Child graves prompt Irish to ask why so many babies died in Catholic Church care
In the leafy grounds of a center for the disabled in rural central Ireland, a small tombstone hints at the building’s previous role as a “mother-and-baby home”. It reads: “In Memory of God’s Special Angels”.
No names, no dates, just an acknowledgement that buried in the garden of the Manor House in Castlepollard are children born to unwed mothers at the Church-run institutions that dotted Ireland half a century ago.
The discovery of a mass grave at a similar home, two hours drive to the west in the small town of Tuam, has prompted the Irish to ask why so many babies died, anonymously, in the care of the Catholic Church that was once a pillar of respectability.
“If something happened in Tuam, it probably happened in other mother-and-baby homes around the country,” said Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who has seen the Church’s authority shattered by revelations of sex abuse by priests and cruelty at so-called Magdalene laundries where “fallen women” were forced to work in harsh conditions.
“All the indications are that those who were running the institutions didn’t understand or did not want to understand how you looked after children and how you examined the special care children needed at that early stage,” Martin told national broadcaster RTE.
The 796 child deaths detailed by an amateur historian at Tuam from 1925 to 1961 has highlighted a mortality rate among “illegitimate” infants that academics describe as “staggering”.
Government records show that throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s, the rate was often more than five times that of children born to married parents. On average, more than one in four children born out of wedlock died.