Experts cannot rule out possibility of burials on Bessborough land

Developers have applied for permission to build 67 apartments and 179 residential units
Experts cannot rule out possibility of burials on Bessborough land

A computer-generated image of the proposed residential developments, including the Strategic Housing Development Gateway View, earmarked for a parcel of land on the former Bessborough estate in Cork.

The possibility that unrecorded burials took place on land near a former mother and baby home which is now earmarked for over 240 apartments cannot be “fully discounted”, experts have said.

Archaeologist John Cronin, who was engaged to examine a parcel of development land at Bessborough in Cork City, also said in his report that the developers “must remain conscious of the apprehensions and sensitivities of many survivors”.

The details are contained in a report which was published as part of the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) planning process relating to part of a 3.7-acre parcel of land in the southern portion of the former Bessborough estate.

Developers MWB Two have applied to Cork City Council for permission to build 67 apartments in an eight-storey building in one area, and separately, to An Bord Pleanála through the SHD process, for 179 residential units in three buildings ranging in height from five to seven stories, in an adjoining area.

The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA), which represents more than 50 families of children who died at Bessborough, believes the development site overlaps a children’s burial site linked to the operation of the former mother and baby home, based mainly on a 1950 Ordnance Survey map, which clearly indicates the words 'childrens' burial site' near a folly on the Bessborough estate.

The group has called on the developers to withdraw the applications pending the publication of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation’s final report which examined 14 former mother and baby homes, including Bessborough.

According to the SHD planning documents, Mr Cronin, who previously co-ordinated geophysical surveys and archaeological investigations at the former Good Shepherd Convent in Sunday’s Well, Cork, was engaged to prepare a report for the developers on the cultural heritage legacy of the development site.

A computer-generated image of the proposed residential developments earmarked for the former mother and baby home.
A computer-generated image of the proposed residential developments earmarked for the former mother and baby home.

Archaeological investigations were carried out on the site last December under licence from the National Monuments Service, before the licence was withdrawn.

Three archaeologists, including a human bone specialist, excavated six of eight intended test trenches before the work was halted. They did not find human bones.

The report says the archaeological investigation does not support CSSA's claim that the 1949/50 OS Revision Tracing Map indicates that the children’s burial ground extends beyond the enclosure around the folly. It also points to aerial photographs of the area produced for the Irish Air Corps in 1951 which shows no evidence of ground disturbance close to the folly.

“Irrespective of these findings, MWB Two Ltd must be conscious that the Commission of Investigation will provide a definitive appraisal of the legacy of sites such as Bessborough," the report says. 

“Given the large number of children who died while resident in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and the fact that no records of burial arrangement and/or burial places of the children survive, we understand that the potential that unrecorded burials took place within the subject site, whilst remote, cannot be fully discounted."

It says the developers should also endeavour to support any commemorative measures that may be deemed suitable and appropriate for ensuring the painful legacy of the mother and baby home is respectively honoured. 

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