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9th-Mar-2017 06:37 pm - Amateur historian 'blew open locked doors' by exposing Irish babies' mass grave
By Estelle Shirbon
9 Mar 2017

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Catherine Corless has been haunted all her life by childhood memories of the skinny children from the local Catholic home for unmarried mothers and their babies in the small cathedral town of Tuam in the west of Ireland.

Known locally as the home babies, the children lived in secrecy behind the dark, high walls of the home run by nuns from the Bon Secours order. Some of them attended the same school as Corless, but they were kept apart from the other children.

Once, egged on by classmates, Corless played a trick on one of the home babies, handing over what looked like a sweet but was in fact only an empty wrapper.

"I'm so sorry for that. It's stuck me with, that memory. It was only later I thought 'that poor child never got a sweet, they would have loved a sweet'," Corless told Reuters in an interview at her home in the countryside outside Tuam.

Now a grandmother and amateur local historian, Corless has spent years painstakingly researching records to discover what happened behind those high walls, where unmarried pregnant women were sent to have their babies in secret.

Alone, often met with silence and obstruction from Church and state bureaucracies that held long-forgotten records, Corless eventually exposed the existence of a mass grave of babies and toddlers in a sewer on the grounds of the home.

The discovery, confirmed last week by the results of archaeological excavations, has horrified Ireland and caused a new wave of soul-searching about how women and children were treated at Catholic institutions in the past.


"The recent horrifying revelations of a mass grave of babies in Tuam, discovered as a result of the relentless work of local historian Catherine Corless, often impeded, rarely assisted, is another necessary step in blowing open the locked doors of a hidden Ireland," said President Michael D. Higgins on Wednesday.

Born in 1954, Corless grew up on a farm near Tuam, worked as a typist-receptionist as a young woman, then married and raised her four children at home. In the 1990s, she became interested in local history and took a part-time course on how to conduct historical research using primary sources.

In 2012, she offered to write an article for a local journal on the mother-and-baby home about which very little was known.

At first she tried archival newspapers, but all she could find were advertisements tendering for child-sized coffins for the home. There were precise size specifications and the coffins were required to have brass handles and a brass crucifix on top.

"That got me thinking, there must have been a lot of deaths in the home if they were putting out tenders for coffins every six months," said Corless.

The breakthrough came when she obtained the death certificates of all the children who died at the home. She had no idea how many there would be. When the answer came, she was stunned: in the 36 years the home was open, from 1925-1961, 796 children died.

"It was like a bolt of lightning. It just went through me. Is that possible?" said Corless, describing that moment.

There was no trace of those children in any of the local cemeteries, and no written records of their places of burial.

Government records show that in the 1930s-1950s more than one in four babies born out of wedlock in Ireland died, a rate more than five times that of children born to married parents.

The records do not show how many children were living in the Tuam home at any given time, but suggest mortality rates that were even higher. In 1947, 49 babies were born in the home and 30 more admitted under the age of one. Forty-six children died there, most before their first birthday; the oldest was three.


The vacant home was demolished in the 1970s. A housing estate was built in its place, with a large playground tucked away behind some of the back yards.

It had long been rumored locally that there was an unmarked children's graveyard on the site, and a grassy corner near the playground had been tended for years by residents who installed a small grotto with a statuette of the Virgin Mary.

By comparing old and new maps of the site, Corless established that the mysterious, informal children's graveyard was located in the same place as a very old sewage tank.

Her research was published locally, and eventually made national and international headlines in 2014, causing widespread revulsion and prompting the government to set up a commission of inquiry into the Tuam home and 17 other mother-and-baby homes.

So far, there have been two test excavations at Tuam and only a sample of remains were recovered for analysis. They were found to range from 35-week-old fetuses to three-year-old children.

"It's only the start. They have to find out. Are they all there?" said Corless. "They have to be counted if it's possible, because if they're not all there the question remains: where are they?"

Since her research became public, Corless has been contacted by more than 100 people with connections to the home, and has helped some of them locate long lost relatives or the graves of mothers who were forced to part from them when they left the home.

