In 1975 a group of local boys in Tuam discovered a slab in the former ground of what was locally known as The Home – one of eight ‘mother-and-baby homes’ throughout Ireland, housing unwed pregnant women and run by nuns – and underneath it they found little skeletons. This discovery was not reported until the recent publication of a report by a local historian, Catherine Corless of 796 deaths of babies in the St Mary’s home between 1925 and 1961. There were some media exaggerations, particularly reports of ‘800 babies found dumped in a septic tank’ and used for medical experiments.
The reality is not as scandalous but not less horrific. Corless confirms that at least 200 babies were put in a working sewer tank, leading William River Pitt in an article titled ‘Men’s rights and the septic tank of history’ (Truthout, 8 June 2014) to call these deaths and the targeting of sexually active Irish women ‘the septic tank of history’.
Despite recent reports on child abuse, the mother-and-baby homes still await a public investigation. These homes – denoting a deep hatred of female sexuality and the visiting of the mothers’ ‘sins’ upon their hapless children – were aimed to hide these unwed mothers’ ‘shame’; the fathers, be they the women’s lovers, abusers or rapists, were never targeted. Many of the babies born in these ‘homes’ were sold for adoption to wealthy American Catholic childless couples. Many of the women laboured for the nuns in these homes or in Magdalene Laundries, whose horrible story has finally been told in recent years. Continue reading “Ireland and its children: The septic tank of history”