’We never saw holidays or birthdays or a decent meal’ says Bessborough survivor, Cathy Deasy

For Cathy Deasy it was a bittersweet day.

“Since the 1990s, we believed there were very many mothers and babies buried at Bessborough and so it is good to see an expert in this area agree that, yes, there could be more bodies buried outside of the official angels’ plot,” she said.

“These were babies that were likely not cared for properly at the home. We have always known there was more to the Bessborough story. To think that I could be standing here on top of an unmarked grave is disturbing but we must pay respect to these women and their children.”

Cathy was four years old when she was taken from Bessborough to be adopted in the US. She remembers always being hungry while at the home. One of her most distinctive memories is playing with the livestock that roamed the expansive estate in Blackrock.

“We never saw holidays or birthdays or a decent meal. I used to play in the livestock building. I never ate beef though. The children were given the broth and bread,” she said.

She was given a number of vaccinations at the home but has no idea if they were part of an official trial.

Toni Maguire, an independent archaeologist and anthropologist who worked with Queens University Belfast for a number of years, said yesterday there are “definite physical indications” there could be unmarked shallow graves in the grounds.

Ms Maguire, who discovered up to 11,000 unmarked graves in Miltown Cemetery in Belfast, completed a cursory examination of the Cork City site yesterday.

She said she would “really like to complete geophysical examinations” on the short avenue that runs from the Bessborough grotto to the formal Little Angels’ plot.

She also warned it was imperative that site examinations were carried out on lands just outside the Bessborough boundary as it could yet be built upon by developers.

“There are definite indications [from the topography of the land] that there could be small shallow graves at Bessborough but it is all hypotheses or theory until you do a geophysical examination there.

“There are small shallow indentations that suggest the potential for graves.”

The group also visited the site outside the boundary of Bessborough, adjacent to the Mahon flyover on Cork’s South Ring Rd. Historical records show this land was once used as a children’s burial ground by the family who owned the Bessborough estate.

“Because of the documentary evidence that says the land outside these boundaries was traditionally used as a children’s burial ground, you have to check it out also,” Ms Maguire said. “It is scary stuff to suggest this ground could be built upon.”

Cathy was at Bessborough yesterday with Mari Steed, Edel Byrne, and Fiona Sugrue, who were all born at the home and are now desperate for a geophysical examination of the lands in and around the former Sacred Heart mother and baby home.

“Our rough estimate from Department of Health mortality figures and from registration office data is that up to 1,000 mothers and babies could have died there,” said Ms Sugrue.

“But we need access to the order’s records so we can verify these numbers.” These records are now being held by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

A worker employed in Bessborough in the late 1980s and early 1990s told the Irish Examiner earlier this year he came across child remains while burying two nuns. Eugene Kelly, from Cork, worked as maintenance man at the former mother and baby home and adoption society between 1984 and 1992, and recalled coming across “little skulls and little bones” as he buried nuns in the onsite graveyard.

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