When the Truth Gets in The Way of News

A few days ago, several of us responded to a WAPost article about a home for unwed mother, infants, and small children. We assumed that the WAPost article was accurate, that it had been fact checked. We were wrong.

I later updated my post with a link to a post by Caroline Farrow which offered some much needed historicity and clarification.

Today, David Quinn has this column the Independent, an Irish newspaper. David’s piece adds some important facts and some thoughtful reflections.

Fact – The facts are currently unclear and some are wholly unsubstantiated:

We have to determine how they died and where they are buried. Notably, the gardai told RTE’s Philip Boucher-Hayes concerning the burials at the home itself, a former workhouse: “They are historical burials going back to Famine times, there is no suggestion of any impropriety and there is no garda investigation. Also there is no confirmation from any source that there are there are between 750 and 800 bodies present.

Fact – Things in Ireland were bad overall:

The institutions were partly a response to extreme poverty. Destitute people often ended up in institutions as an alternative to being on the street. Go to a Third World country today and you will find the streets of their towns and cities teeming with children many of whom belong to the sort of gangs depicted by Dickens in ‘Oliver Twist’.

Keep those countries in mind and you have a vision of how extreme poverty was in Ireland until fairly recently. In real terms, the Irish economy in 1936 was only one twelfth the size it was in 2007. That means many people were as poor then as some of the worst-off people in some of the worst-off African countries today.

The mortality rates and life expectancy for Irish people were also at Third World levels.

On average in the 1920s, almost 6,500 children aged up to four died annually. In 2010, 316 children in that age group died, a decrease of 95pc. And the population of Ireland was much smaller in the 1920s than it is today.


[A]t bottom there was still something completely unacceptable about many of these places which is that for all of their ostensible Christianity, they were rarely Christian… .

I think it was because Christianity in Ireland had by then hardened into something that was all too often more about punishment than mercy and forgiveness. To that extent Christianity in Ireland had become, in the strict meaning of the term, anti-Christ, and the church is still living this down.

Do read his entire column here.

Meanwhile, sounds like there will be some sort of investigation to get to the – ahem! – truth of the matter. One hopes.

If you want to drop the WAPost a line about its reporting (the piece is clearly labeled as a “news” in the URL), try foreign@washpost.com or corrections@washpost.com. The ombudsman can be reached at this number: 202-334-7582.

UPDATE: “Still Trying to Get at the Truth of the Tuam Home Story”



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  • Elizabeth K.

    Thanks for the update, Pia! My mom visited Ireland in the 70′s, and the poverty was still terrible–and this was in our family, with landowners and a strong family system. I remember she took bags of clothes, and how eye opening it was for me to see how different things could have been had my great-grandmother not decided to head for the States. Things are tremendously better now in most places, praise God.

  • http://www.thedonovan.com/the_farm bethdonovan

    Thanks for clearing at least some of that up. This story has really excited people who hate Catholics. It’s pretty upsetting to think that somehow a religious order was basically killing children. I honestly lost sleep after reading about it.

    • Iwishyouwell

      You know what makes people hate Catholics the most? People like you.

      People like you who are fine with the harm and abuse others have perpetrated against the vulnerable, and then amplify that harm and abuse by sneering at those people.

      That’s what makes people hate Catholics.

      I get the historical context. I get that that mindset was still saturating certain Catholic communities even as late as the 80s and 90s. I get that. I know that. I lived that. I can forgive that.

      But you — the likes of you? No. I can’t forgive that, and you are why it is clearer than day that the Catholic Church is as evil as it gets, that it’s the Church of Satan, and that if there was ever anything good about it at all, it’s long, long dead and gone and will never come back.

      • http://www.thedonovan.com/the_farm bethdonovan

        wow. just wow.

        • Iwishyouwell

          Right back at you. You defend and excuse evil to serve your own egotistical, selfish purposes. The blood of every woman and child harmed in situations like this in Ireland and the world over are on your hands. You’re filth. You’re evil.

          • http://www.thedonovan.com/the_farm bethdonovan

            It’s easy to be an ass when you hide everything about you. You are nothing but a troll, an evil troll at that.
            I am completely honest and straightforward as to who I am – who, or what are you?

          • http://pegponderingagain.com/ Peg Demetris

            Don’t feed the trolls beth. They become obvious trolls when the truth beats the lies back to hell where they belong..

          • Iwishyouwell

            Stand in front of God and run that comment by him.

          • http://pegponderingagain.com/ Peg Demetris

            I already have

          • Iwishyouwell

            The real God, not the one you’ve created in your own image.

          • Elizabeth K.

            I second that, Peg and Beth. I’m guilty of handing out troll snacks myself, but this one sounds particularly unhinged. The fact is some people don’t want the facts, and they’re screaming hysterically at those who do. I can’t really understand why someone would *want* this story to turn out to be as vile and awful as the most hysterical headlines would have it, but there you have it. I appreciate Pia’s efforts to continue to follow the story and provide insight.

          • Iwishyouwell

            “Some people”, such as myself know the facts because they have personal experience that gives them a perspective you are not privy to. So, in order to protect your idol, you dehumanize people like me by kicking me to the trash heap as a non-human “troll”. And then, in a spectacular show of hypocrisy, claim that those wonderful Catholics would never kick anyone into the trash, or dehumanize them and that anyone who says they have indeed done so is….a troll.

            And around and around your dehumanizing, idol-driven hatred goes.

