No, my mother has not made any retraction in relation to her findings about the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.
No, my mother did not “admit” that anything in her findings was “impossible”.
My mother, Catherine Corless, is as consistent as ever in her presentation of her findings; no retractions, no “admitting” to “impossibilities”.
There is the old kettle on the range that inspired the name for this sleepy little blog, splashed in images from my parents kitchen all over media electronic and traditional as my mother’s research made headlines the word over.
There is my mother herself sitting in her kitchen where she answered telephone interviews and hosted journalist after journalist, representing newspaper, radio and TV, from Ireland, the UK, France and the USA. My mother, who does not ordinarily do crowds of people, or even social occasions if she can help it, or any kind of public speaking, graciously handling intense publicity in the poised, articulate way that she did. She shared generously of her time and her work to speak the story of a group of children whose little young lives were compromised before they were even born, and, after death, whose existence was quietly concealed.
These were the children born in seclusion at the Tuam Mother and Babies Home between the years 1925 and 1961, to mothers that a proudly austere Irish community sought to sequester in the interests of religious mores. These were the children who died there. These were the children who were buried in unconsecrated ground, in some kind of crypt arrangement in an area of the property associated with sewerage (recent extensive documentary evidence of the nature of this area by Izzy Kimikaze here).
After Alison O’Reilly for the Mail on Sunday broke the story nationally on Sunday 25th of May, there began an incremental media interest, which, almost two weeks later, became a total frenzy in which my mother calmly and patiently repeated her findings, consistently, again and again, to speak on behalf of forgotten babies who had nobody else to speak for them. Meanwhile, my Dad and my brothers took leave from work (granted without hesitation by their employers) to field journalists and photographers on phones, in our house and garden, and in the town of Tuam, whilst my sister sorted emails from her Dublin base and at my parent’s house. I tried to keep up with it all online here in Wexford, mostly at night after the kids were in bed, staying up way past my ideal bedtime.
Then, in a profound moment on Tuesday 10th of June 2014, Minister for Children Charlie Flannagan announced that the government had agreed agreed to establish a Commission of Investigation, with statutory powers, to investigate mother and baby homes. In his speech he commended Catherine Corless for her work in researching Tuam and described her as
“an eloquent advocate for the children who died in the home over a forty year period”.
Yes. Yes to that, I thought.
Then this week I notice that I’m getting notifications to my Twitter account about certain commentators suggesting, nay claiming, that my mother “retracted” findings, which I know she did not, so I find myself carving out some time to sit down and write this comment on my blog.
The source for claims about “retraction” appears to be this “correction” (which also seems subsequently to be interpreted by certain commentators as an “apology” which certainly seems inaccurate to me) by the Associated Press:
“In addition, in the June 3 story, the AP quoted a researcher who said she believed that most of the remains of children who died there were interred in a disused septic tank; the researcher has since clarified that without excavation and forensic analysis it is impossible to know how many sets of remains the tank contains, if any.”
I can confirm that my mother was not contacted about this “correction” and the words attributed to her were never spoken by her; they appear to be an interpretation of an Irish Times article by journalist Rosita Boland, which, while it clarified some semantics regarding other journalists’ reporting of the story, also included some misrepresentations of my mother’s position.
“she now says the nature of their burial has been widely misrepresented”
is itself a misrepresentation – this headline seems to be a reference to the use of that emotive word “dump” which word my mother never spoke in relation to the burials; though the article does clarify this, it is an exaggeration on behalf of the Irish Times to suggest on that basis that “the nature of their burial has been widely misrepresented”.
That article goes on to claim that:
“Corless admits that it now seems impossible to her that more than 200 bodies could have been put in a working sewage tank”
This is false; my mother says she did not “admit” that anything in her findings was “impossible”; she was as consistent in her presentation to Rosita Boland as she was with any other interviewer.
Indeed – the article is accompanied by a video (which, I wish to say, I think is beautiful), in which my mother states, in direct opposition to the way she was represented in the written article:
“I think it’s quite possible”
So, there is a video accompanying that very article which records that my mother said the word “possible” – not “seems impossible”.
