The Real Scandal Behind the Tuam Home for Unwed Mothers | Michael Kelly | CWR
While the media rushed to exaggeration, misinformation, and fabrication, the real societal ills behind the deaths of 800 Irish children were largely overlooked.
For a month now, sections of the Irish and international media have been convulsed by reports of shockingly high mortality rates at a state-funded, Church-run mother and baby home in the west of Ireland. It has been difficult to separate fact from fiction and too few commentators have sought to get to the bottom of the story, with many instead choosing to focus on salacious exaggerations, misinformation, and untruths.
Yes, there was a shockingly high infant mortality rate in the Tuam mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours congregation of nuns. Between 1925 and 1961, 976 infants died. Many of the children, it appears, were buried at an unmarked grave, which was lovingly tended by local Catholic families for decades. Now, the tragic deaths of so many youngsters should be devastating enough in itself to warrant further investigation. But some media commentators and seasoned campaigners immediately sought to exaggerate the story in the most appalling fashion. The children were soon forgotten in the dash to hang their deaths as a crime around the neck of Catholic Ireland.
In media reports, the common grave soon became a “mass grave” and then a “septic tank.” The nuns were accused of “dumping” the children in the grave, and there have been suggestions that police should open up a criminal investigation into the deaths despite absolutely no evidence that any of the tragic deaths were in untoward circumstances. The government has promised a Commission of Inquiry to look at the issue. However, some are wary that the terms of reference may be set so narrowly as to include only Catholic-run institutions, leaving out so-called “county homes” where many unmarried mothers lived with their newborn babies. Former residents of a Protestant-run home in Dublin have also complained that their plight has been ignored.
The world’s media soon arrived, inevitably adding more heat than light. A Washington Times headline screamed, “Catholic Church Tossed 800 Irish Orphans into Septic Tank”; Salon’s stated: “An Irish Catholic Orphanage Hid the Bodies of 800 Children.” More fuel was added to the fire by Father Brian D’arcy, a liberal priest and darling of the Irish media, who likened the nuns’ behavior to that of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
So quick has been the rush to judgment that an eminent media outlet has been forced to roll back on earlier versions of the story. The Associated Press has issued a correction to earlier stories which included claims that were demonstrably untrue. In a response issued at the weekend, the AP admitted that: