A Tralee woman who grew up in Nazareth House in Tralee, and who was also interned in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, is calling for all state institutions to be included under legislation currently being drafted around possible state intervention on certain inappropriate burial sites in institutions.
atherine Coffey O’Brien is leading the ongoing campaign to ensure that the graves at Bessborough are ‘marked and respected’.
Following the recent publication of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby homes, covering 18 institutions, including Bessborough, women who were former residents, and who believe there are children buried on the grounds, are calling for the graves of the children who died at Bessborough to be identified.
The Commission’s report found that 923 children died at Bessborough (10 per cent of children born there) but stated that it was unable to find out where the children were buried.
A thousand women from Kerry were sent to Bessborough, according to the Commission report.
Catherine, who gave testimony to the commission, claims that maps were provided for potential burial sites.
“Maps were provided, I can’t understand why they were not addressed,” said Catherine.
“How many women are mourning babies but have no place to go… I hope and pray that graves at Bessborough are preserved and protected. We want closure…We want to move on with our lives,” she said.
Her calls for graves to be reviewed at Bessborough, which was run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, comes as planning is sought for two developments on the site of the former Cork Mother and Baby Home.One was refused planning on Tuesday by Cork County Council . The other is with An Bord Pleanála.
Catherine is part of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance Survivors group – a group which has made a submission on the proposed developments.
The group has also made a submission on the General Scheme of a Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill. This proposed legislation provides for the phased forensic analysis and possible re-interment of remains at former institutional sites like the former mother-and-baby home in Tuam, County Galway. However, at present, it does not cover all institutions but survivors groups such as the Cork Alliance Survivors Group are calling for all institutions in the state to be included; not just mother and baby home homes, but also industrial schools and other state institutions including Nazareth House Orphanage in Tralee run by the Mercy Sisters.
A campaign has long called for an investigation into the possibility of unmarked graves at Nazareth House and now submissions have been made to include this in the Burials legislation
“We want to address unmarked graves in the burial act. We want all institutions included,” said Catherine.
Catherine believes the legislation would then allow all sites to be inspected and graves to be marked.
“There would be a legal obligation there then to access the lands in all institutions…We are not jumping to foregone conclusions, we want all sites of former institutions accessed,” said Catherine.
“We have a duty to those women and their babies to be acknowledged in death.
“We have to do the right thing by the mothers and their babies.”
Submissions to the burials legislation closed on January 10.
Catherine escaped from Bessborough when pregnant and ultimately kept her child.
She has been reading the recent Commission Report and is critical of the ‘narrative’ of the report and, in particular, she feels that the Collaborative Forum, which was set up to enable former residents to identify, discuss and prioritise the issues of concern to them during the investigation, ‘failed’. She feels their methodology left a ‘lot to be desired’ and was not representative of what survivors wanted.
She said the report is ‘generalised’, with ‘some nuggets of information’, but she insisted that the fight must go on for the graves to be ‘respected’ into the future.
Nazareth House must be investigated too
Survivors of Nazareth House Orphanage in Tralee have added their voices to calls for graves in state institutions to be ‘mapped, preserved and respected’, following the publication of the Commission of the Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
While the Tralee orphange is not one of the 18 institutions covered in the Commission Report as it was not a Mother and Baby home, as a former state institution, caring for children, survivors feels it should come under state investigation. Survivors Unite At Last has made a submission to the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill. This proposed legislation provides for the phased forensic analysis and possible re-interment of remains at former institutional sites.
“We believe every institution has women and children buried there,” said Maurice Patton O’Connell from Cahersiveen, a survivor of Nazareth. He was put in there at six months of age and was boarded out to southwest Kerry at 10.
“We want graves respected.”