"I'm here for them. I'm happy I can help them. A lot of the time it's just a grave I find for them, a mother's grave. My work continues. I have a box of files of people who are looking for help," said Corless.

She said many of the siblings of the lost babies wanted them re-interred in a consecrated graveyard.

"They want a place to come to visit. It's hard for them to come in there and stand over a patch of ground in the middle of a housing estate and pay their respects."

(Editing by Peter Graff)

7th-Nov-2015 05:18 pm - An alternative history of the Easter Rising
Patrick Murphy
Irish News
07 November 2015

The solution is simple. If there are going to be several competing centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising next year, we can solve the problem of how to accommodate them all by doing what we now do best in Ireland - re-writing history.

We can create a revised version of the Rising, so that each group can justify its claim to be the true inheritors of the 1916 ideals. Welcome to Ireland, the land of instant history, where facts are flexible and the truth is a far-off planet.

So here is the (not very) authorised history of the 1916 Rising.

It all began when Pearse was walking down O'Connell Street one day, which was very hard to do at that time, because there was no O'Connell Street.

So he texted James Connolly to ask: "Where am I?" ("That's ridiculous", I hear you shout. You have a point, but is it any more ridiculous than claiming that the IRA's thirty-year war was for "equality" and not for a united Ireland? If we are going to re-write history, we may as well do it properly.)

Connolly replied by writing a pamphlet (Marxists love writing pamphlets) saying that he was busy preparing to serve King (meaning England) and Kaiser (Germany).

(We have reversed Connolly's views to accommodate almost every commemoration next year. Nearly everyone in Ireland now accepts the legitimacy of London rule in the north and Berlin rule, through the EU, across the whole island. So with a swift battering of the keyboard, all groups can now celebrate Irish "independence".)

While passing the GPO, Pearse noticed that it would be a wonderful setting for a rising. But while he was marvelling at the decor, he heard that Roger Casement had been arrested in Kerry.

Casement was later marched through the streets of Tralee to the Dublin train and not a single soul tried to rescue him. "Don't worry, Roger," the townsfolk would have shouted had they bothered to come out. "One day there will be a stadium named after you and your name will be on the lips of every planning official and health and safety officer in the north."

(I'm not sure which group we have re-written that bit for, but it might come in useful.)

So Pearse said: "Let us organise a rising, but it shall be a peaceful rising, because violence is wrong." (That covers the contradiction of preaching peace, while celebrating violence.) So they began their peaceful rising by entering into dialogue with a post office clerk and then engaging in bi-lateral talks, followed by a plenary session - just like they do at Stormont.

They later published the GPO House Agreement whereby the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) would join with all rebel groups to form the IRA, which would later revert to the IRB (Irish Republican Butterfly).They agreed that there should be an IRA for everyone in Ireland.

These IRAs would include the Real, the Surreal, the Continuity, the Intermittent, the Very Disruptive but Really Rather Nice and the Low-calorie, Sugar-free IRA. (I made most of those up, but that does not mean they do not exist. So all dissident groups are historically covered for their ceremonies. All we need now is justification for the individual party political commemorations.)

As the rising began Michael Collins said he would die for Fine Gael, so that it could invent austerity. Connolly said his death would be for the Labour Party, which would help to implement that austerity and de Valera said he would die, but not just yet, so that he could found Fianna Fáil to bankrupt the country.

All the other leaders decided to die for Stormont, so that people could become ministers without standing for election.

So there you have it. Our revised history of 1916 will now allow the various commemorative groups to march, make speeches, pontificate and scorn all rival commemorations.

However, the one thing which none of them will do is to solve the unemployment crisis in Ballymena. Commemorating the rising is seen as an acceptable substitute for failing to implement what it was intended to achieve, including for example, the Proclamation's objective of "the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation".

So the real inheritors of 1916 are neither politicians nor paramilitaries. They are those who, by their actions and principles, commemorate the rising in their daily work. These include for example, the community and voluntary sector, charities, credit unions, GAA clubs, Conradh na Gaeilge and the thousands of ordinary people who make Ireland a better place to live in.

Their history does not need re-writing.

