Bessborough survivor: 'We know where the children’s burial ground is'

Bessborough survivor: 'We know where the children’s burial ground is'
Catherine Coffey at the back of Bessborough leading to the babies graveyardPicture: Eddie O'Hare

A SURVIVOR of the Bessborough mother-and-baby home is pleading with authorities not to allow development on the site for fear of damaging an important period of Irish history.

Catherine Coffey, who spent 10 years as a child in industrial schools and time as a young pregnant woman in Bessborough before she ran away, spoke to The Echo following a planning update on a large-scale housing development proposed for a section of lands on the Bessborough campus.

The developers MWB Two Limited had sought to build 252 apartments, six houses, and a crèche on the site, at Ballinure, Blackrock, and were recently at pre-application consultation phase with Bord Pleanála.

A pre-application consultation meeting is held between the developer, planning authority and Bord Pleanála, following which the planning appeals board makes their ruling.

If given the go-ahead, developers can then submit a formal application.

The planning board has asked that the developer make some amendments to the plans before it can proceed to application stage

However, Ms Coffey said survivors are in possession of a map which indicates the location of a burial ground at Bessborough.

Catherine Coffey at the entrance at Bessborough Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Catherine Coffey at the entrance at Bessborough Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“We have the evidence. We have the documentation. We know where the children’s burial ground is and we want it acknowledged, marked, respected and preserved.

“This part of history has to be acknowledged in order not to repeat the same mistakes,” she said.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, established in 2015, is due to publish its final report in October after a number of delays.

The commission was established to inquire into the treatment of women and children in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes between 1922 and 1998.

An interim report published last year highlighted that the burial places of just 64 out of more than 900 children believed to have died in Bessborough or in hospital after being transferred from there between 1922 and 1998 were established.

The commission report stated: “The vast majority of children who died in Bessborough are not buried there; it seems that only one child is buried there.

“More than 900 children died in Bessborough or in hospital after being transferred from Bessborough.

“Despite very extensive inquiries and searches, the commission has been able to establish the burial place of only 64 children.”

Bessborough, Cork. 
Bessborough, Cork. 

In 2018, some lands on the fringes of the Bessborough campus were rezoned for housing, following a vote by Cork City Council.

Ms Coffey said that survivors are currently in talks with the council regarding the land.

“I’d like to thank Cork City Council, their planning department, the planning manager, the development manager and the archaeologist because we are in talks with them at the moment,” she said.

“The developer who bought the land, we would welcome any discussion with him,” she said.

Ms Coffey said that she is not in a position to say what should happen to the land until survivors secure the “basic human right of being able to mark the ground”.

Independent councillor Kieran McCarthy called for a “proper survey and proper test trenches to be carried out”.

“I think an archaeological excavation through test trenches needs to be done.

“I would hope that would be part of any planning that would have to be passed, that an archaeologist would be present,” he said.

“If the housing goes ahead and people’s concerns aren’t being met I would think it’s going to upset an enormous amount of people.

“A lot of people’s history and back stories are bound up with it in the local area. It’s like a raw wound.

“I do know that the survivors group have done some work in looking at some old historical mappings saying that there are suggestions that perhaps the babies are in certain areas and I think what they found needs to be followed up on.

“The narrative needs to change on the site from one of build, build, build to a more sensitive approach,” he said.

“This application is going straight to An Bord Pleanála so it’s also bypassed local councillors.

“In previous weeks and months, I have an issue with the Strategic Housing Development.

“I find that many of them ignore the concerns of locals on the ground,” Mr McCarthy said.

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