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

Is the Irish Babies in the Septic Tank Story a Media-Created Hoax? June 9, 2014

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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54 responses to “Is the Irish Babies in the Septic Tank Story a Media-Created Hoax?”

  1. The lady who has been researching the identities of these children is upset because she says she never used the terms”dumped,” “piled” or “septic tank.” She has requested death certificates for each child. It seems Ireland was very poor and life was tenuous, with high infant and child mortality from independence into the ’50 s and ’60’s. Here is the link.

    • 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. Second, 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? It wouldn’t be all that easy to get them into the septic tank in the first place. 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.

      • 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.

        • I mean flagrant violation of the Church’s teachings. These were Catholic nuns. You’re tripping over your own political correctness, pesq87. 🙂

          • I think we’re agreeing. My post was meant as an exclamation point to yours – not that you need it. 😉

          • Were the children considered catholic? They were denied baptism when they were born and, when they died, they were denied burial in consecrated ground.

            And they were despised between those two points in time.

            • No, there is no evidence that the children were denied baptism. There is only conjecture. People are assuming things. Many people from that time have come forth and said that they were born from an unwed mother in Ireland during those days, and they were baptized.
              The problem here is that people believe everything they read in the papers.
              Remember: when society rejected these girls, the church took them in.

              • 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!

      • 20th century nuns – 1925 to 1961.

        The greater crime is the flagrant violation of basic human decency in their treatment of these dear children and their mothers during life. I do not see anyone questioning that.

        The catholic church in Ireland created the massive, out of all proportion stigma attached to unmarried motherhood (but apparently attached no stigma whatsoever to the male half of the equation), and then brutally punished the women for violating that taboo. This punishment was inflicted even when the pregnancy resulted from rape by townsmen, fathers, or other authority figures.

        • Or so the media says. The stigma attached to unwed motherhood was the same in England and Wales. People have agreed to that now, so it is not a Catholic church things, since those countries are not Catholic.
          And the supposed brutal punishment myth is largely based on the myth of the Magdalen Laundries, which the government report – the McAleese report, showed was mostly a made up media concoction.
          Do you know of any orphanage where they thought it was a wonderful place in those days? Orphanages are routinely depicted as sad, terrible places.

          • 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.

            • The catholic church preached and enforced the stigma of unwed motherhood, then enslaved and abused unwed mothers. The nuns despised the mothers and their illegitimate, unbaptised children and treated them without an ounce of kindness or love.

              If religion is supposed to make people more moral, explain why catholic homes were less moral than others.

              Why the need to defend the indefensible? Why is it so hard to say that the priests were wrong to make unwed motherhood an unspeakable crime, and the nuns were wrong to withhold kindness and compassion?

              • 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.

  2. Thanks, Rebecca. From the start this story seemed really fishy, and I’ve posted quite a bit about it on various sites. What’s interesting and a bit frightening is how many people really seem to want the worst possible version to be the true version of the story. Unfortunately, I think for those folks even if some of these more recent revelations, or qualifications, even make it to the mainstream press, they’ll write it off as a coverup of some sort. Irresponsible journalism coupled with a desire on the part of readers to believe an institution one hates is evil=something kind of monstrous.

  3. yup. I was expecting this as some things didn’t ring true. Also the anesthetics part is still not taking into account that they had no money and when you have no money you don’t get extra things, unlike today, in which you can’t afford. Where the dads of the children are is what is troubling.

  4. The treatment of the bodies after death is only one element of the story. How does this impact the horrible treatment of the women and children during life? Given the religious stigma attached to these women and the conditions documented in other Irish institutions, there is no basis for concluding that these people were not neglected and deprived during life.

    For me, mistreating a live human being is far worse than disrespecting a dead body.

    • Aletia also has an article on this today:

      Far from “horrible treatment of the women and children during life” being attributed to the Sisters, the Tuam home was often considered a model institution of its kind; what mistreatment there was came not from the sisters, but from elsewhere in society. The maternity ward for instance, was created because married Irish mothers refused to give birth in the same hospital as the unwed; the local council kept removing needed funds to keep the home operating; fathers were not stepping up to do their duty to these women and children.

