Campaigner and historian Catherine Corless fears Cork’s Bessborough site hides horrors similar to those found at a former mother and baby home in Tuam.
The Galway historian, whose research established that 796 children were buried in a septic tank at a former mother and baby home in Tuam - a story which sent shockwaves across the globe - said she believes that similar burial practices were carried out in Bessborough in the 1940s and 1950s.
She told theshe fears that hundreds of babies could be buried in pits or tanks on the 200-acre estate on the city’s southside, where at least 904 babies are known to have died.
Last year, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and baby Homes found that some 900 children died while in the care of the nuns at Bessborough, or in hospital after being transferred from the home. But it said the burial place of more than 800 of the children is unknown.
“The key questions are who buried them and where,” Ms Corless said.
“The cheapest and easiest way to dispose of these bodies was to simply dump them on the site - either in mass graves or in tanks.
“The Bessborough site should be investigated thoroughly for this. They should get archaeologists in there, teams of archaeologists, even to conduct spot-checks in certain areas, to inspect areas of suspected burials and to inspect any underground tanks.
“I’m sure archaeologists would be delighted at the opportunity to get in there.”
Ms Corless spoke out yesterday following confirmation that a developer plans to build over 200 apartments on a parcel of land near the former mother and baby home which campaigners believe overlaps a childrens’ burial plot.
The 3.7-acre development site is now privately owned by a special purpose vehicle.
Developers MWB Two have applied to Cork City Council for permission to build 67 apartments in an eight-storey building on one section of the land, and have applied separately, to An Bórd Pleanála through the Strategic Housing Development (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, which represents over 50 families of children who died at Bessborough, believe part of the development site overlaps an area identified in a 1950 OS map as a childrens’ burial site and they want the planning applications withdrawn pending further investigation.
Archaeological consultants, including a human bone specialist, investigated some test trenches on the development site last December but found no human bones.
But they said the potential that unrecorded burials took place within the subject site, whilst remote, cannot be fully discounted, and that the developers must remain conscious of the apprehensions and sensitivities of many survivors of Bessborough.
Ms Corless said she cannot understand why there is not more of an outcry in Cork over the proposed residential development at Bessborough.
She said she encountered a lot of “resistance and a certain level of apathy” when she first began investigating the Tuam burials.
“There was this attitude of ‘so what - they were old times, let the dead rest’,” she said.
“So there was this diabolical treatment of children both in life and in death.
“There is a certain onus on people who worked in or who had dealings with the Bessborough home and estate over the years to come forward with any information they might have which could lead to the identification of possible mass burial sites.”