Is the Irish Babies in the Septic Tank Story a Media-Created Hoax?

Forbes has published an article labeling the babies-in-the-septic-tank story a hoax.

The article, written by Eamonn Fingleton, who writes under the claim that he has “a sharp eye on media bias, official propaganda and globaloney,” says that the so-called septic tank is in reality a shaft burial vault.

I’m not saying that this article is the final word on the mystery. But it does underscore the points I made earlier today. (1) We can’t trust a media with an agenda, in this case hatred of the Catholic Church, and (2) When you’re dealing with one of these media hate orgies, it’s usually better to not let yourself get worked up about it. Wait and see.

From Forbes:

Professor Finbar McCormick, of Queens University, says “The structure as described is much more like to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many parts of Europe.

“In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone … Such tombs are still used extensively in many Mediterranean countries.

“Many maternity hospitals in Ireland had a communal burial place for stillborn children or those who died soon after birth. These were … often in a special area within the grounds of the hospital.

“For anyone familiar with Ireland, the story of nuns throwing babies into a septic tank was never a runner … they were nothing if not God-fearing, and therefore unlike to treat human remains with the sort of outright blasphemy impied in the septic tank story.”



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  • hamiltonr

    The whole story has never made any sense to me. We used a septic for our sewage when I was a kid. First, the size of a septic tank necessary to hold over 700 bodies, even of children, would be gi-normous. Secondly, putting that many bodies in a septic tank would stop up the plumbing for the whole place. Third, why? Where’s the benefit to stopping up your plumbing by stuffing over 700 bodies into it? Fourth, as the man said, why would a bunch of 19th century nuns commit such a flagrant violation of their Church’s teaching about how to treat human remains? The whole story has seemed bogus from day one.

    • pesq87

      With respect, “a flagrant violation of their Church’s teaching about how to treat human remains?” You mean, a flagrant violation of every culture’s treatment of human remains. I too think the story seemed too bogus to be real. Will be interesting to see what the media does with follow-up.

      • hamiltonr

        I mean flagrant violation of the Church’s teachings. These were Catholic nuns. You’re about to trip over your own political correctness, pesq87. :-)

  • Katrina Fernandez

    Thanks for being so vigilant and on top of this.

    • hamiltonr

      Thank you Kat.

  • FW Ken

    One of the kids who found it said that there were no more than 20 bodies in it, to start with. Hopefully, ground penetrating radar will tell that tale. I’m still having trouble getting around the notion that you go to the trouble off getting birth certificates then dump the bodies in a sewer.

    I’m also troubled by that article from Frank’s that purports to contain interviews of women who had been in the home and been abused. No one else seems to be reporting that. Are there contradictory stories?

    Let’s very clear: if the nuns did bad things, reporting it is not anti-catholic. The trouble is that we have no idea if they did. Finally, there are records to review, and there are witnesses to interview by impartial reporters. Some of the nuns are possibly still alive.

    • S. Urista

      The quote in the paper was, the kids “came upon a sort of crypt in the ground, and on peering in they saw several small skulls. I’m told they ran for their lives and relayed their find to their parents.”

      Doesn’t sound to me like they spent much time counting skulls. The ‘about 20′ skulls could just be the initial ones on top they could see – do we know what 800 bodies disposed of over a 35-year span would look like?

      Finally – this was 40 years ago, and the kid was 10yrs old at the time. I’m not going to take his ‘there was only 20 bodies’ as much evidence of anything other than evidence that, at the very least, there were conclusively the bodies of children in the unmarked crypt in the ground.

      • Lark62

        If 20 bodies were found, where are the other 776? There are 796 death certificates.

  • hamiltonr

    Sorry. And thanks. :-)

  • FW Ken

    And you know these things how?

  • AnneG

    Please read the link to Irish Times above before you get all self-righteous.

    • Elizabeth K.

      The children were given First Communion. That would be weird if they had actually been denied baptism, don’t you think? Sheesh, usually the complaint about Catholics is that we’re too quick to baptize–especially nuns with babies!

  • fredx2

    Here’s the problem. It would have been clear to any reporter that Corless simply had 796 death certificates. She did not know where those kids were buried. She is coming to things 50 years after the fact. The reporter almost certainly asked “How do you know all 796 kids are in that one tiny plot?” And she would have answered “I don’t know for sure, I am just surmising”.
    Flags should have gone up for any reporter.
    And yet, the headlines all said “800 babies FOUND in septic tank”
    The ground has not been opened. No one has found any bodies. The kids who found the skeletons in the 1970′s have come forth and said there were at most 20 in there.
    So let’s review:
    1. The Magdalen Laundries scandal exploded, and the media insisted that nuns were enslaving girls and giving away their children. Movies and TV shows dramatized the inhumanity of the church. The subsequent government report found this was not true. (See the McAleese report)
    2. A woman dies in an Irish hospital (Savita Halappanavar) – the media claims she died because the hospital would not give her an abortion. The government investigates, and finds that the primary cause for her death was because she was not given basic care for an infection.
    3. The media tells us Philomena Lee’s baby was stolen from her by nuns, and sold to an American couple. Even Philomena agrees that she voluntarily gave away the baby. The baby was “sold” only in the sense that all adoption agencies charge for their services. The film is found to be grossly inaccurate, hyping the “bad nuns” aspect to create a juicy story.
    4. The Tuam “babies in a septic tank” story is run, without the most minimal journalistic standards being observed.
    Obviously, someone is working very hard in Ireland to accuse the church when the facts don’t support it. No Catholic objects to legitimate criticism, in fact we welcome it. However, it appears this has gone far beyond the realm of legitimate criticism, and is instead is is sounding more and more like a campaign designed to drum up hate.
    Since the Irish government is considering gay marriage and legalizing abortion at the moment, I think we can guess at the motivation behind this whole thing.

