The revelations surrounding the potential burial of infants and children at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Galway has resonated around the world and shocked our global community. We protest at the horror of it and demand justice for those who were the most vulnerable in Irish society at a time when such violation of basic civil rights could be inflicted with our associated accountability from either society, state or church; however this is not an isolated incident but was a wide spread practice until at least the 1990's. Marginalised infant and adult burial in unmarked mass graves is an issue which has impacted over time on the different religious and cultural traditions of our community across Ireland.
The work I have done in Northern Ireland over the past years has focused on the issue of exactly this type of marginalised burial and the plight of those souls disposed of in this unsanctified way. However the nature of the research has raised other questions which need to be addressed with urgency, ultimately that of identification and protection within a legal framework which encompasses what are considered to be Private Cemeteries taking account of any area of burial in Ireland attached to chapel, church or meeting house, including religious cemeteries and establishments, institutional burial grounds, workhouse cemeteries, poor ground, mental hospitals and what has been regarded in the past as industrial schools. For these locations there is little or no legal protection and the religious institutions responsible can treat the land and those buried there as they chose.
My research into the Milltown Cemetery site in Belfast recovered 6.2 acres which contained the remains of at least 11,000 children and adults. While this number seems unbelievable, it is in no way the true number of those buried there as the impact of Cillini and illegal burials under cover of darkness across The Bog Meadows could easily double that bottom line.
Taking all this on board, there are a number of measures which need to be considered to allow for the systematic investigation of the Tuam site and all subsequent sites affected by marginalised burial.
Investigation and cross referencing of all documentation from church and state in relation to the number of individuals admitted over time to the institution during the various phases of occupation.
Records of all children born there - (Including stillborns where any records exist).
Records of children who died while in the care of the institutions – dates and causes of death (Consider any and all associated reports from inspectors).
Records of burial for children and adults – (Any indication of location for areas of burial either within or outside the institution boundary).
Desktop investigation of all maps and leases to determine the original extent of the site and any indication of areas of burial associated with the different phases of occupation i.e., workhouse – mother and baby home – Has the boundary changed over time and to what extent.
On-site survey of the location and associated land by qualified personal i.e. archaeologists, geophys, historians etc.
Retrieval of those human remains at the site believed to be present in underground chamber/ sewage system for forensic analyses. - Where possible any remains found should be forensically examined.
Identification of areas of interest through all avenues of evidence, including ethnography for further investigation and excavation to establish the presence of absence of human remains at a number of locations – Test trenches.
Establish the extent of all and any current burial ground.
Determine any damage or destruction of areas of burial due to development of the site and associated land – Are the houses built on burial ground?
Consultation of options for commemoration of all those buried at the site with surviving relatives and local population.
Only when all these measures and any others considered applicable by the archaeological and survey team have been implimented, will we understand what truly happened at Tuam and other similar institutions. I have worked in this area of archaeology now for a number of years and been responsible for the identification of previously unidentified and associated areas of marginalised burial at sites within Northern Ireland.
I have not been asked to consult on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home as has been reported in the popular press, but I would be willing to assist with the consultation if needed. I have however been asked to act as consultant for families in connection with the Sean Ross and Bessbrough Abbey's and will be in the South of Ireland for this reason from the 16th of July..If meeting and discussion with government departments on my previous work and research would be helpful I can make myself available.
Toni Maguire BSc. MA.
Archaeologist / Anthropologist