Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Mass baby grave in Tuam, Galway: 'The priest said Mass, then the grave was covered up again'

The remains of nearly 800 children have been found in a mass grave next to an Irish orphanage
The remains of nearly 800 children have been found in a mass grave next to an Irish orphanage

The person who discovered the remains of hundreds of babies in a septic tank has recalled the "tiny skeletons" he encountered when he unearthed the grave when he was just 12 years old.

Frannie Hopkins was playing with a friend at the site back in 1975 when the pair noticed that one of the slabs covering an old septic tank had come loose.

"At the time we found a concrete slab over what I described at the time as a tank, I now see it was a tomb," he said.

"We removed the lid and we found that it was full of skeletons; they appeared to be that of children. They were tiny skeletons, there just seemed to be an awful lot for one small little grave.

"A few days later, our parents told us not to go there, that the priest had been there and had said Mass and prayers and that the grave had been covered up again."

Mr Hopkins said he visited the grave site repeatedly over the years, but never knew the true extent of the tragedy until Catherine Corless's research emerged.

Meanwhile, locals who lived near the site paid special tribute to local man Padraic Dooley, who cared for the tiny graveyard for 40 years. Sadly, Mr Dooley passed away just two weeks ago before the gravesite could be properly recognised.

"Padraic looked after it for more than 30 years. He would always keep flowers there. It's a pity he can't see this now.

"We would have Masses and special blessings at the grave over the years. We knew there were some babies buried here but we never knew how many," said one local man.

Now locals are eager for the site to be marked but insist that they want to see the babies left undisturbed.

As calls for a government inquiry grow, Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan accepted that the Tuam mother-and-baby home was not unique in Ireland, adding: "We will properly review these issues and we will not confine this review to Tuam."

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said all necessary inquiries would take place, including a criminal one if it was deemed appropriate by the authorities.

A statement on behalf of the Sisters of Bon Secours said they were "shocked and deeply saddened" by the recent reports about St Mary's Mother-and-Baby Home.

"The Bon Secours Sisters say they are committed to engaging with Catherine Corless, the Graveyard Committee and the local residents as constructively as they can on the graves initiative connected with the site.

"The Sisters welcome the recent government announcement to initiate an investigation, in an effort to establish the full truth of what happened," it added.

Earlier, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin urged those responsible for running any of the mother-and-baby homes in Ireland, or people with information about mass graves, to go to the authorities.

He called for a "full-bodied inquiry" to be set up and revealed that he had tasked the Dublin diocesan archivist to compile all information concerning the mother-and-baby homes in Dublin. This information will be passed on to any government inquiry.

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