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: 2871

Tags: Faith, Media, News, Opinion

Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on June 27, 2014 at 3:32pm

Just to get this thread back on track - I wondered what you all make of this thread on

Comment by Geraldine Callaghan on June 27, 2014 at 8:04pm
To all who have made comments on this sad issue I am done! The comments are now becoming nasty, personal and,angry in some cases. I have no more to say on this matter, I will continue to follow the story and watch for the outcome of the investigation.
Comment by John W. Hurley on June 27, 2014 at 10:27pm

Dr. Lyons, I looked at your website but since you have already stated that as a man I am incapable of having any ability to understand the comments, writings or website of a woman:

"I am male - how can I compare to female...Too true - we forget these things"

what would be the point in discussing any of it with you? You will just dismiss what I have to say anyway. In fact you already have. And yes as far as I am concerned that is *definitely* an elitist and sexist attitude. Can you imagine a man saying the reverse to you and you not being offended? Really? Wow.

For what it's worth though, I like your website and it looks great.

Likewise, (although I am one of those people whose opinion you dismiss because I do not live in Ireland), why don't you check out any one of my books:

and come back and tell me that I know nothing of Irish history or culture and that I am not entitled to an opinion on anything related to Ireland (as you have already asserted). You wrote: "I am someone who does an incredible amount of stuff for people from your country who went there from my country." Please understand Dr. Lyons, that I am a citizen of both the Irish Republic and of the United States of America. How that makes me less capable of having an opinion on Ireland or the story in question is beyond me though. I would think that the more knowledge someone has the better. If you care to enlighten me go right ahead.

John W. Hurley, (lowly B.F.A.)

Researcher, author, publisher.

Comment by John W. Hurley on June 27, 2014 at 10:41pm

Belinda I read through that thread on www.politics.ieand this is how I too feel:

"Well it depends how sceptical you are of the modern Orwellian Irish - EU controlled - govt. I tend to be wary of it and I notice how these periodic bouts of anti-Catholic mania, as even Tom McGurk was calling it on the radio recently, get so much publicity and can even seem well timed? Although it was hardly ever mentioned in the election coverage I think the modern perception of Labour as the anti-Catholic party did not do its electoral prospects any good at all, and in so far as FG got a whiff of it the same applies. So this kind of atmosphere could be to the liking of some in those quarters I'd say..."

The story is being used to push agendas - everyone's agenda - before they even know what has really happened. And sadly the posts on this thread show much the same. If the Church is guilty of some huge crime here then by all means let justice be served. But you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, and I can't help but feel that some of the same zealous condemnation without all the facts that we are seeing here is exactly what sent so many of these pregnant women (probably some of the nuns) to that home in the first place.

Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on June 27, 2014 at 11:20pm

John,  I question the National Monuments Service on this one – not the Church.  While I believe that there are cillini in the area and all over the island I also wonder if there were some errant building contractors involved who looked the other way during the building boom of the Celtic Tiger disturbing many sites of a National and Historic nature.

Comment by Dr. Jane Lyons on June 29, 2014 at 1:44pm

Wow - John W. Hurley

Of all the comments I read in this thread of discussion, your were actually the most balanced, the comments which made me think, ok Jane........go for it, say a bit.

I never in all my life expected a response such as you have given me.

Thank you for your compliment on my website.  I know it's good, it's one of the best.  I own the largest personal collection of Irish gravestone photographs in the world - my collection grows all the time

I'm laughing - want me to *buy* one of your books so that I can see that you know something of Irish History - what kind of a fool do you think I am? If I was you, I'd be asking me for my address so that one could be posted to me!

Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt as we say. I am now removing myself from this group.  I have my website, my Y-IRL mail list, my Facebook page - I didn't come here looking for attention, I just joined this group because I wanted to make a comment on something my a friend of mine said on this group.

Best of luck to you John and to Wild Geese. I'm sure you'll all do very well


Comment by The Last Torch on June 30, 2014 at 6:53am

wait.... what?

Comment by John W. Hurley on June 30, 2014 at 2:54pm

Dr. Lyons again, baffled by your post and the deletion of your post listing your qualifications. My point was just this:

certain people in Ireland are acting very enraged about how "the Church" treated the bodies of these babies;

I have seen that certain of these same people are also advocates of womens rights/abortion;

so I find it strange that these people care at all about the rights of babies who have died and been buried in a seemingly inhumane way when they have no sense of this indignation or rage at all when babies today are being treated even more inhumanely (by their own mothers) through abortion;

my point in raising this was NOT to get into abortion at all, it was to note though the definite origins or political agenda or slant of some of the people reporting on this story. And that was all. I am sorry you could not see that and I am sorry that I was not more clear about it, but I felt people (like yourself) would understand and that I would not have to elaborate like this.

How your range of comments have any relevance at all I can only attribute to either a serious miscommunication or flippancy. I would like to think it was miscommunication. I guess the web is not always the best place to have these discussions and I too am tired of trying. Nothing is going to change or be changed anyway.


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