In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam.
Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.
More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.
That — and the abuse, neglect, and ostracism suffered by these children detailed in the article — is a painful reminder of the evil of stigmatizing children born out of wedlock. Speaking generally, raising children is difficult and demanding work — mentally, emotionally, and financially. I see the value of bearing and raising children within the stability and support of a family — particularly in less wealthy cultures where women don’t have the resources or capacity to raise and support a child on their own. Yet that’s a far cry from demanding that any pregnant woman marry her sperm donor, regardless of his suitability as a husband. And it’s light years away from subjecting innocent children to the torture of abandonment, neglect, abuse, ostracism, and perhaps death because their life is the result of religious sin.
This is one of the many ways in which western culture is so much better than it was, even just 100 years ago. I don’t want to go back!
Update: The burial location wasn’t a septic tank, as this Forbes article explains, but instead a kind of mass grave:
Today the Irish Times has published a reader’s letter that has further undercut the story. Finbar McCormick, a professor of geography at Queen’s University Belfast, sharply admonished the media for describing the children’s last resting place as a septic tank. He added: “The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many part of Europe.
“In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries…..Such tombs are still used extensively in Mediterranean countries. I recently saw such structures being constructed in a churchyard in Croatia. The shaft was made of concrete blocks, plastered internally and roofed with large concrete slabs.
That’s all well and good, but not really essential to the point that I’m making about the story. Honestly, I don’t care too much about how the dead bodies were treated: I care about how living people — pregnant girls, mothers, and children — were treated. That’s not under dispute.