Whether by accident or design, one of the most striking aspects in the Commission of Investigation's final report on the Tuam children's home is the absence of detailed information from the 36-year period in which it operated.

It is a problem that has dogged efforts to uncover the truth about what happened at the institution operated by the Bon Secours religious order, on behalf of Galway County Council.

Opened in a former workhouse building in 1925, the home was never exclusively what was known as a mother-and-baby home, with children of married couples and those of widows / widowers also admitted.

Today's findings from the commission follow a series of Interim Reports in recent years, that provided detail on aspects of life in the home and the burial practices that took place when infants or children died there.

Among those, were the commission's finding in 2017 that "significant quantities of human remains" were buried in two structures, on the site of the home. These corresponded with the location of a "sewage tank" on Ordinance Survey maps and contained a number of chambers, many containing infant bones.

The commission has reiterated long standing concerns it has had about the loss or destruction of records over the years.

The report says it is impossible to determine if records now held by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) constitute all records that existed in 1961, when the home closed.

On the subject of possible foreign adoptions, there was only one box of material and it was not large. It contained just two passport photographs and some details about 22 residents adopted in the US, between 1951 and 1958.

In addition, the Bon Secours order told the commission that their archive contained 281 boxes but only two related to Tuam. Some of the material was created after the closure of the home.

The commission says local authority records, limited data from the Department of Health and some information from the Tuam Catholic Archdiocese have also been used to investigate the three-and-a-half decade history of the home.

Today, survivors in Tuam were critical of the report, saying it did little to bring finality to their long running campaign for justice.

PJ Haverty, who was born in the home in 1950, said there was no sense of progress being made in this quest.

PJ Haverty

His concerns were echoed by Carmel Larkin, who was also born in the home, who said Church and State authorities needed to be held account for what happened to thousands of mothers and their children in the 20th Century.

As with previous publications over the course of its inquiry, often it is little vignettes of information in commission publications that resonate most.

Descriptions of a playroom for children containing just two seats and rubber ball.

The recollection of a child who ate moss off the walls, because of the poor quality of food provided.

Or the view of the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam in the late 1950s that a proposal to close the home was "undesirable in every way". Archbishop Joseph Walsh argued that high boundary walls were needed to "deal with unmarried mothers … who were on the lookout to get in touch with men".

In ways, the home in Tuam was a forgotten place for much of its existence. Survivors speak of the stigma attached to being there, the feeling that "nobody wanted to know you".

And there is little evidence of detailed oversight by the State or Church authorities, particularly in the early days.

The commission says the first inspection report it has seen dates from 1945, two decades after the home opened.

Yet this was where 2,219 women were admitted, most of them from Counties Galway and Mayo. The most common age of these women was 20, rising to 21 in the 1950s. Their place in society predetermined by the Ireland in which they lived. A time when a 1930 report, cited by the Commission in the Chapter on Tuam, described a large number of unmarried mothers as "mentally defective"….with the act of them giving birth "a contingency doubly abhorrent, increasing the large number of imbecile children already in the country".

Women stayed in the home for less than a year. The average stay was around 200 days after giving birth.

Records show there were a total of 3,349 children resident in Tuam. Almost half were born in the home.

2,694 were the children of unmarried mothers, 655 of married or widowed parents.

This was a place conveniently forgotten by many at the time.

Galway County Council records show officials made efforts to pursue putative fathers for maintenance but in many instances they had left for England, changed address or denied responsibility.

Names of 339 putative fathers are listed in documents given to the inquiry, but the commission says it is not possible to know if any of these are accurate.

Children remained in the home for several years. While there was a policy to encourage boarding-out of children when they were two elsewhere, Galway Board of Health was unique in having an agreement with the home in Tuam to keep the children of unmarried mothers until they were school-going age. This was provided for in the agreement between the local authority and the Bon Secours Sisters when the home opened.

The investigation has been able to determine "exit pathways" for almost 60% of children from Tuam. Most were boarded out or left the home with their mothers. Over 20% went to other institutions, 3.85% were legally adopted after 1953. The commission says this pattern was broadly unchanged from the 1920s to the 1960s.

When a mother left, the local authority tried to ensure she contributed to the child's maintenance. In one case cited by the commission, council officials sent a letter to the Passport Office, requesting that a girl be refused permission to emigrate to England and sought legal proceedings against her for "deserting her child".