10th-Jan-2014 04:54 pm - World War One: Irish soldiers' records online

10 Jan 2014

See also: In Flanders Fields

Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers have joined the Irish deputy prime minister in launching Irish World War One records online.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness met Eamon Gilmore in Dublin to mark the launch.

It means records are available to a worldwide audience.

Digital records of individual Irish soldiers are now available online, following collaboration between Google and the In Flanders Fields museum.

"As we enter an important decade of commemorations in both our countries, it is my hope that what has been established here today will keep alive the history and the stories of those who did not return from war," Mr Robinson said.

"This work will allow the stories of the fallen to be recorded for the benefit of future generations and will allow us to express our thanks and acknowledge the sacrifice of men who died helping to preserve our freedom."

Mr McGuinness said: "Over 200,000 Irishmen fought in the war and over 49,000 were killed, which shows the human impact of the war on the island of Ireland. It is important all their personal stories are told and this innovative project ensures the memory of those Irish soldiers killed will continue."

In July 2012, the Irish ambassador to Belgium, Eamonn MacAodha, launched a project with Google to make records available to all and absolutely free.

The collaboration with Google ensured that the work could be financed and technically supported.

Log on to In Flanders Fields, type in a name and see the place of birth, rank, regiment, service number, date of death and place of burial / commemoration of each individual soldier with that name, where the information is available.

6th-Jul-2013 03:16 am - Ridgeway: An Historical Romance of the Fenian Invasion of Canada by Scian Dubh - Free Ebook

Ridgeway: An Historical Romance of the Fenian Invasion of Canada by Scian Dubh - Free Ebook from

"In the dark, English crucible of seven hundred years of famine, fire and sword, the children of Ireland have been tested to an intensity unknown to the annals of any other people. From the days of the second Henry down to those of the last of the Georges, every device that human ingenuity could encompass or the most diabolical spirit entertain, was brought to bear upon them, not only with a view to insuring their speedy degradation, but with the further design of accomplishing ultimately the utter extinction of their race. Yet notwithstanding that confiscation, exile and death, have been their bitter portion for ages—notwithstanding that their altars, their literature and their flag have been trampled in the dust, beneath the iron heel of the invader, the pure, crimson ore of their nationality and patriotism still flashes and scintillates before the world; while the fierce heart of "Brien of the Cow Tax," bounding in each and every of them as of yore, yearns for yet another Clontarf, when hoarse with the pent-up vengeance of centuries, they shall burst like unlaired tigers upon their ancient, and implacable enemy, and, with one, long, wild cry, hurl her bloody and broken from their shores forever..."
15th-Jun-2013 06:14 am - Famous Kennedy speech in New Ross in 1963 was only 300 words
Grandson and other clan members to travel to Wexford to commemorate event

Noel Whelan
Irish Times
15 June 2013
**Video and text of speech below

John F Kennedy poses with relatives in Dunganstown, Co Wexford, on his visit to Ireland in 1963.

Mary Robinson once said that the smell of fresh paint would be one of the abiding memories of her presidency. Local communities always seemed to have redecorated whatever centre or school she was visiting just before the presidential party arrived.

The smell of fresh paint, the dust of freshly laid pavements and the colours of newly planted flower beds were prominent in New Ross this week as the local authorities and shop owners busily readied the quayside for the arrival of American political royalty next weekend. The Kennedy clan are coming to town.

Four miles out the road at Dunganstown the scene was also one of dust and fresh paint as the Office of Public Works put the finishing touches to the new visitor centre at the Kennedy Homestead. Curator and Kennedy cousin Patrick Grennan and heritage interpretive designer Jack Harrison have assembled a fascinating exhibition of photographs, observations and memorabilia capturing the extraordinary journey that is the Kennedy story.

The visitor centre will be officially opened by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Caroline Kennedy next Saturday afternoon. Later that evening they will also light an eternal flame to emigrants beside the Dunbrody famine ship at New Ross. It’s all part of a series of Kennedy homecoming events as three dozen American-based Kennedys join with their local cousins, the townspeople and thousands of expected visitors to mark the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s visit as president in 1963.

