Galway Mass Grave Story: A Cautionary Tale

Belfast Telgraph:  "Mass Grave of 796 Babies Found in Septic Tank at Catholic Orphanag...

Irish Central: "Mass Grave of Up to 800 Dead Babies Exposed in County Galway"

Al Jezeera: "Nearly 800 Dead Babies Found in Septic Tank in Ireland"

After reading these headlines, one would be excused for thinking that an object that was clearly a tank for human excrement had been recently opened, and the bodies of 800 skeletons had been exhumed.  That is exactly what is said above, isn’t it?  Except that isn’t what happened at all. 

Tuam Mother and Baby Home: The Trouble With the Septic Tank Story

The article above, from today’s Irish Times paints a very different picture.  The recent interest is not stemming from any new discovery.  The story is that the bones were seen by local boys in the 1970s in some kind of concrete enclosure.  One of those boys (now a man, still living in the area) says there might have been around 20 skeletons. A local historian has collected death certificates for 796 children who died in the home over a period of 36 years.  The resting place of their bodies, at this time, IS NOT KNOWN.  No excavation of the property has been done.  At this point, no 800 skeletons have been found.
The Times article raises more questions than answers.  Where are these children buried?  Why was no investigation conducted in the 1970s when bones were seen?  Was the crypt a septic tank, a water tank (as it was called in earlier stories), or something else?  Were these children given proper care when they were alive?  Then there are the philosophical questions: What is the relationship between the treatment of a body and the respect for a person?  How should we tread on land which is known to contain graves, and does this change with the passage of time?  Does engraving their names on a plaque right any of the wrongs suffered by the deceased, or does it serve another purpose: to remind us of the significance of every human life?
It’s important to note that the deaths of 796 children are not in doubt.  It is also clear that Catholic institutions like this one buried people in ways that were disrespectful and an affront to their own theological dictates.  After all, much larger mass graves than this one are found throughout the island, including 11,000 bodies found interred outside Miltown cemetery in Belfast.  The underlying view that certain human beings do not deserve life and dignity is intolerable, and the people who ran these institutions have plenty of questions to answer.  The people responsible for grossly misrepresenting these facts do as well.  Indignance is no substitute for accuracy.  As the facts continue to come out, they may be every bit as salacious as the rumours.  If they are less so, the inflated tales will only cloud the issue.  The truth, reported as it is verified, would honour the departed most.
Those of you who have followed this story, may have noticed its absence, until now, from this website.   A sense of caution unfamiliar in media circles prevailed as the dust settled around the shocking early reports.  At this point I feel obliged to disclose that my husband, Ryan, is an administrator on the site.  That makes me undeniably biased, but I hope my observations are still valid.
I appreciate that is not interested in becoming just one more Irish tabloid.  As a reader, I am not interested in websites that run prematurely with half-baked stories and throw up headlines about Hollywood celebrities anytime there is the slightest hint of Irish connection.  Sites like that will continue to prosper, because the appetite for sensationalist voyeurism is wide, but it is also shallow.  I appreciate your desire to create something deeper; a community of people with interest in the history and culture of Ireland.  This includes debates on the issues of the moment, but also the themes of the age; the later giving the former context, nuance, and sanity.  To the Wild Geese community, I say, the broader, more balanced view you take does not go unnoticed.
This will likely not be the last article posted on the Wild Geese on this topic, and some may take a different view than mine on the way it should be reported here.  The Wild Geese will welcome those views as well, and that openness is another reason I will continue to be an avid reader.

Views: 2961

Tags: Faith, Media, News, Opinion

Comment by Dr. Jane Lyons on June 7, 2014 at 12:43pm

Great post Kelly - thank you for finally meeting someone else with their feet on the ground - wonderful

Jane - in Ireland

Comment by Séamus Ó Dubsláine on June 7, 2014 at 2:59pm
Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on June 7, 2014 at 3:21pm

I don't really trust much on Irish Central.  More of an Irish tabloid than anything else.

Comment by Gerry Regan on June 7, 2014 at 3:35pm

Kelly, I appreciate your taking the long view, and adhering to the known facts in your presentation. We are all the better for your thoughtful, engaging analysis.

Comment by Frances O'Neill on June 8, 2014 at 4:05am

thanks Kelly..!!

Comment by Robbie Doyle on June 8, 2014 at 8:53am
The headline words of dumped and septic tank are drawing from what is still a another dark stain on the Catholic Church in Ireland. What is known as fact is that 796 infants died at that home in Tuam. There is archeological evidence that there were burials adjacent to what was a Victorian sewage treatment tank. The tank and the percolation area were no longer in use when the building was being used by the nuns. Nonetheless, the concrete structure was there and still is. The coming weeks will reveal more on what is a tragic story regardless.
Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on June 8, 2014 at 8:59am

A sad story, regardless ... I doubt anyone would debate that point.  However, the sensationalist and irresponsible "stuff" that passes off as journalism these days is both troubling and sad.  Instead of being patient, responsible, and professional enough to allow facts to surface, the vast majority of media outlets opt to jump in immediately lest they be "scooped" by someone else.  It's ridiculous, but it has become the norm, unfortunately.  This is just one example among the multitudes.

Kelly sums it up best in the opinion piece above: 

"Indignance is no substitute for accuracy."

Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on June 8, 2014 at 9:17am

Sensational Story? Yes.  But media should not strive to (Like some of the Irish Politicians) sit on the fence and wait to see what way the wind blows before jumping on the bandwagon.

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on June 8, 2014 at 9:19am

The job of a journalist is to report the facts ... not to speculate, and not to formulate or perpetuate falsehood.  Unless you work for a tabloid ... which is all some of these media outfits have become.

Comment by Robbie Doyle on June 8, 2014 at 11:51am
Skeletal remains were seen in the concrete structure that used to be a waste water tank, i.e. what we now call a septic tank. I haven't problem with this story being sensationalized. It is now exposing the horrific behaviors of the Catholic Church in Ireland during the 20th century. Even last week, the nuns responsible for running this home were giving no comment until the story became "sensationalized." Suddenly they hired a big Irish PR firm.


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