The bodies of nearly 800 babies were found in a septic tank near an Irish home for unwed mothers in Galway.
The infants were likely buried in secret at St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home. Run by nuns in Tuam for 36 years, the facility supposedly helped women get a new start until it closed in 1961. Their children were not so lucky.
Many of them died from neglect, malnutrition and complications from illnesses like pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis and gastroenteritis.
The mass grave was uncovered by a local historian, Catherine Corless, who is asking authorities to investigate the facility as well as construct a memorial on the site.
“The bones are still there,” Corless told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “The children who died in the Home, this was them.”
“If you look at the records, babies were dying two a week, but I’m still trying to figure out how they could [put the bodies in a septic tank],” she added. “Couldn’t they have afforded baby coffins?”
Even when St. Mary’s was open, authorities were aware of the shocking conditions inside. A 1944 inspection from the board of health notes 333 unwed women and their children living in the facility, when its capacity was only 243.
Infants between the ages of 3 weeks and 13 months were described as “fragile, pot-bellied and emaciated.” The inspector noted a 13-month-old boy who had “no control over bodily functions” and was “probably mentally defective.”
Homes for unwed mothers run by the Catholic church were common in Ireland in the 20th century, according to the Global Post.
One such home, Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary, was depicted in Dame Judi Dench’s Oscar-nominated movie “Philomena.”
“When daughters became pregnant they were ostracized completely,” Corless said. “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.”
Once excavated, the number of those buried at the site could be higher than 800.
“God knows who else is in the grave,” an anonymous source told the Daily Mail. “It’s been lying there for years and no one knows the full extent of the total of bodies down there.”
Sources: Washington Post, Global Post, Daily Mail