Press corrects maternity home story

July 21, 2014

The Associated Press has said it falsely reported many aspects in a story about St. Mary's mother and baby home in Tuam, Ireland, run by the Bon Secours congregation of nuns.

In May, local historian Catherine Corless revealed her research, which found that between 1925 and 1961, 976 infants died in the home for unmarried mothers and their children.

She had found no evidence they were buried in local cemeteries and instead believed the children may have been buried in a common grave on the site.

However, several media outlets began reporting the children had been "dumped" in a disused septic tank on the site. Within days, the international media was gripped by the story – much of which turned out to be factually inaccurate.

Corless, who lives near the home, has criticized the coverage of her research. "I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank."

The Associated Press also falsely reported children were upbaptized and that Catholic teaching dictated that children born out of wedlock should not be baptized.

"In stories published June 3 and June 8 about young children buried in unmarked graves after dying at a former Irish orphanage for the children of unwed mothers, The Associated Press incorrectly reported that the children had not received Roman Catholic baptisms; documents show that many children at the orphanage were baptized.


"The AP also incorrectly reported that Catholic teaching at the time was to deny Baptism and Christian burial to the children of unwed mothers.

In a June 23 report, AP went further, saying "revelations this month that nuns had buried nearly 800 infants and young children in unmarked graves at an Irish orphanage during the last century caused stark headlines and stirred strong emotions and calls for investigation."

Corless has worked for several years on records associated with the institution. The children's names, ages, places of birth, and causes of death were recorded. The average number of deaths during the 36-year period was just over 22 a year.

The information recorded on these state-issued certificates shows that the children died variously of tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis, and meningitis, among other illnesses.

Infant mortality in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s was in the region of 70 per 1,000 or seven per cent, as high as countries in sub-Saharan Africa have now. For much of the period covered, mortality rates among so-called "illegitimate children" was five times that of the rest of the population.

David Quinn, director of the Dublin-based religious think-tank The Iona Institute, said, "There was a rush to believe the worst about the nuns and about Catholic Ireland.

"The fact that some terrible things did happen in Church-run institutions is no excuse whatsoever. Journalists are supposed to check facts."