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brave fight Catherine Corless says ‘stern phone call’ from nuns drove her to get justice for Tuam babies

That instant, that was it, I thought 'these aren't going to get the better of me'.”

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Historian Catherine Corless

Historian Catherine Corless

Historian Catherine Corless

Catherine Corless has said that a “stern phone call” from a Bon Secours nun drove her to get justice for the Tuam babies.

The historian’s research helped to bring to light that 796 babies and children had died and been buried in a mass grave in a septic tank at the Galway mother and baby home between 1925 and 1961.

Over the years she has fronted a tireless media driven campaign to get justice for those buried at the site and their families.

Catherine comments come as an art exhibition honouring the women and children who were in Ireland’s mother and baby homes is set to open this evening at the Mansion house.

Catherine described the show as "beautiful" and has loaned the exhibition a large chalice, entitled 'Defenseless', holding 796 tiny babies made by Belgian artist Martine Sterck.

Speaking about the story breaking in 2014, Catherine said: “The catalyst for me to keep going was that the Bon Secours sisters rang me the morning after [the news broke].”

“I got a stern phone call from the head nun who said she wanted to know ‘what all this was about, the media are landing on our doorstep, what’s all this about?’.”

“And I just calmly said, ‘well Sister, did you not know about it?’”

“‘We did not, that home closed in ‘61, what would we know about it? I don’t know what you’re talking about a mass grave’,” she said describing her conversation with the nun.

“That instant, that was it, I thought 'these aren't going to get the better of me'.”

“All my life people would get the better of me and I had no power, no voice, nothing, but I thought in that instant, I’m going to be a voice for these babies,” Corless explained.

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“I felt secure because I knew I had my facts and I said ‘I have evidence, these are facts, they're there in the records, you can challenge them’ and that's when she said they'd like to meet us.”

“At the meeting, they were taking a stance, they knew nothing, they were holding onto that,” Catherine explained.

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Baby shoe for Bessborough by Karen Morgan

Baby shoe for Bessborough by Karen Morgan

Baby shoe for Bessborough by Karen Morgan

Catherine said she was deeply moved by the art in on show in the Mansion house.

"I saw the show in UCC and it is absolutely beautiful,” she said.

“The time and patience the artist took to work on these stunning pieces. It is a really gorgeous show and I would encourage people to go and see it.”

People really care about the Tuam babies and I have been overwhelmed at the response to shows like this by people from all over the world.”

"I am also delighted to loan the chalice of babies made by Belgian artist Martine Sterck to this show".

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The chalice, loaned to the show by Catherine Corless and made by Belgian Artist Martine Sterck (photo by Karen Morgan)

The chalice, loaned to the show by Catherine Corless and made by Belgian Artist Martine Sterck (photo by Karen Morgan)

The chalice, loaned to the show by Catherine Corless and made by Belgian Artist Martine Sterck (photo by Karen Morgan)

The Show which has been displayed at UCC, Sarajevo Women's International Festival and the Inspire Gallery in Dublin, features installations, paintings, performance and ceramics.

The show opens tonight at the Mansion House at 6pm and will run from 10am to 8pm until 10th March.

In February, the Cabinet approved a Bill allowing for legal forensic excavation, recovery, and analysis of remains at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home in Tuam and others.

The Institutional Burials Bill will use a DNA identification process to reunite dozens of families with the remains of their loved ones.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said that while the excavation will likely be a “hugely complex operation”, it will be “one of the most complex forensic excavation and recovery efforts ever undertaken not only in Ireland but anywhere in the world.

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Minister Roderic O’Gorman (Julien Behal/PA)

Minister Roderic O’Gorman (Julien Behal/PA)

Minister Roderic O’Gorman (Julien Behal/PA)

He added that the DNA identification process will be completed “on a scale never done before in Ireland” and “will ensure that the children there have the dignified burial that has been denied to them for so long.”

The Bill contains a number of changes from earlier drafts of the legislation, namely restrictions on who could provide DNA samples to compare with remains.

The legislation now allows for a wider circle of relatives, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, to provide samples.

“Nothing in this legislation will prevent inquests or investigations into the deaths at Tuam,” the minister said.

The minister said that the Institutional Burials Bill allows for excavation of the entire site in Tuam and added that he is unable to predict how many remains will be identified during the process.

“We are designing this legislation to ensure that every set of remains is recovered and is identified and potentially linked to somebody. We are not just looking at the septic tank, we are looking at the entire site in Tuam,” he said.

He insisted that the excavation was necessary and would “at long last, afford the children interred at Tuam a dignified and respectful burial.”

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