Glasnevin Cemetery is the final resting place for over 1.2 million of Ireland’s dead. Today the area called the Angels Plot is the resting place for more than fifty thousand infants and children. Photo By William Murphy from Dublin, Ireland [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ireland is known for hills of green and fields of flowers, children laughing and running gleefully in the glory of the lush countryside. So what happens when the greatest natural resource a country has is abused, both in life and in death? In the case of Ireland, it seems turning a blind eye and calloused cheek is the preferred option.
Over a span of 35 years, the Tuam, County Galway home for unwed mothers, established by the Catholic Church of Ireland, took in the most vulnerable of Ireland’s unsupported, unwed and uncared for pregnant women. Incest, rape and other horrid circumstances often were the event that meant being sent to “the home.” But what happened next remains shrouded in mystery and coverup, as truth fights to find the light of day.
Evidence shows 796 children, from newborns to a nine-year-old, died in a home run by the Bon Secours order of nuns in Tuam between 1925 and 1961. Historian Catherine Corless, who made the discovery, says death records from the home show the children died from malnutrition and infectious diseases, such as TB and measles. There are no burial records for the children, leading to conclusions and rumors that most were dumped in unmarked graves with little or no notification to families. Only children that had been baptized were allowed to be buried in cemeteries or consecrated ground. The stillborn, premature and unbaptized children of these women at the homes were not being buried in any proper way.
The Telegraph explains it best. “The Irish government has bowed to pressure to set up an official inquiry into deaths and abuse at homes for unmarried mothers after it found 4,000 infants had been buried in unmarked graves at institutions where morality rates ran as high as 50 per cent. The inquiry was announced with anger growing over official inaction in the face of revelations that infants had been buried in a mass grave behind a convent-run mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway where 796 children died over a 30-year period. Enda Kenny, the prime minister, said unmarried mothers were treated as an “inferior sub-species” as he declared the investigation would revealed a shameful past.”
As if that is not appalling enough, there is also evidence that those children who did manage to survive at first were then subjected to medical vaccine experiments prior to any approval for human use. Salon reports “In a related story, GSK — formerly Wellcome — revealed…on Newstalk Radio that 298 children in 10 different care homes were involved in medical trials in the ’60s and ’70s that left “80 children ill after they were accidentally administered a vaccine intended for cattle.”
Ireland has a great challenge if this is to be sorted out in a way that is sensitive – not sensationalized – in order to bring peace to the families who have lost so much. Based on the track record of the Catholic Church in rectifying past crimes within its walls, we can only pray the Church is not allowed to participate in or influence the outcome of any and all investigations into this matter.
My reflection on this stems from confusion. The position that all life is sacred and therefore must be allowed birth is acceptable, until it is considered with the view of what happens once those children enter the world when their world is not prepared to accept them. Poverty and austerity means these children are fortunate if they have sufficient food, shelter and health care to flourish their first years. Provided they do, they are then challenged to fight for education that does not begin to equal that of their well-off peers. This does not seem exclusive to Ireland; we see abuses of vulnerable children in nearly every country on the planet, including the United Sates.
What Occupy World Writes believes is that it is time for the world to recognize that the Church is not above sin by the members it allows to hide behind its stained glass windows. We believe any accusation of crime against any church or religious body should be investigated as all other crimes, without any influence or limitations set by the very accused. We also call on the government of Ireland to pursue this investigation to its full completion and hold all parties fully accountable.
I am haunted by the children who have perished at the hands of those entrusted with their care. Images of Kurdish children, Gazan youth, Syrian infants, Nigerian teenagers, all the victims of politics they will never grow up to understand. I must ask you how a blind eye and silent voice can give compassion and understanding so that an end to the carnage can be found.
THESE ARE CHILDREN.