Like everyone else in Ireland, I’ve been aghast at the revelations of the treatment of the bodies of babies and infants who died in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home between the 1920s and the 1960s. Once again, we’re reminded how little value independent Ireland placed on its own children, with particular loathing and cruelty reserved for the children of the poorest and most vulnerable.
And it is Ireland that bears responsibility, not just the Catholic Church. The men and women who ran these institutions were our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, not alien occupiers dispatched from the Vatican, as some recent anti-Catholic commentary seems to imply. I remember my father jokingly threatening me with Salthill Industrial School for some misdemeanour in the early 1960s. He knew, and I knew, that there was horror behind its doors.
Bystanders most of us may have been, but innocent? No.
As a researcher, the aspect of the Tuam story that struck me most strongly was how local historian Catherine Corless went about retrieving the memory of the children who died in the Home. She examined all the local death records in order to identify the deaths of those who had died in the Home and then bought individual General Register Office print-outs at €4 each.
And of course all of these records are now free online and easily searchable up to 1964. And there are many other Mother and Baby Homes whose infant deaths have not been retrieved, where the memory of those children is still obscured.
So it’s now possible and simple to extend what Catherine did to those other children. This is a list of the fourteen homes being investigated by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.
Pick a home, go to the Advanced Search section of the IrishGenealogy civil records site and confine the search to that home’s Registration District, with the age at death 0, 1 or 2 . Then just work your way, year by year, through the death records, as Catherine did. It quickly becomes clear just how appalling the child death rates were in those institutions.
Where are they all buried? Almost none in marked graves, that’s for sure. At least the act of retrieving their names might begin the process of ensuring they are not completely forgotten.