Between 1925 and 1961, Irish women who lodged at "the Home" in County Galway were made to work for free for as long as three years and handed uniforms and a new name. It was their way of atoning for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but as Ireland is now learning, some of those illegitimate children encountered a fate much worse. The Irish Mail on Sunday reports that 796 of them were heaped into a mass grave—a septic tank, specifies the Washington Post—and forgotten. There is no gravestone, and no Home for that matter; housing and a playground occupy the long-ago razed location. But "the bones are still there," says Catherine Corless, the historian who learned about the children after hunting down death records tied to the Home.
Her contact at the local registry office asked, "do you really want all of these deaths? I said I do. Then she asked me did I realize the enormity of the numbers of deaths there?" Irish Central reports the children were listed as dying from "malnutrition, measles, convulsions, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis, and pneumonia," and points out that Irish children born out of wedlock had a staggering death rate in the 1930s—at 25%, it's closer to what was observed in the 1600s. The Home, which was run by the Bon Secours nuns, was no exception, says Corless. "If you look at the records, babies were dying two a week, but I’m still trying to figure out how they could [have disposed of the bodies like that]. Couldn't they have afforded baby coffins?" Corless is working to raise money for a monument. The Post notes police are investigating, and the Daily Mail adds that a relative of a child who once lived there has filed a missing persons report, which could lead to an excavation of the site. (Read more Ireland stories.)