Burial records pose challenge for inquiry into mother-and-baby homes

Wednesday 11 June 2014 22.15
The deaths of 796 children were registered at the home in Tuam between 1925 and 1961
The deaths of 796 children were registered at the home in Tuam between 1925 and 1961

The scale of the task facing the forthcoming Commission of Investigation into mother-and-baby homes is apparent when the issue of infant burial is considered.

A review of interment records for Tuam between 1922 and 1943 provides little evidence that deceased infants from the town's home were buried in the local cemetery.

The Commission of Investigation into mother-and-baby homes will examine all aspects of the institutions, which operated for much of the last century.

High mortality rates, adoptions and questions relating to clinical trials will all be examined.

The issue of burial practices is also key to the inquiry, but it may be difficult to achieve definitive answers in this regard.

The deaths of 796 children were registered at the home in Tuam between 1925 and 1961.

A trawl of digitised records over a 21-year period in Tuam shows one infant - aged 21 months - was listed as being resident in the home at the time of death in the early 1930s.

It is the only reference to a deceased person who lived in the home in the timeframe concerned.

Interment records across Co Galway for the period in question are incomplete in many cases and, in some instances, non-existent.

However, the records from Tuam are considered to be a good genealogical resource, having been maintained since the mid-1880s.

In the case of well-maintained records, the name of the deceased, their age, date of burial and last place of residence is listed.

Additional information can include their sex and occupation, as well as the owner of the plot in which they are buried and that person's relationship to the deceased.

Galway County Council has responsibility for over 200 burial grounds.

In most cases records only begin in the 1930s and even then, the picture is far from complete. 

Registers of Interment detail who went into a particular graveyard in chronological order but do not specify in which plot people are buried.

In addition to burial records, the council's archive department has a range of material that makes reference to the mother-and-baby home in Tuam.

Much of this detail was recorded in Board of Health minutes until 1941, when functions transferred to the new County Manager structures in local authorities.

There are references to the administrative running of the home in 'Manager's Orders'.

These documents also contain some information about children who were "boarded out" - the term used before adoption was made legal.

In many instances the County Manager would have been asked to approve the cost of a passport photograph of a child, who would be "boarded out" to a family abroad.

Other documents make reference to the way in which unmarried mothers were considered by Irish society at the time.

Detail from a 1926 meeting lists a call for a separate ward in the Maternity Department of the main county hospital for unmarried mothers.

The reason given for this request was that "while this class of patient" was being admitted to the unit, "the wives of artisans, labourers ... for whose use the hospital was primarily intended, will not seek admission".

Vigils in Eyre Square and Dublin

Meanwhile, around 200 people gathered at Eyre Square in Galway to remember those who died in the Tuam home.

The vigil was organised by the Galway pro-choice campaign.

There were calls for reparations from the Catholic Church and the State and songs and poems were also recited.

A vigil was also held outside Leinster House in Dublin.

About 250 people marched from the Department of Children on Mespil Road to Kildare Street.

Candles were lit and baby clothes tied to the railings.

Amnesty International Ireland Director Colm O'Gorman addressed the vigil.

He said the voices of children like these had been crying out to be heard for years in Ireland and that those looking for answers must be listened to.