The commission has identified that 802 children died in the Tuam home. A further 80 died in the Central Hospital in Galway; 8 died elsewhere, including other hospitals; and 80 others died in Glenamaddy, a facility that predated the one in Tuam. The investigation examined that combined total of 978 deaths.

Almost half were of infants aged between one and six months, and almost 80% died before they were a year old.

Available records show 532 children had their mother with them at the time of death, but 430 were, what the report describes as, "unaccompanied".

Infant mortality decreased "dramatically" when the home was relocated from Glenamaddy to Tuam in 1925 and stood at 13.56% in 1927.

But by 1933 it had increased to 38.95% and remained above 30% for much of the following decade. It decreased in the 1950s and - apart from an increase in 1953 - maintained a downward trend until the home’s closure in 1961.

Cause of death is listed as "non-specific" in 177 cases, with respiratory infections accounting for 176 of total child deaths. Convulsions, TB and flu accounted for over 250 further fatalities.

The commission reiterates a finding from its fifth interim report in 2019, that it is likely that a large number of children who died in Tuam are buried in and around a memorial garden on the former site of the home.

Local authority records have virtually no information about deaths or illnesses in the home.

The commission says the most comprehensive inspection report it has seen dates from April 1947, when there were 271 children and 61 mothers in the home.

It describes the infant death rate then as high: Mortality ranged from 23% to 34% of all those born in the home, in the years between 1943 and 1946.

The inspector - a Miss Lister - said it was necessary to inquire into the possible causes of death. She said there was a constant risk of infection and no isolation unit at the home. But she said that infants "received good care in the children's home" with "the Bon Secours Sisters being careful and attentive".

The commission says it is regretful that it saw no further reports of this kind after 1947.

The report says the closure of the home in the early 1960s sheds light on the involvement of the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam.

Before this point, the only other evidence from archdiocesan archives dated from 1952. At that time the archbishop relayed a message from a local person, asking that Sister Hortense - who was in charge of the home from its establishment - be kept in her role. The Archbishop relayed the message to the order but stated that "he had no desire to interfere in any way with the working of the institution, which is capably managed in every way".

By 1957, a decline in numbers meant Galway County Council was considering the possibility of closing the home, and moving women and children to the former Woodlands sanatorium in Galway.

However Archbishop Joseph Walsh described the proposal as "undesirable in every way" due to the open nature of the prospective locations. He expressed the view that the only thing that prevented women from leaving the home was strict supervision and those high walls that surrounded it.

The commission says the Archbishop's objections delayed any decision about the future of the home for almost two years.

In 1959, officials from the Department of Health visited the building.

In a damning report about conditions there, they wrote of a poorly maintained, badly heated and totally unsuitable building accommodating upwards of 140 children.

There was no floor covering and infants were in their bare feet.

Dormitories had "absolutely no heating", no carpets and no furniture, other than beds or cots.

In July 1960, the Minister of Health approved the closure of the home. It was officially shut on 31 August 1961.

The report contains some testimony from women who gave birth in the home; a number of people who were born there and from the children of former residents.

One mother spoke of a "big gloomy building surrounded by iron gates". Several mothers and children spoke of the stigma attached to being resident there.

Others had positive memories of the nuns, while there were mixed views on the nourishment provided. One mother talked of basic meals for breakfast, dinner and tea, while one child recalled eating moss off walls, such was the poor standard of food.

No members of the Bon Secours Order who worked in Tuam are alive to give direct evidence.

Contributions from the Archdiocese of Tuam were also limited, as a result of the "pastoral role" it played. The Church emphasising to the commission that it had no administrative role in the home and that it was instead under the control of the Bon Secours Sisters, who were "agents of the County Board of Health".

The most detailed testimony in the report comes from Julia Devaney, who worked in the home from 1925 to 1961. In a recorded interview in the 1980s, she said the nuns were very regimental with the children and while the home was spotless, it was a "cold and loveless place".

Tonight, the survivors' quest for justice continues. They are still waiting for the Government to introduce legislation allowing for the exhumation and DNA analysis of the remains buried on the site on the Dublin Road in Tuam.

Catherine Corless, who has spent the last five years combing through archives and engaging with those who lived in the home, said she felt they had been let down by the final report.

She is critical of the "political lingo" that survivors heard during a webinar to outline the main findings today. And she says the search for accountability and answers goes on.