the missing | 

New documentary recounts the search for truth behind the Tuam mother and baby scandal

'I was ostracised and called a hoaxer for discovering 790 kids were thrown into a sewage tank by cruel nuns'

Catherine Corless

Eugene Masterson

CRUEL nuns buried dead children in a sewage tank and stole babies from their mothers and sold them off to rich American families.

That's the stark revelation in a harrowing documentary, 'The Missing' Children, on the Tuam Mother and Babies home set to be broadcast on RTÉ on Tuesday.

And survivors of the Co. Galway hellhole tell how they were tortured by evil fiends who damaged their ears by pulling them as hard as they could, and who also neglected to give them Christmas presents which kind-hearted locals donated. Despite these shocking incidents no criminal investigation has ever taken place into 790 children who were buried in unmarked graves at the site in Tuam.

Many of them were buried in a sewage tank, but it's suspected the vast majority are lying underneath a playground near the institution, which operated from 1925 to 1961.

It was run by the multi-billion euro Bon Secours order of nuns, who have offered just €2.5million for the €13million cost of a possible future excavation of the full site to recover the bodies of the unfortunate children who died while housed their with their unmarried mothers.

A commission of inquiry into the scandal cost the state €12million and even though the Bon Secours apologised for the atrocity they refused to take part in this ground-breaking documentary.

Kathy and Andrew Bellise

"The majority of those women were not allowed to bring their children home," explains journalist Alison O'Reilly, who first broke the story which caused international headlines in 2014. "They were illegitimate children, they were born out of marriage, therefore they were marked for life."

The woman who initially unearthed the scandal was brave local historian Catherine Corless.

"I knew about the children in the Tuam home but I always thought they were orphans. When I was about five, six years old, I remember them coming to school. I remember them being a little bit different and that we weren't allowed to mix with them,"

"When my own children were reared I just took an interest in the local history and I said 'why not do a bit of research on the home itself. I started talking to people in the locality who would have remembered the home because it closed in 1961.

"I got many many stories, but above all the stories I got was the peculiar corner in part of the grounds of the Tuam home.

"They told me the story of two little boys back in the 1970s playing in that particular corner. The ground gave way under them and they fell into a hole and came across a lot of little skulls and bones, skeletal remains of children and babies."

Local man Frannie Hopkins and a pal stumbled upon the site in the early 1970s when he was a boy playing in the area.

"We would have been in there getting apples, as children do. You'd literally stand on the top of the wall and jump. That particular day we jumped and basically landed to here where "I'm standing and there was a hollow sound, so we pulled back the briars and we seen there was a slab of concrete that was cracked and we pried open the concrete and that's when we discovered a pile of bones within the structure that was there."

Michael Byrne

Relatives of children who were buried in the cess pit tell of their torment at their loved ones not getting a Christian burial.

"When that happened in the 70s and those children found those remains, the local priest was called, but no investigation took place, 'nothing to see here' basically, 'probably just famine remains'," says Alison.

Patrick Naughton

Catherine is scathing about the nuns' behaviour: "There's nothing left of it now only parts of the 10-foot-high walls that surrounded the home, but that is all that remains to this day of the home.

"Before the mother and baby home it was a workhouse that was built in 1840. And they claimed that 'they must be famine or workhouse babies'.

"The next thing then I had to find out, how many children died in the home.

"The nuns weren't any help at the time, the county council, nobody would help me. "I just thought of the registration office in Galway, I said 'they will have the deaths'.

"I remember the girl who called me and she said 'do you really want to buy all those death certs?'. I said 'I need them'. She said 'there's hundreds and hundreds of children who died in the Tuam home'.

"She came back with the staggering number. She said 'between the dates you gave me, there are 796 I counted'. There's no disputing, it says on the death cert, 'died in the children's home in Tuam'."

Teresa O'Sullivan

She searched through the caretaker's book and not one name appeared among the 796 in the book.

"I checked the graveyards in the surrounding county, but I couldn't find any child being buried in any of the graveyards. So, ok the babies aren't in the Tuam graveyard, they aren't in the outlying graveyards, where are they? The assumption was in my mind they had to be on the grounds of the Tuam home.

"When I spotted that that area was a whole sewage system with a very large sewage tank, it was exactly where the boys had come across the bones, so that was my pivotal point really and I said 'these are not famine babies'."

When it emerged the children were buried in a sewage tank and the story broke, Catherine received an angry phone call the next day.

"'This is Sr Mary Ryan. I'm the leader of Bon Secours'," she recollects the woman on the other end of the phone saying.

"She says 'tell me what's all this about in the newspaper, what all this about?'. She said, 'do you realise all day yesterday we were being bombarded with media? Our elderly sisters are very upset'.

"'Well,' I said, 'it's about the burials. Did you not know about them?' I said, 'well I've no other explanation, if they're not in the sewage tank, where are they?' I said 'all the evidence is, and I have it all here is pointing to that' and she denied it vehemently."

Catherine's detective work made her many enemies.

"I was ostracised in a lot of areas. I was called a hoax and liar and looking for attention and trying to promote myself," she sighs.

The Missing Children, RTÉ One, tonight, 10.15pm

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