The remains of almost 800 children found in a mass grave in western Ireland have been determined to be from a home for unwed mothers that operated in Tuam, County Galway for 35 years between 1926 to 1961.

Magdalene Asylums operated from the 18th to 20th centuries across Europe and North America. This photo, via Wikimedia, shows unidentified laborers at a Magdalene Laundry in Ireland, where they operated until 1996.

This photo, via Wikimedia, shows unidentified laborers at a Magdalene Laundry in Ireland in the early 20th Century. Magdalene Asylums operated in Ireland until 1996.

The deaths of the children likely occurred because of neglect, disease and malnutrition, which was rampant according to a 1944 government investigation of the home. Mothers who gave birth at the home told Catherine Corless, the researcher who discovered the origin of the bones, that they received extremely poor healthcare. They told her that they were only seen once by a doctor when they were admitted to the house, and long labors were often unattended.

The bone repository – found in a septic tank – was originally discovered in 1975, but it was assumed to contain the remains of victims of the mid-nineteenth century famine until Corless conducted her research.

The “mother-and-baby home” in Taum was one of many Catholic Church-run institutions across Ireland created to house unwed pregnant women, including rape victims, and hide the “stain” they would create on the morality of the country. The Church has been under fire, especially from the United Nations, for operating Magdalene Asylums, or Magdalene Laundries, for unwed women from the 18th to 20th centuries in Ireland and across Europe and North America, as well as for church leaders covering up child sexual abuse. Women in the laundries were forced to work in terrible conditions, and children were often sold without the mother’s consent. Increasing awareness of the offenses committed by the Church has made it much harder for the Vatican and governments to ignore them.

“How can we show in Ireland that we have matured as a society if we cannot call out these horrific acts of the past for what they were? They were willful and deliberate neglect of children, who were the most vulnerable of all,” junior minister for education, Ciaran Cannon, told Reuters. “They were deserving of love and nurturing, but they received the exact opposite. They were shunned by society at the time. The only way we can address that injustice is to tell their story, to determine the truth.”

The government is considering launching an inquiry into the home, and people are pulling together to place a plaque at the site commemorating the children buried there.

Media Resources: Reuters 6/4/14; Associated Press 6/3/14; Feminist Newswire 2/5/14

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