What should be done with remains at Tuam?
A few years ago, an amateur historian shook Ireland to its core with a ghastly allegation: Hundreds of bodies of young children appeared to have been buried in an abandoned septic system by Roman Catholic nuns who for decades had managed a home for unwed mothers and their offspring in the County Galway town of Tuam.
Then, early last year, investigators confirmed that many commingled human remains have been found in just a single corner of the 7-acre site, where a subsidized housing project had long since replaced the old mother-and-baby home.
Amid the many emotional reactions that followed was one particularly painful question: What should be done with the juvenile remains in the ground?
Last month, a team of forensic experts assembled by Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s minister for children, issued a report that presented several possible answers, but not before noting the “unprecedented” challenges.
“The group has not identified any directly comparable cases, either nationally or internationally, that involved the complexities of commingled juvenile human remains, in significant quantities and in such a restricted physical location,” the report said.
Then, in technical language devoid of emotion, the report listed five options, including the estimated cost. The least intrusive choice would be to do little more than erect a memorial on the site and leave things as they are. The most ambitious would be to conduct a forensic exam of most of the site, including its car park and grassy playground; exhume all relevant human remains; and do exhaustive DNA testing for possible identification.
Even in its no-nonsense prose, the report revealed the emotional complexities of the nearly primal matter that the Irish government faces – a matter touching on the profound influence of the Catholic Church on national policy, the subjugation of women, respect for the dead and proper redress for human rights abuses.
The report’s suggestions have offended the likes of Peter Mulryan, who spent the first few years of his life in the Tuam home and was eventually handed over to a foster father who beat and exploited him. He learned, only recently, that he had a half sister who died at the home in 1950s and that her remains, presumably, are commingled in the site’s unconsecrated ground.
“Awful, insulting,” Mulryan said in an interview last week. “How would any of those doing the report like it if one of their siblings was being treated like that?”
The slog toward resolution continues.
This includes having the local government, the Galway County Council, meet with relatives and survivors to hear their concerns.