Catherine Corless has spoken of her relief that 796 babies dumped in a septic tank in Tuam will finally receive a “dignified burial”.
The historian who uncovered the scandal at the Bon Secours nuns’ mother-and-child home in Galway said she expects the painstaking excavation to begin this summer.
Families have been told that the tiny remains of any babies and young children illegally buried on the site will be properly buried.
READ MORE – Disgraced judge convicted of sexual assault and attempted rape continues to receive full pension
Ahead of a complex excavation, a team of forensic investigators led by project leader Dan McSweeney is currently collecting DNA from relatives of some of the children.
Ms Corless, 69, told the Irish Sunday Mirror: “Although painfully slow, major preparations are underway to excavate the site and exhume the Tuam babies, along with forensic DNA testing of the small remains and ultimately a dignified burial.”
“I didn’t realize what a big task this was for Daniel McSweeney until he recently outlined what lay ahead.”
Mr. McSweeney, a former member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was named operations manager for the excavation project last summer.
Announcing the appointment, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman described it as “one of the most complex forensic excavations in the world”.
Mr McSweeney outlined the challenges facing the forensic team on an arduous project that is likely to take years rather than months.
He said: “It may be difficult to get DNA, but it is still possible to put a small baby back together by measuring bones.”
“It is something that needs to be done. It’s the right thing to do.”
The bodies of hundreds of deceased babies were wrapped in cloth and thrown into the chambers of a defunct sewage system behind the former workhouse from 1940 to 1961, after the nuns stopped burying in boxes.
The building has since been demolished and replaced by a housing estate and a playground – although the underground chambers remain.
(Image: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Ms Corless said the remains were mixed up and the cloths they were wrapped in were long gone. She added: “They literally have to take every little bone they find and label it. And it will be an extraordinary effort from them.”
She added: “Even though he [Daniel McSweeney] While mass exhumation of graves is well-tested, the Tuam site requires careful planning, particularly because of its close proximity to residential development.
“And the fact that the babies’ remains are in very deep chambers, three meters deep, meaning the excavation has to be deeper to get underneath.
“Consider also a huge tank covered in rubble and clay – it is not yet known what is underneath, perhaps it is the remains of several skeletons.
“Engineers have examined the entire site, including the very large playground next to the pool and also the grass strip surrounding it.
“You will report to Daniel on the best security practices and of course the costs.”
Mr McSweeney has promised families that any unidentified remains will be buried in a specially selected grave and will not remain in the camp. He has contacted all three groups of survivors who have family members in the wastewater tanks and offered to meet with them individually to brief them on the project.
Ms Corless said: “At least these little babies were buried in a box before the sewage tank was decommissioned, until about 1938 or 1939.”
(Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire)
“Supports need to be placed around the tank and chambers for fear of floor collapse which would destroy important evidence.
“Forensic expert Oran Finnegan from Carlingford is working alongside Daniel and they are in the process of recruiting more staff and a team of archaeologists.”
Mr Finnegan, a forensic manager at the International Red Cross, explained that juvenile skeletons contain far more than the 206 bones of an average adult skeleton and dealing with mixed remains will be “very complex”.
The long-awaited excavation poses a major logistical challenge as the Public Works Department is tasked with helping set up a large depot to house the remains once they are uncovered.
Ms Corless revealed: “The Galway Building Authority is currently deciding on two buildings where a laboratory team will attempt to assemble the remains and take DNA samples.”
It has been more than a decade since the mother of four exposed the Tuam scandal, despite local opposition and a failure from church authorities to co-operate.
She declined an invitation to a reception to mark Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland in 2018, choosing instead to attend a vigil at the Tuam site, held at the same time as the papal mass, on the grounds that she was “on the side of the babies takes a stand.” .
She is currently considering campaigning for a film that Taken star Liam Neeson is rumored to be involved in producing.
Ms. Corless, who has received several awards for her tireless work, is internationally recognized for her tenacity and humility.
As the end goal of her campaign approaches, she told us, “I imagine that by the time the excavation begins, everything and everyone will be in place and well-rehearsed for the task at hand.”
“This is the way Daniel works and I agree, this is the only way this can be achieved successfully. This really is a huge undertaking, the first of its kind in Ireland.”