Historian Catherine Corless has said an apology from the Bon Secours Sisters over their role in the Tuam mother and baby home scandal will come as “a great relief” to survivors.
Ms Corless, who uncovered the mass grave at the Tuam site, said she was “amazed” that the order of nuns who ran the home had taken responsibility for their actions.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Bon Secours Sisters said they had “failed to protect the inherent dignity” of women and children in the home, and offered their “profound apologies”.
The Order has confirmed to PA News that they intend to contribute to the redress scheme for survivors.
“We did not live up to our Christianity when running the home,” they said.
Responding, Ms Corless said: “I was amazed, really and truly. I couldn’t believe my ears, because I didn’t expect that.
“I thought it would take a lot more lobbying and a lot more begging, you could say. But it’s an honest statement and it’s a clear statement, that they are taking the responsibility and the onus of what they did.
“They have admitted that they weren’t following the proper teaching of Christ. And they did admit, especially about the burials, that they buried those babies in a very indecent way.
“It’s a great relief and I know that it will mean an awful lot to the survivors who went through the home. That’s the one thing they had asked for, for them to say sorry.”
We acknowledge in particular that infants and children who died at the home were buried in a disrespectful and unacceptable wayBon Secours Sisters
In their statement, the Order said: “We were part of the system in which they suffered hardship, loneliness and terrible hurt.
“We acknowledge in particular that infants and children who died at the home were buried in a disrespectful and unacceptable way. For all that, we are deeply sorry.
“We offer our profound apologies to all the women and children of St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, to their families and to the people of this country.”
Ms Corless said: “It means a great deal and I’m grateful to the Bon Secours Sisters for owning up.
“Hopefully what will follow is the other institutions out there, the nuns that ran those orphanages and mother and baby homes, they will follow suit.
“Because that has to come first and foremost, to admit that they were wrong for dishing out cruelty to these poor people. I know that will be a great relief.”
At Tuam the remains of hundreds of young children and babies were discovered in a chamber of a disused septic tank in 2014.
I know that the cost has been talked about, exhuming those babies and doing DNA. Surely to goodness they will follow this up, they might show a little bit of help in that wayCatherine Corless
The apology came a day after the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation released its report following a five-year investigation into the lives of women and children who lived at the homes between 1922 and 1998.
The report found that about 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation – around 15% of all infants in the homes.
Ms Corless called on the Bon Secours Sisters to contribute to restitution for the survivors.
Walter Francis, who was born in the Tuam mother and baby home in 1941, said he was “delighted” to learn of the apology.
Mr Francis lived in the institution for seven years before he was adopted.
“I was delighted when I heard the nuns had apologised, it is a load off the survivors,” he added.
“I don’t want the (Tuam) site moved, I want to leave the dead alone and leave them in peace and not disturb it. Why disturb them?
“They should put up a memorial.”
Carmel Larkin was born in the Tuam home in 1949, where she lived for five-and-a-half years before she was fostered.
She said: “It has taken them five years to apologise to us since Catherine Corless raised the matter and made it public.
“I don’t have much faith in them. What went on here under their care was dreadful.
“I would appreciate and accept the apology if they look after survivors, mentally and financially, and put money towards exhuming the grave as they are very well off.”
PJ Haverty was born in Tuam in 1951 and spent six-and-a-half years in the institution.
He said he was left “disappointed” by the report.
“The Government are throwing the blame back on society and the parents who put the mothers in there,” he added.
“That annoyed me so much.”
Mr Haverty had been searching for information about his identity for years when he recently received a phone call from Tusla about a file they discovered.
“I had been looking for (that file) years, and in it was a letter about my mother, Eileen.
“She left the home a very sick woman after 12 months and she couldn’t get work because she was so sick.
“She wrote a letter back saying that as soon as she got a job, she would pay the five shillings towards the upkeep of me.
“That hurt me very much… what she went through.”