Saturday, June 7, 2014

Septic Tank Story: Developments And Qualifications

There have been developments with regard to the Tuam story where it was alleged that up to 800 children and babies were buried in a septic tank in a home run by Catholic nuns. As you know the Church has been hammered for the last couple days as people respond to the revelations.

The first development is that the alleged burial site has been surveyed by radar at the behest of a national newspaper a couple of days ago - not the government note, but a newspaper. The results of this radar will be available in a few days, no doubt posted across the front age of the commissioning paper.

Secondly, in this morning's Irish Times there is an interesting story in which the local historian Catherine Corless who had broken the story through her research is qualifying what she said initially.  It seems she never said that 800 children were buried in a septic tank. She discovered in public records, available to all, so not hidden away in secret Church archives, that 796 children died in the home between 1925 and 1961, the thirty-six years the home was in the care of the Bon Secours sisters. In these public records the causes of death were noted: the children were not bludgeoned to death, or starved by the nuns, but died of those diseases that were causing havoc and innumerable fatalities all over Ireland during that period: TB, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis and meningitis among others. So the Church was not responsible for those deaths, and regardless of how much care these children would have got, at that time these diseases usually proved fatal.

Just by means of an example, in that particular period of time my father's aunt, her husband and all their children bar one (about five or six children) all died of TB in a short space of time - the family was wiped out, as were many others. They were buried in the local cemetery in an unmarked grave - our family could not afford to erect a tombstone over the grave, they barely had enough to feed and clothe themselves. The surviving child, a boy, was raised in the family and eventually had to emigrate to England to find work - economically, things were bad in Ireland. Let it be noted the local Church shared in that poverty, priests and religious did the best they could for poor and ill families, but they had few resources. In our parish we had the Sisters of Mercy, and while there were some tough ladies in the community, they spent their lives trying to make life a little better for the people of our local community providing free education to the girls who had no other opportunity to advance themselves and when they had it, providing food and health care.

In the same article the two men who are said to have see hundreds of bodies crammed into the septic tank are now claiming that they never said that. They saw some bones, maybe abut twenty skeletons. Now if memory serves me right I thought I heard these guys say in a television interview that they saw bones right up to the top of the tank, and skulls piled one on top of another. I'll have to look that one up again. But now the story is not as sensational as reported.

Anyway, the story is taking an interesting turn, and I wonder given the developments will it now crawl to the back pages and then just disappear? The radar will turn up results and I wonder if the qualifications now being reported are related to that? I don't know, we shall see. However, whatever happens now the damage has been done, true or untrue, simple or complex, and I suppose that is enough for some people.  And it won't stop some running with the story. When it comes to the media Mark Twain's comment is worth keeping in mind: "never let the truth get the way of a good story": that is particularly true when it comes to the secular media reporting on the Catholic Church.

That said, I still say investigate and excavate.

Caroline Farrow has a good piece on the latest developments. She reiterates what Catherine Corless believed regarding the bodies: they were those of famine victims unearthed during digging works and put into a hollowed out tank. 

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