Flowers left at the Bessborough former Mother and Child Home this week. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Graves remain unmarked

“Children died in their care and they are telling the Irish public that they don't know where they buried them.”

The words of Bessborough survivor and founder of Bessborough Survivors group, Catherine Coffey O’Brien who has labelled claims that Bessborough failed to keep a register of infant burials as “nonsense”.

Her comments come following the long awaited final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes which confirmed that 923 children and eight women associated with Bessborough died between 1922 and 1998.

Ms Coffey O’Brien told the Cork Independent that she was still getting her head around the report and that the nuns at Bessborough had “more than enough time” to gather the requested information.

“They had documentation for every baby and every woman that was there. We all know how well the nuns kept their books.”

And you're telling me that they don't know on their own grounds where those babies are buried?” said Ms Coffey O’Brien.

The final report states that 9,768 women were admitted to Bessborough between 1922 and 1998. In the 1920s an average of 28 women were admitted each year.

Admissions increased following the introduction of maternity services at Bessborough in 1930 and rose steadily until 1946 when 160 admissions were recorded.

Of these 9,768 women, 12.5 per cent were below the age of 18 and 79.5 per cent were between the ages of 18 and 29.

According to the report, child deaths peaked in the early 1940s. In the years 1940-44, 330 children died in Bessborough. Deaths recorded during these five years accounted for 36 per cent of all child deaths associated with the home in its 76 years of operations.

In the section titled ‘Child Cause of Death’, the report shows that 184 children died from 'non-specific' causes, with 169 dying from malabsorption, 167 dying from respiratory infections, and 153 from gastroenteritis.

Other causes of death listed include tuberculosis, haemorrhage, congenital heart disease, syphilis and convulsions.

Ms Coffey O’Brien said that all she is asking for is that the land in which the children are buried be handed over to Cork City Council and officially registered as a graveyard so that mothers can grieve and “move on with their lives”.

“It’s the least that can be done. It's a small thing to put a bench in, a wild flower bed and leave us alone. The emptiness that those women are feeling when they go and stand there and they know their child is in that ground. People don't understand that they didn't get a chance to mourn their children,” she said.

In a statement released following the publication of the report, the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary apologised to those who did not get the care and support they needed and deserved.

“It is a matter of great sorrow to us that babies died while under our care. We sincerely regret that so many babies died particularly in regard to Bessborough in the 1940’s. We also want to recognise the dreadful suffering and loss experienced by mothers,” the statement read.

Addressing the issue surrounding where the children were buried, the statement read: “We are distressed and saddened that it is so difficult to prove with legal certainty where many of these infants were buried. We did everything possible including the engagement of a professional historian to assist us in our dealings with the Commission on this vitally important matter.”

The Bessborough Survivors group have officially lodged an objection with Cork City Council against planning applications for 246 apartments on lands attached to Bessborough.

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