A mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children has been discovered at a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland, government-appointed investigators announced Friday in a finding that confirmed a local historian's efforts to trace the fates of 800 children who perished at the facility.
The judge-led Mother and Baby Homes Commission announced Friday that excavations at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, had found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing "significant quantities of human remains."
The commission said DNA analysis of selected remains confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to 3 years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers and their children. The Tuam home closed in 1961.
The announcement confirms decades of suspicions that the vast majority of children who died at the home were interred on the site in unmarked graves, a relatively common practice at such Catholic-run facilities amid high child-mortality rates in early 20th century Ireland.
The government in 2014 formed the investigation following the work of a local Tuam historian, Catherine Corless, who found death certificates for nearly 800 children who were residents at the facility — but a burial record for only one child.
"Everything pointed to this area being a mass grave," said Corless, who recalled how local boys playing in the field had reported seeing a pile of bones in a hidden underground chamber there in the mid-1970s.
The government's commissioner for children, Katherine Zappone, said Friday's findings were "sad and disturbing," and pledged that the children's descendants would be consulted on providing proper burials and other memorials.
"We will honor their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately," Zappone said.