An apparent mass grave of almost 800 babies at a former home for unmarried women in Ireland has shed light on the deplorable conditions of such facilities during the 20th century.
After living short lives of rejection from society in an overcrowded home filled with disease, the children reportedly were buried in the home's septic tank. Local historian Catherine Corless helped uncover the history of the site, located in Tuam.
She gathered the records of 796 babies who died at the home and are believed to have been buried between 1925 and 1961, The Irish Mail on Sunday reported. The home was run by Sisters of Bon Secours nuns.
Women went to such homes to escape the harsh judgment of premarital pregnancy, often sent by their families to avoid embarrassment.
“It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of rape," Corless told The Washington Post.
Many mothers left their children to start a new life, leaving their babies behind.
Although the unmarked plot was discovered by two 12-year-old boys in the 1970s and was suspected to be a graveyard of some sort by those who lived nearby, the dark reality of the site is only now being completely understood.
Local health board files revealed that the overcrowded home was plagued by disease and neglect, as noted by the Irish Mail.
A 1944 inspection report claimed that in mid-April, 333 people – primarily children – occupied the house, far surpassing the limit of 243, according to the Irish Mail.
Some infants were described in the report as “fragile, potbellied and emaciated,” with one described as “emaciated with flesh hanging loosely on limbs.”
But the home was no rarity at its time.
“Ireland’s very first mother and baby home, at Bessborough, in Cork, had an even worse infant mortality rate of around 82 percent,” said Eoin O’Sullivan, associate professor at Trinity College Dublin, according to NBC News.
Corless told the Irish Mail that only one child was buried “in a family plot in the graveyard in Tuam.”
“These girls were ran out of their family home and never taken back so why would they take the babies back to bury them either?” she explained.
Teresa Kelly, chairman of the Children’s Home Graveyard Committee, said that the committee wants to make sure that the children’s identities are recognized.