Tuam Babies

But there is confusion about what dates these maps relate to. One map Corless shows The Irish Times is dated 1892. It describes the building on the site as “Children’s Home”, but in 1892 the building was a workhouse. It did not become a home until 1925. Corless had not noticed this until her attention was drawn to it.

She is sure that a sewage tank operated on the site in the early part of the 20th century because minutes of the workhouse’s board meetings published at the time by the Tuam Herald report problems of overflowing.

Would it have taken up the entire space of what is now known as the unofficial graveyard for the babies who died at the home? “No,” she says. “Maybe a third of the area.” She believes that what Sweeney and Hopkins found was the former sewage tank, which she had previously referred to in her article as a crypt. It seems this is where the story of “800 skeletons dumped in a septic tank” has subsequently come from.

 

Even if a number of children are indeed interred in what was once a sewage tank, horrific as that thought is, there cannot be 796 of them. The public water scheme came to Tuam in 1937. Between 1925, when the home opened, and 1937 the tank remained in use. During that period 204 children died at the home. Corless admits that it now seems impossible to her that more than 200 bodies could have been put in a working sewage tank.

Corless has not been contacted by anyone from any State department, asking to have access to her research. Nor has her work been corroborated by anyone else. “I would definitely be willing to share my research,” she says.

In response to Corless’s story, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan confirmed this week that there will be a Government inquiry into all mother-and-baby homes.

Corless has proved that 796 children died while at St Mary’s in Tuam – a shameful statistic that would not have been known without her years of dedicated work. It seems clear that at least some of these children lie in the small plot of land at the back of the Dublin Road housing estate. Excavation might be the only way to be sure. “Our intention in setting up this committee was not excavation,” she says, “but I would welcome the truth.”