DUBLIN — A mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children has been discovered at a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland, government-appointed investigators announced Friday in a finding that offered the first conclusive proof following a historian’s efforts to trace the fates of nearly 800 children who perished there.
The judge-led Mother and Baby Homes Commission said excavations since November at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, had found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing “significant quantities of human remains.”
The commission said DNA analysis of selected remains confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to 3 years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the overcrowded facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers and their children. The Tuam home closed in 1961.
Friday’s findings provided the first proof after decades of suspicions that the vast majority of children who died at the home had been interred on the site in unmarked graves. That was a common, but ill-documented practice at such Catholic-run facilities amid high child mortality rates in early 20th century Ireland.
The government in 2014 formed the investigation after a local Tuam historian, Catherine Corless, tracked down death certificates for nearly 800 children who had died as residents of the facility — but could find a burial record for only one child.
“Everything pointed to this area being a mass grave,” said Corless, who recalled how local boys playing in the field had reported seeing a pile of bones in a hidden underground chamber there in the mid-1970s.