Ireland: Historian refutes 'septic tank' story

Last week newspapers around the world carried gruesome reports of the discovery of 800 babies' bodies in a septic tank in the grounds of a former convent in Ireland which ran a home for unmarried mothers and children. The author of the study on which the reports were loosely based has expressed her shock at the way her work has been misinterpreted.

In a report in the Irish Times, Catherine Corless, a local historian in Co Galway, said: "I never used that word ‘dumped’, I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”

The true story behind the children's graveyard is very sad but not sinister. In her research Catherine Corless found the death certificates of 796 children, mostly infants, who died between 1925 and 1961, at the home run by the Bon Secour Sisters. The children’s names, ages, places of birth and causes of death were officially recorded in government records. The children died variously of tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis and meningitis, among other illnesses.

The number of deaths is a stark reflection of a period in Ireland when infant mortality in general was very much higher than today, particularly in institutions, where infection spread rapidly. The children will have been buried with the rites of the Church. The graveyard has a statue of Our Lady and several crosses - but - as with 'pauper's graves'in England to the present time, the children were not given individual gravestones.

Catherine would like to erect a memorial stone with the names of all the children inscribed on it.

To read the full report in the Irish Times, see:

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