by Dualta Roughneen
Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen Laundries was released in 2013. Its content received little coverage as it failed to flow with the expedient current of derisory commentary towards religion, religious and religious institutions that is favoured at the present time. Senator McAleese opens with the summary introduction ‘There is no single or simple story of the Magdalen Laundries’. No greater headline-killing statement could have been derived, thus it was quickly ignored, to be substituted with simplistic, hysterical, and derogatory statements.
A familiar narrative is being generated in relation to the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam with the news of a discovery of a mass grave of 800 children, secretly buried in a septic tank, unceremoniously cast aside, after being maltreated by the Bon Secours nuns. That is the headline, that is the story that is being told. But is there any truth behind the headline?
The facts at the time of writing are: there were 796 deaths of infants in the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam between 1921 and 1965. These were recorded as deaths in the normal manner and filed with the local authority. They were not hidden. A tank with bones was discovered in 1975. The Gardai were notified and it was considered that there was nothing suspicious. The tank was covered over and since then, the area has been maintained by locals as a burial site, gently tendered and looked after.
Very recently, with the investigations by Catherine Corless, a local Galway historian, who has put the two sets of facts together, the story has now become the headline. As of yet, there is nothing new in terms of facts. It is difficult to understand how these two old facts have been able to become international news, and another international embarrassment to Ireland. TV3, on the Tonight with Vincent Browne story, the Irish Independent and the Irish Times all provided headline news on what the international media was saying about Ireland. Only Tom McGurk pointed out that all international media outlets were drawing conclusions and fabricating headlines in relation to the issue- that 800 babies were put in a mass grave by the Bon Secours nuns. These are speculations yet very few in the Irish establishment are willing to say ‘hold on now, wait until we establish the facts’. The New York Times reported that ‘the government and police are coming under increased pressure to open an investigations that a Roman Catholic religious order secretly buried up to 796 babies and toddlers’. BBC website states ‘almost 800 infants buried in unmarked graves’. Al Jazeera says ‘nearly 800 babies found dead in septic tank’, identical almost to an ABC News headline. ‘Church-run orphanages often buried their dead in unmarked graves, reflecting how unmarried mothers were ostracised,” writes the New York Times. The New York Daily News writes that “800 skeletons of babies” were “unceremoniously dumped in a septic tank and forgotten for decades”. Emer O’Toole (the Guardian) writes “We know about the abuse women and children suffered at the hands of the clergy, abuse funded by a theocratic Irish State. What we didn’t know is that they threw dead children into unmarked mass graves.”
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