Mother and Baby Homes: Children's bodies sent to Galway medical college but no record of names

Tuam Mother and Baby Home

The bodies of some of the children who died in Mother and Baby Homes were used for anatomical studies.

While the burials of children used by the Dublin Medical Schools are properly recorded in Glasnevin Cemetery it was not possible to establish anything about the burials of the child anatomical subjects used in the Galway Medical School as their names are not known.

The report found some evidence that those responsible for burials did not consider the burials of bodies used for anatomical studies should be treated in the same way as other burials in that many bodies could be put in the one grave.

The Combined Anatomical Register of the Dublin Medical Schools shows that, between January 1920 and October 1977, the bodies of more than 950 children, 66 who died in the Dublin Union and associated institutions, including Pelletstown, were sent to the medical schools at University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland for the purpose of anatomical studies.

The register also records that all but 18 of the children received as anatomical subjects were 'illegitimate' children.

Children used as anatomical subjects in the Dublin Medical Schools were aged between 10 minutes and 15 years at the time of death.

In addition, the register records that 27 stillborn infants were received as anatomical subjects.

Many of the stillborn infants had a note reading “not to be interred” on their record and were instead preserved as “wet specimens” for display purposes in medical schools.

Not all deserted or abandoned children who died in Dublin Union institutions were sent for anatomical studies.

There is no information available about the criteria (if any) used to choose which children’s bodies were sent.

The children from Dublin Union institutions whose bodies were used for anatomical studies were subsequently transferred from the three Dublin medical schools for burial in the 'Poor Ground' section of Glasnevin Cemetery.

It was usually more than a year between a child’s death and the eventual burial of the remains in Glasnevin.

The usual practice in Glasnevin Cemetery was for the remains of a number of anatomical subjects, children and adults, to be collectively buried in the same plot on the same day.

It is unknown if the remains of individual bodies used for anatomical studies were placed in separate coffins for burial in Glasnevin.

A meeting of the Dublin Board of Guardians in 1907 heard accusations that in the medical schools, coffins were not being used for one body alone, but that the practice was simply to fill up a coffin with various body parts from various individuals who had been dissected.

The Galway Medical School Anatomical Register does not include any children.

However, evidence exists that children’s bodies were sent to the medical school.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes states that the Anatomy Department at University College Galway received the remains of 35 children from the Central Hospital/Regional Hospital, Galway, in the years 1940-1964.

It also states that the Galway Medical School received the remains of 27 children between 1960 and 1964.

In what remains of the Day Book from that time, in every instance, the body or bodies were supplied by a porter at the Central Hospital/Regional Hospital Galway.

The infant remains were received by the head of the School of Medicine and Anatomy who paid the porter 10 shillings for every infant body received.

Between April 1949 and November 1964, he received and paid for 35 infant anatomical subjects.

No records survive which name the children whose bodies were sold.

It is possible that some of the bodies were stillbirths which, at the time, could not have been registered.

Children resident in the Tuam Children’s Home were routinely sent to Galway Central Hospital for treatment.

The Commission has established that 86 children from the Tuam Home died there, with burial records for 50 of them.

The current head of the Galway Anatomy Department told the Commission that, when he took up this post in 1995, there were many “wet” infant anatomical subjects preserved in the department which were buried together in Rahoon Cemetery, Galway in 1995 with full funeral rites and with the permission of the coroner.

The Commission has found no evidence that children were used for anatomical studies in the Cork Medical School.

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