Christian loving-kindness 15


Children’s Home, Dublin Road, Tuam, Ireland circa 1950. (Courtesy of Catherine Corless/Tuam Historical Society)

This heart-searing story comes from the Washington Post.

In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours [“Good Help”] nuns in Tuam.

Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.

More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins. …

The grim findings, which are being investigated by police, provide a glimpse into a particularly dark time for unmarried pregnant women in Ireland, where societal and religious mores stigmatized them. Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home. …

Malnutrition and neglect killed many of the children, while others died of measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Infant mortality at the Home was staggeringly high. …

Special kinds of neglect and abuse were reserved for the Home Babies, as locals call them. Many in surrounding communities remember them. They remember how they were segregated to the fringes of classrooms, and how the local nuns accentuated the differences between them and the others. They remember how … they were “usually gone by school age — either adopted or dead”. …

A 1944 local health board report described the children living at the Home as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” …

The historian Catherine Corless, who uncovered the septic tank grave, remembers the Home Babies:

“If you acted up in class, some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies.” … She recalled one instance in which an older schoolgirl wrapped a tiny stone in a bright candy wrapper and gave it to a Home Baby as a gift. … I copied her later and tried to play the joke on another little Home girl. I thought it was funny at the time…. Years after, I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. … “

Locals suspect that the number of bodies in the mass grave, which will likely soon be excavated, may be even higher than 800.

A photo of some of the children at “the Home” in 1924 (Connaught Tribune, 21st June 1924)

Posted under Christianity, Commentary, Ethics by Jillian Becker on Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tagged with , ,

This post has 15 comments.

  • Kelly

    Not to defend the Catholic Church, but I just found out AP issued a major correction to the story on Tuam: . We’re all too familiar with how the news media exaggerates for effect, especially when they can undercut Western civilization in the process.

    • Thank you for the link, Kelly, but we don’t find the correction to be “major”. Apparently there had been an allegation that the babies had not been baptized. We would not regard it as a regrettable omission if they had not. And the correction says they had indeed been subjected to that pointless ritual. Babies were buried in unmarked graves, some near or not near a septic tank. None of that detracts from the fact that the women and the children were treated not just with cold disdain, not merely callously, but with actual cruelty.

  • mowimbi

    Seems eerily as though Mother Teresa took a page from this playbook. Apparently her focus was building the brand and expanding rather than providing true care for the dying. However, I suppose they get some credit for at least getting them off the streets. Perhaps someone who knows more about it could comment.

    • Frank

      Let Christopher Hitchens enlighten you.

      • liz

        I like Hitchen’s arguments against religion, but I think his argument against Mother Theresa here is a bit thin.
        She seems to me to have been nothing more than a traditional Catholic promoting traditional Catholic values, and caring for the poor in a traditional backwards way.
        Of course raising money for her charities was important, and she wasn’t going to “look a gift horse in the mouth” by being picky about her donors.
        I also disagreed with his take on Reagan and his support of the Contras. I guess Hitchens was still in his way leftist phase when he made this.


    I could relate to this story through the story of my own grade school ‘imprisonment’ at the Catholic grade school I attended back in the fifties. IMHO, it wasn’t too far away from this horror in Ireland.

    Children live what they learn. Hopefully they spend the rest of their lives in healthy reflection of this type of past. For me, this came only after some pretty deep inner work.

    I now know that to attain my own level of inner growth these were exactly the experiences that I needed to go through.

    In order to view the complete battlefield, the general must climb up to the top of the mountain, as this is the greatest vantage point from which to see the entire battle.

    • We’re very glad that you triumphantly survived such a grade school experience, REALBEING.


        The nuns at my school wore 2 inch wide, “razor strap” belts that not only went around their waists, but had an excess that hung down about three feet alongside their leg.

        On the end of this belt was a steel clip-reinforcement. Needless to say, when a child made a mistake, one of “God’s Wives” would straighten out this mistake with this belt and clip up alongside the child’s head.

        But the real damage to the child was the wounds not seen….the ones on the inside.

        My younger brother, who has battled alcoholism, drug abuse, and bi-polar disorder came home one day from this school, crying his eyes out and carrying a huge red imprint of a hand on his face….from sister Caroline.

        • liz

          How can any Catholic, who has ever heard of experiences like this, and heard of the crimes of their priests, have any respect left for their leftist Pope?
          Or anything else about the religion, for that matter.
          I think it must be the “Stockholm Syndrome” at work.

          • REALBEING

            This afternoon while I was writing my piece on this story, I was captured by those faces in the above photo………..those faces now lost to the universe… oblivion now.

            I wondered about what was lost to the world by their being disposed of.

            I wondered why not even one single abuser couldn’t look into those eyes….sorrowful and mistreated, and see another human being starring out at them….scared and lonely, going through the motions of living out a life in all innocence that ever existed.

            • liz

              It gives one a glimpse of the unimaginable harshness of life for people back in the Dark Ages.

  • Frank

    If you weren’t a militant anti-theist before reading that story (I was) you should be after you read it.

  • liz

    This reminded me of another story about a Catholic orphanage (it may have been on this site) in which the children were sexually abused by priests, probably around the same time period.
    Really too sad for words.

    • Have you seen the film “Philomena”, liz? It’s also about the cruel treatment of such children by Catholic nuns in Ireland. (The story is saddening, but it is a good film with a great performance by Judy Dench, and there’s humor in it.) I’ve known a number of Catholics who all suffered one way or another at the hands of priests and/or nuns when they were children. And there’s another film worth seeing: “The White Ribbon”. That is about children suffering under the oppression of strict Lutherans in Germany in the early 20th century.

      • liz

        No, I haven’t seen either one, but I will now – thanks!