The HSE said that crosses identifying the remains of psychiatric hospital patients were removed from a thousand graves by vandals.
The disclosure follows an appeal from the descendant of a patient of St Loman’s Hospital, in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, who wants the crosses returned.
Julianne Clarke made the plea in an interview on the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio 1 yesterday. She also revealed she had traced her great-grandmother, Julia Caffrey-Leonard, to the institution.
Ms Clarke discovered that her great-grandmother died in St Loman’s, but she does not know which of the 1,304 plots in the hospital graveyard contains her remains.
Each grave previously bore a cross with a reference number, which corresponded with the patient’s records.
“In 2011, some officials decided they wanted to do maintenance work. They wanted to mow the grass, so they decided they would take up all the crosses and put them in a shed and the grass was mowed,” she said.
The crosses have yet to be returned.
Ms Clarke said the handling of the crosses showed the discrimination and stigma suffered by people with mental health issues, and said there would be “shock and horror” if such actions were carried out in a community graveyard.
“In 2011, if they decided we’re going to take up these crosses, they could have decided we’re going to put the names of the people on the crosses. But, instead, they decided to take up the crosses,” she said.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner, the HSE said a register of burials is kept at St Loman’s Hospital, where the cemetery was in use from 1907 to 1970.
“Over the years, due to the frequent trespassers and vandalism, hundreds of the grave crosses were removed and damaged. The remaining crosses, which were interfered with and moved around by trespassers, were collected and put into storage,” the statement read.
Ms Clarke said she discovered that her great-grandmother’s husband had her committed to St Loman’s in 1898.
“From what I can gather, they had some sort of a row, and she threw scalding tea at him and accused him of having affairs.
“He called the guards, what would have been the constabulary back then, we’d know as the guards today, and he had her committed to the asylum in St Loman’s,” she said.
Ms Caffrey-Leonard was pregnant with her sixth child — Ms Clark’s grandfather — at the time.
Psychiatrist notes show that she maintained her sanity throughout her time in St Loman’s, and made a number of attempts to escape.
She spent 22 years in St Loman’s, before she died of heart failure aged 54.
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