The cruelty inflicted on the women and children in Tuam stemmed from a callous disregard of their families by institutions including Galway County Council, as well as wider society.
oday’s report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes lays bare the acutely brutal conditions and callous treatment suffered by the women and children forced to live and often die at the Bon Secours-run children’s home.
The report delivers a devastating portrait of inhumane conditions facilitated by Galway County Council and the archbishop of the time.
A former workhouse, the Mother and Baby Home opened in 1922 and closed in 1961. In all, 2,219 women and 3,251 children were resident in the Tuam home.
The report found that a horrifying toll of 978 children who were in Tuam or Glenamaddy, which pre-existed Tuam, died with 80pc aged under a year.
Three-quarters of the deaths happened in the 1930s and 1940s – the worst years were 1943-1947.
The report also acknowledges the horrific, illegal burial of children in a disused sewage chamber on the grounds of the home.
It says: “No register of burials was kept, and it is likely that most of the children who died in Tuam are buried inappropriately in the grounds of the institution.”
What marks Tuam apart from the other homes detailed in the report is the “dire” physical conditions that remained for its entire existence.
The report found Galway County Council failed to properly maintain, much less improve, the conditions.
“In 1959, Tuam’s physical condition was much worse than the county home in Loughrea even though conditions in county homes were generally much worse than in Mother and Baby Homes.”
The home was owned and controlled by Galway County Council, which made all the major decisions, and was run on a day-to-day basis by the Sisters of the Bon Secours, who were not salaried employees. The local authority was responsible for maintenance and improvements.
The report found that women in Tuam “carried out a much heavier workload than in other Mother and Baby Homes”.
“There was a much higher ratio of children to women; approximately six children to every mother, resulting in a heavy workload of childcare, laundry, cooking and cleaning.
“Tuam, like county homes, had poor heating, washing and sanitary facilities which further added to the work.”
In one illuminating passage of the report, the then-archbishop’s attitude to the women in Tuam was made clear.
In the late 1950s, the Galway county manager kept the archbishop and bishop of Galway informed about plans to move the children’s home from Tuam to Galway city’s outskirts.
In strident terms, the archbishop described the proposal as “undesirable in every way”. He claimed the proposed new location was close to a busy road.
“Anyone who has experience of the workings of a home for unmarried mothers will tell you that such a home must be in a place that is quiet, remote, and surrounded by high boundary walls.
“In many cases, they are on the lookout to get in touch with men, and some of them cannot repress their excitement even when a man comes to the home to deliver a message.
“Many of these unmarried mothers are anxious to get off without delay.
“The only thing that prevents their leaving is the strict supervision and boundary walls… in some cases, it has been known that attempts were made from outside to get at the inmates.”
The report also found that “Galway County Council had a clear policy that women who gave birth to a second or subsequent child should be sent to a Magdalene laundry”.
There was “no evidence of a similar policy articulated by other local authorities”.
What also marked Tuam apart from other Mother and Baby Homes was that women in Tuam remained, on average, less than a year. But their children could remain until the age of six or seven.
The report finds that although information is incomplete, “where it exists, it shows 73pc of children stayed in Tuam after their mother left”.
In 1950, Tuam mothers stayed an average of 272 days. The average for a child born or admitted to the home with their mother was 1,383.
Children whose mothers left Tuam in 1950 could expect to remain unaccompanied for 1,111 days on average.
The report states: “Tuam was seriously out of line with the other homes.”
The data for Tuam shows 38pc of the children were boarded out, 37pc left with their mother or a family member and more than 20pc were transferred to other institutions. Under 4pc were legally adopted.
Tuam closed in 1961 when adoption was becoming the most common outcome. These patterns did not change significantly over the lifetime of the children’s home.
Health inspections from the 1930s found that while living conditions in Mother and Baby Homes were basic, there is no indication they were inadequate by the standards of the time, “except for Kilrush and Tuam“.
“In the years up to 1960s, women slept in dormitories that might not be heated. Dorms were large with no curtains between beds; women had no privacy and often had to store their belongings in a suitcase under the bed.
The report found the conditions in Tuam were “appalling” – but it continued to function as a home for children and mothers, without major improvements, until it closed in 1961.
“The only part of the children’s home with adequate facilities was the small maternity unit which had running water and sanitary facilities and the laundry.
“The rest of the institution, which accompanied over 200 children, lacked in the most basic sanitary facilities. The toilets appear to have been outside and they were probably dry closets.
“The children’s rooms, which were almost devoid of toys, were heated by open fires or portable radiators filled with hot water.
“Mothers and children slept in traditional workhouse dormitories, and the building was at high risk of fire.”
Source: Irish News