          • Mikazaru

            The show of denial on this channel has really sickened me, I’ve already heard that the Magdalene laundries were over-blown, so this probably will be too. Leave it to religious institutions to rewrite history. This is the only “news” channel I’ve read all week where people have spent almost their entire resources rubbishing one newspaper they don’t agree with (ignoring the dozens of other news agencies in Ireland and around the world) and telling their loyal followers “It’s all right, they don’t enough facts to pin it on us just yet” instead of facing the fact that 800 babies, many of whom undoubtedly died due to neglect, are either in that tank, or missing, because we know they’re not buried. Whenever people tell me that the church and Catholic culture no longer prioritises its reputation over the truth or the welfare of its victims, I think I’ll just link to Patheos Catholic.

          • Iwishyouwell

            You know, it wouldn’t matter if it was just one child. Plus, the history of abuse perpetrated by Catholic institutions in Ireland is legend. They have their own versions of the John Jay report, and the various grand jury reports that have been done here in the U.S. and they’re even worse than what we’ve seen here. The history of Ireland’s treatment of families already broken by death of a parent is appalling. The fact is the Church de facto ran that country during that time, and they are guilty, guilty, guilty, across the board of some of the most heinous abuses against families, women, children ever seen anywhere.

            But now they’ll niggle over a detail here, or a detail there, or a number, or find one woman somewhere who wasn’t treated as badly as others and claim her story makes the others stories somehow untrue.

            I’ve never in my life seen such a pathetic and instant circling of the wagons to protect clergy and religious at the cost of the most vulnerable. It’s really hard to believe it’s the 21st century some days.

            And then they’ll go on about abortion and the horror of even one baby being aborted — but the life of an illegitmate child of an unwed girl, along with the life of that girl herself? Not worth a red cent to these people. It’s revolting.

          • Mikazaru

            The only solace I take from this is that regardless of the actions of the outsiders looking in, Irish people are waking up, kinda. Parents are baptising their children purely because the church runs the schools and gets to bypass equality laws, so they prioritise the baptised babies. But there’s an anti-theistic swing that you wouldn’t think a country like Ireland would be capable of in just 20 years, and boy I can’t wait until my generation is in government, we’ll rewrite the most secular constitution you’ve ever seen.

          • Iwishyouwell

            And, actually, the Irish government is responding to the outcry from the Irish re this incident. I think they know they can’t sweep these things under the rug any longer.

            My youngest daughter’s fiance is from Ireland, so I’m familiar with the utter contempt the Irish now have for all things Catholic.

            That attitude, however, will be blamed on something else — anything other than the actions of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Anything. It’s always someone else’s fault, they never have to look into their own cold, dead hearts. Ugh.

          • Jim Dailey

            Your daughter is in love with someone contemptuous of Irish Catholics? Shocking!

          • Iwishyouwell

            Nope, just the Catholic Church. For good reason.

            We are Irish.

          • Iwishyouwell

            Last time I used my name my daughter was targeted by people like you. You are the evil one. You. You are the opposite of honest. You will destroy anything and everything good in this world to protect your ego and your idols.

  • Iwishyouwell

    Excuses, rationalizations, more excuses.

    It. Was. Wrong.

    Period. Full stop.

    It was wrong, it was perpetrated by CATHOLICS, and if that doesn’t make it worse, then it’s clear — stunningly, spectacularly clear — that the Catholic Church is just one more corrupt human organization and has NOTHING to do with Christ. Nothing.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    You can’t screw up over and over and over again, destroying the most vulnerable of people, and then whinge and whine and pewl and mewl that, oh, you’re just people too, boohoohoo, and it’s just what everyone else does, whingeywhineywhingemewlpewlblahblahblah.

    You either call it what it is or you’re as evil as they are.

  • Mikazaru

    Fact: Infant mortality rates at these “homes” were 4-5 times that of the rest of the country, at 17th century levels. Medical officers at the time were appalled at the standard of care and the covering up of the depravity of conditions. So much for “Meh, it was Ireland”.

    Fact: Quite unlike what you are alluding to in your reflection, it was not Irish culture that shaped Catholicism, it was Catholicism that shaped Irish culture.

    We didn’t invent the word illegitimate to refer to babies born outside of wedlock, we didn’t decide that they, with the rest of their unbaptised brethren, weren’t worthy of being buried in consecrated ground, we didn’t invent the shame associated with pregnancy, we didn’t decide that married women needed to be blessed after childbirth to cleanse them of the sin of sexual intercourse, until the late 70s, no doubt. We didn’t so preach the evils of homosexuality (or campaign against its legalisation as late as 1993) that gay people my parents age killed themselves in droves long before reaching my parents age.

    There are 800 babies buried somewhere, if you want to deny that they’re in that sewage tank then be my guest, because if they’re not then the church will have even more questions to answer, because they’re somewhere, we have the paperwork. There are more babies buried in Castlepollard, the Nazareth school in Tralee, Sean Ross Abbey, St. Joseph’s on the Navan Road, the whole fucking country is build on babies bones.

    Irish society at large has questions to answer for I know. People should have spoken up, people shouldn’t have sent their daughters and grandchildren there, I appreciate that. The government and the various departments involved failed miserably. But they didn’t warp Christianity, Christianity warped them. To say that the blame lies solely or mainly with Irish society is to say that they should have not only ignored, but stood up against not only an incredibly powerful worldwide institution in de facto control of what you describe as a Third World country, but what they were told was an absolute moral authority.

    They stood up for the church, they went along with it and they turned a blind eye. But they did that because of fear, in a totalitarian theocracy that had labour camps up and down the country, in a time when the church had a monopoly on education, and as far as they had been told, on the afterlife. You all denounce them for that, yet in the 21st century, with all the information and freedom you have, you’re all doing exactly the same thing.