Celtic cross in Ireland (Wikipedia.org)
Dublin, Ireland, Jun 11, 2014 / 02:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).-
Distorted claims about the burials of hundreds of children who died at
an Irish home for unwed mothers show a trend of “exaggerations and
myths” about injustices in the country's Catholic past, one commentator
The truth about the hundreds of children allegedly
buried in a septic tank “was a very different story to the fact-lite,
fury-heavy tale that had already gone round the world,” said Brendan
O’Neill, editor of Spiked Online.
O'Neill made his remarks in a
June 9 editorial about news coverage of the Bons Secours Sisters’ St.
Mary’s home for unwed mothers, which operated in Tuam in the twentieth
“Clearly this isn’t about news anymore; it isn’t a
desire for facts or truth that elevated the crazed claims about Tuam up
the agenda; rather, a mishmash of anti-Catholic prejudice, Irish
self-hatred and the modern thirst for horror stories involving children
turned Tuam into one of the worst reported stories of 2014 so far,” he
“The transformation of Ireland’s past into a cesspit of
human wickedness that modern Irish historians and assorted
Catholic-bashers can dip into in search for stuff to stand up their
contemporary prejudices inevitably leads to the skewing of facts.”
O’Neill responded to media coverage about the work of a local
historian, Catherine Corless, who researched the unmarked burials of 796
babies and young children who died at the Tuam home during its years of
operation from 1925 to 1961. The children died at a rate of about 23
The reports focused on the burial of the children in
unmarked graves, with much coverage focusing on claims that some bodies
were interred in a former septic tank.
O’Neill said that the facts in the case have been wildly distorted.
“The septic tank or the grounds of the former home have not been
excavated. No babies have been ‘found in a septic tank’, as the
Washington Post, The Guardian and others claimed. The claim that the
babies were ‘dumped’ into some kind of sewage system is wrong, too,” he
Corless has also clarified her research, telling the Irish Times that she never said the bodies had been “dumped.”
Some bodies were reportedly uncovered by children in the 1970s. One of
the children, Barry Sweeney, recounted the discovery he made at the age
of 10 when he and another child lifted a concrete slab in the burial
grounds. He said he saw about 20 unwrapped skeletal remains laid
haphazardly in the crypt. Corless speculated that the crypt was a former
O’Neill countered several depictions of Corless’ research in the media.
“The claim that the babies were ‘dumped’ in a tank is not true,
according to Corless herself. And the notion that the babies were hurled
in with sewage is not correct apparently the tank had been turned
into a crypt,” he said.
O’Neill noted exaggerated reactions to
the piece in prominent media outlets that compared the Tuam home to the
Nazi Holocaust and the Rwandan atrocities.
“What madness is
this? How did speculation that some children out of 796 might have been
buried in a former septic tank become news headlines about 800 dead
children having been found in a septic tank, leading to comparisons
being made between Ireland’s old nuns and the architects of the Nazi
“There is no doubt that life was grim in that home
in Tuam, as it was across the west of Ireland in the early to
mid-twentieth century,” O’Neill acknowledged. He noted the “depressingly
high” infant mortality in early 20th century Ireland, particularly due
to the spread of infection in institutions.
He said that the
Ireland of previous centuries was “sometimes a harsh and unpleasant
place” and the Catholic Church “undoubtedly” mistreated some women and
children it cared for.
“But the unhealthy obsession over the
past 10 years with raking over Ireland’s past has little to do with
confirming such facts and instead has become a kind of grotesque moral
sport, providing kicks to the anti-Catholic brigade and fuel to the
historical self-flagellation that now passes for public life in
O’Neill said that claims of large-scale abuse at
industrial schools and the Magdalene Laundries have also been called
The women inmates of the laundries included
orphans from abusive or neglectful homes, elderly women without other
support, homeless women, women with physical or mental disabilities or
mental health problems, women who had committed petty crimes and women
who had given birth out of wedlock.
A government report about
the laundries found that the “vast majority” of the girls were not
physically punished and found no cases of sexual abuse, O’Neill said.
One of the most popular books about the laundries, Kathy O’Beirne’s
“Don’t Ever Tell,” which claimed she was raped and abused in other ways
at the laundries, has also been exposed as fraudulent.
Another government report about the abuse of boys in Catholic-run
schools found 68 allegations of rape over an 85-year period. News
coverage exaggerated this figure to report that “thousands” had been
“If as many myths were spread about by a government in
relation to a war or something, there would be outrage, demands for an
inquiry; why is it okay, then, to promote half-truths, non-facts and
embellishments about the Irish Catholic Church?” O’Neill asked.
The reports about the burials at the Tuam home have prompted a response from Catholic authorities.
Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam said he welcomed a government
investigation of the accusations. He said he was “greatly shocked” and
“horrified and saddened” by the numbers of children buried in the
graveyard, noting the “great suffering and pain” likely suffered by the
children and their parents.
Corless’ research is aiding the creation of a memorial for the dead children.
Archbishop Neary said his archdiocese will continue to work with the
Bon Secours Sisters and the local community to commemorate the dead and
their families with a memorial prayer service and a plaque.