800 Babies in a Septic Tank? Maybe Not

What happened to the remains isn't clear
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 10, 2014 7:44 AM CDT
800 Babies in a Septic Tank? Maybe Not
The site in question, in Tuam, County Galway, Wednesday June 4, 2014.   (AP Photo/Niall Carson/PA)

The story went that the remains of 800 babies were found in an Irish septic tank—but it's becoming increasingly clear that things are more complicated. Yes, 796 babies died at St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Ireland between 1925 and 1961. But "some of the headlines that went abroad internationally were quite horrendous and gave a very mistaken impression of what actually happened," says Irish education minister Ruairi Quinn. Indeed, historian Catherine Corless now tells the Irish Times she "never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank." But she "still believe(s) those bodies are there in that general area."

The septic-tank theory was based on the childhood observations of a man who offered detectives a different account. "People are making out we saw a mass grave,” Barry Sweeney now says. "But we can only say what we seen: maybe 15 to 20 small skeletons." Corless concluded in a 2012 article that the children were buried in an unmarked grave at the back of the property; local residents have long cultivated roses and other flowers there. They tell the New York Times they don't want an "uproar"—they just want the babies' graves marked. (More Ireland stories.)

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