      • 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.”

        • 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.

    • But in fact, the stigma was not religious. It was societal. Articles have already admitted that the stigma against unwed mothers was a fact of life in Ireland, England and Wales at this time. England and Wales are not Catholic, so its’ not a Catholic thing. And it’s not even a Christian thing – Hindus in India even today have a strong problem with unwed mothers. It was of course a fact of life in years gone by, almost wherever you went in the world.

      Furthermore, the “horrible treatment” consists of a statement that in 1944, some children were emaciated. however, we have not seen that full report. we know that in 1944, the war was going on and all supplies were in short supply. Remember the German U Boats were sinking all Allied shipping at that time. There was an outbreak of diptheria at the school at that time, and the head nun was begging for diptheria medicine. Since the local government was providing the funding and was monitoring the school, it is unlikely that anything out of the ordinary took place without being noticed.

      The fact that the kids were kept separate from the other kids in school might have been an attempt to keep diseases from spreading, because that was the problem orphanages in those days had – since those kids were living in close proximity, diseases tended to spread quickly among them.

      Furthermore, you say that “conditions documented in other Irish institutions” you are probably referring to the Magdalen laundries, which became a big media story. However, the government commission that investigated that found.

      “i. Physical abuse

      33. A large majority of the women who shared their stories with the Committee said that they had neither experienced nor seen other girls or women suffer physical abuse in the Magdalen Laundries.

      34. In this regard, women who had in their earlier lives been in an industrial or reformatory school drew a clear distinction between their experiences there and in the Magdalen Laundries, stating clearly that the widespread brutality which they had witnessed and been subjected to in industrial and reformatory schools was not a feature of the Magdalen Laundries.”

      So we have two fake stories now. Common sense tells you that human beings do not just dump poor, dead children in a septic tank.

  5. 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.

    • In the Savita case, she was having a miscarriage and the fetus was not viable. The standard of care is to complete the miscarriage to prevent infection. The cause of death was improper care. Period.

      • She was indeed in the process of suffering a miscarriage and the standard of care that she received left – shall we say – something to be desired. Quite a lot to be desired, actually.

        However there is another aspect to the case – that is, that she was suffering from an antibiotic resistant infection, as well. It would appear that she was a dead woman walking. That does not excuse the poor standard of care that she received.

        It gets even more murky because a pro abortion group in the area got access to the information before any public statement from the hospital. It is a dark and nasty mess.

  6. Online news organizations sensationalize headlines to get clicks. This doesn’t change facts. It is correct that 800 bodies in the tank are unlikely. However facts still exist.

    According to the Irish Times. 1 Old plans of the workhouse that existed before the mother and baby home show a sewage tank at that spot. 2 The sewage tank stopped being used in the 1930s when the home was connected to city water lines. 3 Bones of small children were seen in the tank.

    It is safe to deduce that some bodies were placed in the tank when it was no longer used for its original purpose. Since there are no burial records and no graves have been located, it is also safe to deduce that the bodies were not lovingly buried in consecrated ground. Given the stigma and the poverty, very few of the dead children would have been returned to families for burial.

    There are 796 death certificates. Where are the graves?

    • And your point is? The point of the story was the idea of a concealed Catholic abortuary or child-murdering facility, out of the fantasies of Maria Monk and the like. That was blown out of the water the moment it became clear that all the deaths had been recorded and certified. In the desperately poor and insanitary Irish countryside of the early and middle twentieth century, there is absolutely nothing surprising about a mortality of a dozen or two babies per year. There was no Catholic murder facility. End of story.

  7. Science is being used to determine the facts not sensationalism. The truth will set us free however painful that truth is.
    By Kevin Doyle
    March 3 2017
    “The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation is currently probing how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 18 State-linked religious institutions.
    A small number of the remains discovered in Tuam were recovered for the purpose of analysis.
    “These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to 2-3 years,” the body said.
    “Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time frame relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home. The homes ran from 1925 to 1961.”
    A number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s. Further scientific tests are being conducted.”

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