ENID, Okla. —
Babies are precious, especially when they are smiling and happy, soft and warm and smelling like, well, babies.
Babies are precious, even when they are crying and cranky, screaming and squirming and smelling like, well, you know.
Babies are snuggling, wiggling, giggling balls of potential energy all wrapped in the softest skin you can imagine.
Babies are born every day, in every corner of the globe, some are answers to prayer, others just another mouth to feed, and the unlucky few are not wanted at all.
The fortunate ones are loved, cherished, nurtured and fed until their little cheeks get plump.
Some are first-born. They are treated like China dolls, picked up the instant they cry, if indeed they are ever put down at all. Their every move is monitored, every mood recorded for posterity.
Others are second- or third-born, or later. As they go down the line, parents don’t love them any less, but they quickly learn a healthy baby won’t break at the slightest touch like antique porcelain.
Some couples try for years to have a baby, while others are blessed with them right away.
And some babies come to young women who, for a variety of reasons, are unable or unwilling to care for them.
The fortunate babies born into such a situation are adopted by a loving family. The unfortunate ones often suffer a much grimmer fate.
Such was apparently the case with hundreds of babies born between 1925 and 1961 at a home for unwed mothers in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland.
In all, what is thought to be the remains of up to 796 babies and children, from newborns to 8-year-olds, have been located in a septic tank near the site of the former “mother and baby” home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours.
The home has since been torn down and a housing development now sits next to the site.
The bones were found by two local boys playing near the site. They peered through a hole in a concrete slab and saw a space they described as “filled to the rim with bones.”
Some locals say the bones date back to a workhouse that was on the site before the mother and baby home, or even to the deadly 1840 famine.
But a local historian checked the records and found that 796 children had died at the home over the years, but not one was found to be buried in any area cemetery.
According to the records, the children died from a variety of ailments, including malnutrition, measles, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia.
At the time their mothers were considered “fallen women,” ostracized by society. Now it seems nearly 800 of their children were forgotten, discarded like yesterday’s trash.
There is a photo online of some of the children at the home in 1924. They appear to range in age from 3 to perhaps 8. Not a one is smiling.
Perhaps it was because they knew what was happening to their compatriots, who were dying at the rate of two per week.
The children were mistreated, according to people in the area who remember the home.
When they went to school they were moved to the fringes of classrooms. When children misbehaved, they were threatened with having to sit next to the Home Babies, as they were known.
Catherine Corless, the woman who did the research and who is leading the drive to investigate the fate of the Home Babies, went to school with them. She told the Washington Post of playing a trick on one of them, a little girl, wrapping a small rock in a gleaming candy wrapper and handing it to her. The other little girl was, of course, disappointed at her “gift.” Corless says she thought the prank was funny at the time.
“Years later, I asked myself what did I do to that poor little girl that never saw a sweet? That has stuck with me all my life. Part of me wants to make up to them,” she said.
How can you ever begin to make up for something so cruel, so heinous, so horrible, as the way those little children were starved, neglected, shunned and ultimately disposed of as if they had no more value than a pair of worn out shoes?
They were nearly 800, these Home Babies that the world forgot. And perhaps more.
In truth, no one knows for sure how many children are represented by that pile of bones. The number may actually be higher.
These were living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings, God’s most precious creatures, children, who only wanted to be loved and cared for.
Obviously, these dear children were neither loved, nor cared for.
Babies are precious, no matter how troubled the circumstances of their birth. They should be treated as such.
When you go to bed tonight, say a prayer for the Home Babies, pray that they know the love and peace in death they were denied during their brief time on Earth.
It is said of the Irish that all their wars are happy and all their songs are sad.
If anyone ever writes a song about the Home Babies of Tuam, it will indeed be sad.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.