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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. Yes, many cultures frowned premarital sex. Historically, this was because it reduces the value of a man’s property. But there are significant differences in scale.

    Show me where Texas baptists systematically enslaved unmarried mothers for a year or more without pay so that they could atone for their wickedness.

    To my knowledge, the baptists never refused baptism to illegitimate children.

    Show me any baptist teaching that pain in childbirth is god’s punishment for Eve’s sin and/or the woman’s sin, and therefore no attempt should be made to reduce the pain of childbirth.

    When an organization holds itself up as the world wide voice of morality, and when that organization works to enforce their morality in secular laws, yes I am certainly entitled to hold that organization to a very high standard

  19. 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?

  20. 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.”

  21. 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?

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

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

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

  29. Wrong on several counts. I am a former christian and former southern baptist, and my family history is irish catholic. I have no personal hatred for catholics, but dislike hypocrisy. When the catholic church works to pass laws to limit my medical choices claiming “sanctity of life”, at a minimum I will expect them to treat all human life as sacred.

    It is clear that bad things happened in the home in Tuam, and there is ample evidence from years of investigation in Ireland that the various homes run by catholics were brutal. For me, the normal reaction would be “we have to find out what happened, and what factors led people to act with such callousness and cruelty.” I simply do not understand the circle the wagons reaction, and the leap from “there were less that 800 bodies found in this one spot” to “there is no truth in anything said and no reason to investigate.” (I know that not all the people commenting here reacted that way.)

    My personal thoughts:
    *The lack of separation between church and state in Ireland contributed to the problem – the homes were mostly owned by the government and run by the church. The church was all powerful, and no government official would risk his job or excommunication by standing up to the church. This was dangerous, since there was no outside force to stop cycles of violence.
    *The nuns also may have had hard, unhappy lives. In large, poor families, girls considered unlikely to get married for whatever reason were sometimes forced into convents. I hurt for them too.

  30. So you were mistaken. Perhaps you read too quickly, or perhaps your emotion clouded your ability to see the facts, or perhaps you saw more than was really there and made false equivocations and misrepresented things to suit your argument. Just something for you to think about, Lark.

  31. 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…..

  32. 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.

  33. Sorry, but the detail of exactly which Irish Institutions disgusted Father Flanagan does not change the fact that he was appalled by both the conditions and the complete refusal of those charge to acknowledge any problem. Worry about your 2×4 first.

  34. He spoke of the treatment of young children, which hopefully doesn’t mean prisons. He visited institutions like this one, and those responsible had no interest in improving the compassion or care, according to father Flanagan’s own statements set the time.

    Kindness and compassion don’t cost anything.

  35. 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.

  36. No–he was speaking about reform schools, not institutions for children in general–because of his establishment of Boys Town. He was *not* visiting institutions like Tuam. Continuing to make false equivalencies like this weakens your argument unnecessarily. As FW Ken pointed out, Tuam may have been horrible; the nuns may have been horrible; they also may not have been. There’s certainly enough evidence to raise serious questions. What’s clear is that Fr. Flanagan never visited them, and that there’s no reason to assume his criticism of one kind of institution should somehow be extended to all of them. It serves the interests of those who care very little about you, or about these children, to create hysteria and indifference to reason and facts. The world never, ever benefits when people cease to care about reality and truth on both small and large matters.

  37. We don’t actually know that there’s no good reason they were there, or why they were there. We don’t know who the bones belonged to. The Garda has stated that they were the bones of Famine victims, separate from the “baby graveyard.” Maybe, maybe not. But if they are the remains of Famine victims that may have been the only way they could have been buried. Or, something may have happened to the skeletal remains after their burial.

  38. The assertion that the RCC opposed anesthesia in childbirth is often repeated, but is, in fact, false. (Though a lot women and babies would have been lucky had the anesthesia available at the time been withheld, as it could seriously compromise the likelihood of a safe labor and delivery).

  39. 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’.

  40. Please explain how the church sex scandal and cover-up has been ‘grossly exaggerated’.

  41. 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.

  42. Hey, you. in Sweden, unmarried mothers were sterilized. In Australia, they were not allowed to see the baby, and a cloth was held between their head and their womb so that they should not be able to catch even a chance glimpse. And you think Ireland was something special? Please get an education.

  43. Nor does any respect for the truth. Since my fellow commenters have been too polite to tell you, I will: your insistence on making the unfortunate Fr.Flanagan the stooge of your Catholic hatred, placing words in his mouth, in spite of the fact that he was neither speaking of Tuam nor of any other such institutions, makes you a liar. A liar is someone who maintains what he knows to be false. You insist that Fr.Flanagan MUST have been talking about a particular institution for unmarried mothers – a subject on which he would not have been an expert, anyway – rather than, as he obviously did, about institutions for young male persons – a wholly different field, and one in which he had years of successful experience. You know perfectly well that you have no evidence whatever for this nonsense, and still you insist on it. You are a liar, driven by your obsessional hatred of the Church. And incidentally, I feel pretty sure that Fr.Flanagan, a Catholic Irishman trying to improve the practice of other Catholic Irishmen, would be not only appalled but angry at your using it for your anti-Catholic purposes.

  44. 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.

  45. 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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