Dramatic works

Among the dramatic works which the town council has undertaken at the quayside in New Ross has been the erection of a statute in bronze by Ann Meldon Hugh replicating a US presidential podium at the spot where John F Kennedy spoke. Having checked the online footage of the speech and even the minutes of the relevant town council meeting from 1963 the town manager, Eamonn Hore, was able to pinpoint to within a metre the precise spot as appropriate location for the podium statute. The bronze podium has already become an attraction in its own right. On recent bright summer evenings one could see people standing behind it and having their presidential speech-making pose captured on smartphone cameras.

The full text of John F Kennedy’s speech in 1963 has been engraved on the podium top. The most striking thing about the speech is how short it was: it runs to just over 300 words. It lasted just three minutes. A press copy of the New Ross remarks preserved in the Kennedy Library in Boston shows four closely typed paragraphs which take up about two-thirds of a single A4 page. Footage of the speech in the library, and widely available online, suggests that the president’s jokes on the day were ad-libbed, but of course they were included in the advance text published to the press.


Video: John F. Kennedy in New Ross and Wexford, Ireland, June 27th 1963.


In these 300 words Kennedy managed to acknowledge and introduce the significant members of his travelling party, including his sisters Eunice and Jean. He joked about how if his great-grandfather had not left he might have been working in the local Albatros factory across the river or in John V Kelly’s local pub across the road.

Return journey

He also however made, in a subtle way, some significant points about the consequences and opportunity flowing from the Irish history of emigration. Speaking at the spot where his great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy had boarded the famine ship, the Dunbrody, in 1848 to begin his journey to America, Kennedy spoke of how it had taken 115 years and 6,000 miles for him to make the return journey. The point obvious to his audience of course was that while Patrick Kennedy in 1848 left as a peasant farmer John F Kennedy had come back in 1963 as president.

Notwithstanding the fact that the speech was short, Kennedy’s carefully chosen words and the manner of the delivery meant none of those who waited for hours to hear him felt they had been short-changed. On the contrary, several in New Ross this week described the moment as the highlight of their childhood. It is an eloquent illustration of how something memorable yet effective can be better said in a short rather than a long speech. That which is concise is more likely to be profound.

Over the course of next Thursday in Dublin and next Friday and Saturday in New Ross and in Dunganstown there will be many words spoken as national and local personalities and politicians seek to capture the relevance of John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963. Those of us involved in putting some of the events together will be hoping to impose something approaching a 300-word limit on the speakers, at least as a general rule.

We will of course be happy to grant some leeway to members of the Kennedy family, who all seem to have inherited the gift of memorable speech-making.

On New Ross quayside next Saturday JFK’s grandson will speak from almost the same spot as Kennedy spoke from in 1963 to honour his great-grandfather. In many ways these are likely to be among the most poignant remarks of the weekend. In terms of memorable Kennedy speeches, in New Ross at least, the torch will pass on once more to another generation.


1963 Press Release
For immediate release
Office of The White House Press Secretary
(Dublin, Ireland)
June 27, 1963

The White House

Remarks of The President

At New Ross Quay

New Ross, Ireland

Mr. Mayor, I first of all would like to introduce two members of my family who came here with us: My sister Eunice Shriver, and to introduce another of my sisters, Jean Smith. I would like to have you meet American Ambassador McClosky, who is with us, and I would like to have you meet the head of the American labor movement, whose mother and father were born in Ireland, George Meany, who is travelling with us. And then I would like to have you meet the only man with us who doesn’t have a drop of Irish blood, but who is dying to, the head of the protocol of the United States, Angier Biddle Duke.

See, Angie, how nice it is, just to be Irish?

I am glad to be here. It took 115 years to make this trip and 6,000 miles, and three generations. But I am proud to be here and I appreciate the warm welcome you have given to all of us. When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great granchildren have valued that inheritance.

If he hadn’t left, I would be working over at the Albatross Company, or perhaps for John V. Kelly. In any case, we are happy to be back here.

About 50 years ago, an Irishman from New Ross traveled down to Washington with his family, and in order to tell his neighbors how well he was doing, he had his picture taken in front of the White House and said, “This is our summer home. Come and see us.” Well, it is our home also in the Winter, and I hope you will come and see us.

Thank you.
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