  • Lark62

    “The stigma was not religious.”

    You’re joking, right?

  • Elizabeth K.

    I’m trying to understand why taking in women whose families wouldn’t have them is considered a horrible thing. Many families would actually keep the baby and raise it as a sibling of the mother; the women who went to a mother-baby home may have had no place else to go, or may have wanted the relative anonymity that it could afford them to avoid the societal stigma. The nuns who ran the place offered them safety and anonymity. All good things, as far as I can see.

  • Lark62

    Father Flanagan of Boys Town fame visited this home in the 1930s. There are several articles out now repeating what he said then. The bottom line is that he was appalled at the conditions. Govt and religious leaders, hearing his concerns, essentially said “mind your own business, Yankee.”

    • FW Ken

      Got a link for that?

    • Elizabeth K.

      Can you please provide a reference for that assertion, Lark 62? I see that Fr. Flanagan visited reform schools for boys in Ireland, and disagreed with their disciplinary methods, but I can’t find a reference to any visit to mother-baby homes, or Tuam in particular.

      • FW Ken

        I looked at numerous articles and never found mention that Fr. Flanagan visited this school or any like it, nor commented on them.

        There remains alleged interviews with women who were there, but you have to wonder why they haven’t been authenticated.

      • Lark62

        You are right. He may not have visited Tuam specifically, but he was appalled by the treatment of people, including small children, in catholic institutions. Quit tap dancing. A well known and respected individual told them in the 1940s that their institutions were a disgrace, and they told him to mind his own business.

  • FW Ken

    The Baptists don’t baptize babies. And I doubt you have much personal knowledge of Baptist life, Amy more than you have about poor rural Ireland.

    Moreover. This is clearly about you’re personal hated for Catholics, not about the welfare of women or children. I learned long ago not to stand in the way of people riding their hobbyhorses.

  • Elizabeth K.

    I have no problem saying that that’s wrong, when it happened. I’m just saying that it didn’t happen every time, and it’s unfair to paint all religious with the same brush. I’m also saying that even if they were treated poorly, that’s still better than leaving people to the streets, which is one way other societies deal with unwed mothers. Shelter, food, a place to give birth safely, a year to decide if you want to keep the child or place it for adoption (and yes I know that this didn’t always happen, but one of the reasons it didn’t was because mothers wanted to allow their babies to be adopted earlier)–even if the folks in charge were unkind, I still think that’s a better deal than what a lot of these women faced outside of the Home. And to imagine that somehow, if the big bad Catholic church wasn’t there, people would be ever so much kinder to unwed mothers and create systems wherein children are well cared for, doesn’t really seem to jibe with the world as it is. People are mean sometimes. These homes still did a great deal of good for a lot of people.

  • FW Ken

    The circumstances were a little more complicated, if memory serves, bur an abortion at that point was legal and morally unobjectionable. The infectious disease care was the point of failure.

  • Lark62

    The catholic church in ireland raised the shaming of unwed mothers to an artform. Unwed mothers were outcasts, with the church’s encouragement.

  • S. Urista

    You might ‘regain’ a vivid memory after 40 years? Seriously?

    Memories are incredibly fragile in the best of times, and they do not ‘get stronger’ with the passage of time. He remembers seeing skulls as he and his friend ‘ran for their lives’. That’s the extent of his evidence: there were children buried in the crypt. ‘Dumped’ ‘placed’ ‘buried’, whatever adjective you want to use is kind of beside the point. There is no good reason why those skulls should have been where they were.

    Why doesn’t someone go look, indeed…..

    • hamiltonr

      Uh … S. Urista … I think was probably a typo. I’m guessing that Ken meant “retain.” Just a guess, and he’s certainly free to correct me. But that’s how I read it.

      • S. Urista

        Maybe – but, I mean retain, regain…what’s the difference? Memory is a fickle thing. Eye-witness accounts are notoriously unreliable, even when describing events that happened just hours or even minutes before. And that’s even before we get into the accuracy (or lack thereof) of memories from our childhood – memories are reconstructive, remember.

        A memory of an event 40 years, when he was 10, and ‘running away for his life’? Yeah, I’m not putting much stock in his ’20 bodies’ count statement.

  • S. Urista

    Do you not believe anything you read in the papers?

    • AnneG
      • S. Urista

        Perhaps the irony was a bit too subtle for you?

        fredx2: The problem here is that people believe everything they read in the papers

        On the one hand – ‘don’t believe what you readin the newspapers!’.

        On the other hand – ‘here’s my evidence, it was in the NEWSPAPER!’

        The stance appears to be, ‘believe the newspapers that confirm your already established views, but any media source that disagrees with you is clearly and deliberatly lying’.

  • FW Ken

    I’ve read half a dozen accounts and it is crystal clear that he was talking about what we used to call reform schools. If your wish to make things up to suit yourself, fine.