Adoption Authority ‘not aware’ of unmarked burials

File image of St Finbarr's Cemetery in Cork.

The Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) has said it was “not aware” that a formerly accredited adoption agency owned an unmarked grave in which children were buried as late as 1990.

Last month, an Irish Examiner investigation uncovered three grave plots in St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork City which contain the remains of at least 21 children.

Two of these graves are completely unmarked, while all three contain the remains of children from the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

One of the unmarked plots was purchased by the now-closed St Anne’s Adoption Society.

Founded in 1954 by the then Bishop of Cork Cornelius Lucey, it was set up with the purpose of arranging the adoption of babies born to Irish unmarried mothers in Britain. It closed in 2003 and its records have been in the possession of the HSE, and now Tusla, since that time.

This plot contains the remains of three girls and one boy. Their deaths occurred in 1979, 1983, 1988, and 1990.

In the case of the last burial in 1990, the child’s death certificate notes that, while she died in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork, she was in the care of the nuns at Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. A birth entry for this child in this name could not be located.

A second marked plot belongs to the former St Patrick’s Orphanage run by the Mercy Sisters. It operated a nursery for St Anne’s Adoption Society. It contains the remains of 16 children, many of whom were born in Britain to Irish mothers. Just one name is recorded at the plot.

St Anne’s Adoption Society and Bessborough were adoption agencies that were accredited and regulated by the former Adoption Board. St Anne’s did not close until 2003, while Bessborough transferred its records to the State in 2011.

The Irish Examiner put a series of questions to the AAI. These included whether or not the AAI or its predecessor the Adoption Board was aware that a registered adoption agency had purchased graves which are unmarked and contain burials as late as 1990; if such purchases were required to be notified to the Adoption Board; and if other accredited agencies had also purchased grave plots.

In a statement, the chief executive of the AAI, Patricia Carey said: “We have reviewed the files the Authority holds in relation to St Anne’s Adoption Society. We are not aware of any records of purchase of plots or arrangements for burial of children.

“Having reviewed the records we hold, we have no information on the four questions raised.”

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission has called for information relating to the burials of a “large number” of children who died at the home between 1922 and 1998.

The Irish Examiner asked the Commission if it is aware of these graves and if it has any plans to carry out any excavation work on the grounds of the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

Ita Mangan, director of the commission, declined to answer the questions, stating the Commission would not comment on the revelations or make any decision on excavation work until all information on burials had been gathered.

“As you know, the commission is in the process of collecting information on deaths and burials and does not intend to make any comment until this information has all been gathered and analysed,” she said.

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