessborough and, while it is “clear that there are a number of locations within the grounds where burials could have taken place”, it found no evidence of where this may have occurred. Members of the public have come forward suggesting possible locations on the grounds but, again, no physical evidence has been produced showing that these sites contain remains. Nonetheless, the commission considers it “highly likely” that burials did take place in the grounds. The commission did not consider it feasible to excavate Bessborough’s 60 acres, or the 200 acres covered by the former estate.
Bessborough children were buried at several other cemeteries in Cork, and tracked down by the commission. Fifty-four children who died there were buried in St Joseph’s cemetery. The commission says it “seems plausible” to suggest the remains of unclaimed Bessborough children were buried in Cork District Cemetery, but the commission has not been able to find direct evidence of this – at least one Bessborough child was buried here, and a former administrator said many of the children were buried there; the commission tracked down children buried at St Michael’s cemetery, and four at St Finbarr’s who had an association with Bessborough. Fourteen mothers died in Bessborough, and the commission has not been able to identify where they were buried.
The commission found that 522 children died at the Cork County Home which was closely “interconnected” with Bessborough, and they are likely buried in Carr’s Hill, although there is no documentary evidence available.
The Bethany Homes institution in Dublin was mainly for Church of Ireland women. The main burial site for children who died there was Mount Jerome in Harold’s Cross. Its burial registers show that 240 children who were born in, or admitted to, the Bethany Home died between September 1922 and 1964, which the commission says “constitutes the majority of known deaths of Bethany Home children”. The children are buried in a series of unmarked graves. The report finds that multiple children were buried in the same grave which, when it reached full capacity, “was simply closed and the next available grave with spare capacity was used”. Records at Mount Jerome are described as “very good”. There are, however, at least 20 other children who died and are not recorded in the Mount Jerome register. The commission found no evidence of any child from Bethany being used as an anatomical subject, unlike in other institutions.
According to an affidavit submitted by the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which ran Castlepollard, all of the children buried in the institution’s graveyard were accorded the rites of the Catholic Church and not buried in unapproved cemeteries. The commission noted there is documentary evidence of the burials and, while the order’s assertions “may well be true”, no evidence was provided to support them. Over 220 children died in Castlepollard or hospitals they were sent to from there. The commission has “no reason to doubt” that the burials occurred on site, but there is no register of burials to verify this.
Pelletstown, an institution initially located on the Navan Road and then on Eglinton Road in Dublin, was run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. The commission has found that deaths at the institution, which also housed very ill children, “were appropriately recorded”. The majority of children were buried in the so-called Poor Ground burial plots, later renamed the Angel’s Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery. The commission found that while some checking needs to be completed, “it is clear that the majority of the children are buried in Glasnevin and their names are recorded in the burial registers there”.
Records compiled in Sean Ross, run by the Sacred Heart congregation, show that over 1,000 children died at the institution or at the District Hospital in Roscrea. There is a designated child burial ground at the site, and the commission has been “made aware of concerns” about it. A geophysical study and test excavation have been undertaken. The results are being examined.