A new digital exhibition of the Tuam Oral History Project has opened as researchers and survivors pave the way for consultation on a memorial that could be set within the campus of NUI Galway.
The Tuam Oral History Project, led by Dr Sarah Anne Buckley and Dr John Cunningham, is collecting and archiving the oral histories and life stories of survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. The latest initiative, which was officially launched on Thursday, features biographies of some of the survivors and a new podcast series narrated by the actor and Patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre NUI Galway, Cillian Murphy.
At a virtual event, NUI Galway invited survivors, their families, advocates and members of the Tuam community to share their memories in an oral history archive, which will provide an independent resource to learn about the history of the institution.
More initiatives are planned and the launch heard a call for consultation on a new memorial within the grounds of NUI Galway that would also acknowledge the role played by the university — and more particularly its medical school — in the historical receipt of remains from Tuam for anatomical research.
Dr Buckley said: "Survivors have come to us as well and the president [of NUI Galway] feels quite strongly about it. We would be looking at a memorial that will encompass the experience of Tuam and the region but also the university and the medical school".
At the launch, president of NUI Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, said: “Like many other State organisations, NUI Galway, or UCG as it was then, was part of a society that did not sufficiently value the lives of some of its most vulnerable citizens. As a university community, we are committed to openness, openness with regard to our institutional learning from the past, openness to new, often challenging perspectives and openness to communities which have not found universities, including our university, a welcoming part of their lived experience.
"We invite our community to submit ideas as to how we can embody our value of respect in commemorating this period in our past.”
It comes as new research by NUI Galway academics questions claims by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission about the number of infant remains from the Tuam Home used for anatomical research.
In its fifth interim report, the Commission stated that between 1949 and 1964, Galway Medical School ‘received and paid for 35 infant anatomical subjects’.
However, research led by historians Dr Buckley and Dr Lorraine Grimes questions that figure, arguing that there were not 35 infants, but nine, and also querying the connection with the Tuam institution.
The researchers also examined transfers from workhouses and a psychiatric institution and their full report will be published in September.
Dr Buckley said: “While this project is looking at one institution in twentieth-century Ireland, we believe it encapsulates the longer history of institutionalisation. As we now know, almost 200,000 women and children went through Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes — their stories both in these institutions and afterwards deserve continued attention by academics, artists and the State.”