‘I found remains while digging grave’

A maintenance worker employed in Bessborough in the late 1980s and early 1990s has spoken of how he came across child remains while burying the bodies of two nuns.

 Eugene Kelly, who worked at the Bessborough home in Blackrock, Cork, from 1984 to 1992. Picture: Dan Linehan

Eugene Kelly, from Cork, worked as maintenance man at the former mother-and-baby home and adoption society in Blackrock between 1984 and 1992 and recalls coming across “little skulls and little bones” as he buried two nuns in the small graveyard on the site.

“I was only asked then when Timmy [who operated the farm] was getting too old, when he was semi-retired, would I bury a few of the nuns? I said ‘No problem’ — it was an adventure to me, I was only 19 or 20 at the time. It frightened the bejaysus out of me the first time.

“I remember when I was doing the dig, I came across little skulls and little bones. It was frightening. It was frightening, as it was half past five on a November or something like that, or December, and it was getting dark.”

Mr Kelly said while he never personally buried any children on the site, he recalled a fresh burial of a child during his tenure.

“I never actually buried a baby,” he said. “I used to do the lawns and cut the grass, that was part of my job. I cut the grass in the graveyard and I went down two weeks later and I saw a little mound, so obviously someone must have buried a baby.

“The soil was there and a little mound. First of all I didn’t twig and then I thought ‘Jesus, there must have been a baby buried’. So there was definitely a baby there at that stage.”

Mr Kelly said that while he came across coffins of nuns, there did not seem to be any coffins for the children at the plot.

“I came across a bit of a coffin from the other nuns obviously,” he said. “I remember the little skulls. You knew they were babies’ bones and not adult bones. There was obviously no coffins for them because you would have dug into wood.

“When I was digging down, there was a bit of a coffin, a big coffin but there was no babies’ coffins. I was thinking about that as you hear on the news about shrouds so I was wondering about that.”

Even though this was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he remembers that there was still a very clear attitude towards the women resident there.

“My instructions initially when I went down there were: ‘Don’t talk to the girls. You’re not allowed.’ I was told to stay away from the girls and say nothing to them. Even if I was sent up to a room to fix a sash window or something like that, the girl would have to get out and I would have to leave the door open. It was just total mistrust. It was crazy.”

Mr Kelly says he was naive enough, as a young member of staff, to think that this was just part of the job.

“It was known that there were babies buried there, without a doubt — but the amount of babies that are there?” he said. “God only knows. There could be hundreds of babies there and not necessarily in that little plot. They could be on the outskirts.

“I was just told to dig a hole. Now, I came across the things all right and I mentioned and I was told: ‘Sure there’s babies buried there.’

“What was I supposed to do? I just presumed that was part and parcel of it. Naivety, I suppose.”

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