In response to “Confusion” about maps
Futhermore, I’ve already tweeted my response to the detail in the article about cited “confusion” about maps, and can outline it in more detail here.
“But there is confusion about what dates these maps relate to. One map Corless shows The Irish Times is dated 1892. It describes the building on the site as “Children’s Home”, but in 1892 the building was a workhouse. It did not become a home until 1925. Corless had not noticed this until her attention was drawn to it”
There was no confusion about maps or their dates associated with my mother.
The “confusion” referred to appears to be that of the journalist’s, not my mother’s. The copy of the map that they were incidentally looking at amongst my mother’s documents was the edit from the IRISH HISTORIC TOWNS ATLAS NO. 20, TUAM – Map 13 captioned “Growth of Tuam, to 1892, by J.A. Claffey” – the caption, shown below, seems to have confused the journalist. The map under the colour-coding edits by J.A. Claffey on the particular map they happened to be looking at amongst Mam’s documents is itself a revised edition of the Ordnance Survey 1905-6 mapping, Scale 1:2500.
Like any practised historical researcher accustomed to looking at old maps, my mother knows instantly what version of Ordnance Survey map she is looking at, and whether it is an illustrated edit. My mother clarified the date of the base map, but this was not printed in the Irish Times published piece; dismayingly, the newspaper seems to have decided to disingenuously portray an angle of “confusion”.*
The cited “confusion” is a further misrepresentation of my mother’s work and the interview she gave that day to the Irish Times.
“But the newspaper spotted discrepancies in Corless’ maps, and found records showing that the actual septic tank remained in use until the late 1930s, which meant it could not have been used as a burial spot.”
“The newspaper” in question here is the Irish Times and the quoted “discrepancies” are false, as I have outlined above.
(Additionally, it was not the newspaper (the Irish Times) that “found records”as quoted above; those records were in my mother’s possession and it was she who presented them that day in her interview with Rosita Boland.)
And then, a lurid dismissal of the findings by Eamonn Fingleton writing at Forbes as a “hoax” – attributed to that mispresentation in the Irish Times:
“Let’s sum up. The accuracy of the facts I reported remains unquestioned (Professor McCormick and Catherine Corless have been quoted accurately, as can be established by checking out the two Irish Times links included above).”
No, Eamonn Fingleton, Catherine Corless has not been “quoted accurately”. And on point of information there, Eamonn Fingleton seems to have given Dr McCormick a promotion to professorship.
“Specifically, the AP points to an investigation by The Irish Times in Dublin that revealed discrepancies in maps used by Corless “
An “investigation” accredited to the Irish Times? There was no investigation, but for that cross-examination of my mother by an Irish Times journalist, whose article misrepresented my mother, as I have outlined in three ways above. I personally find it dismaying that the Irish Times represents itself here as somehow swiping information from under my mother’s nose as though it had never been considered before, in order to present it in a strange, inconsistent report with no clear bottom-line other than to slate other journalists’ apparent sensationalising of the situation and to seemingly raise doubt about my mother’s work; in between the lines of which, the gravity of the findings were not disputed.
I reiterate that my mother remains as consistent as ever in her presentation of her findings.
Meanwhile, commentators the world over continue to engage with the details surrounding the situation at Tuam and all of the Mother and Baby Homes whilst we all await news of the Terms of Reference according to which the investigation will operate. I expect continued unsilencing of the very raw and difficult truths of what happened to the children and mothers of Irish Mother and Baby Homes and I wish for this to take place as accurately and as sensitively as possible in what most certainly is and will be an unprecedented pressure of publicity and media interest on anyone associated.
And meanwhile, don’t forget that the little committee established in Tuam to commemorate the children who died continue to collect funds.
Adrienne Corless, Wexford
“Kitchen Historian” image added 03 July 2014
*UPDATE 23rd July 2014
My mother was contacted three times by the Irish Times – twice by Eoin McVey and once by Rosita Boland – inquiring whether she would like to make a complaint about the misrepresentations as outlined in this post. I can report that she has decided that she does not wish to make a complaint because, as she responded to the Irish Times, whilst she is greatly dismayed at the confused and negative impact that the Irish Times piece – among others – has had on the Tuam Mother and Babies Home campaign, she does not wish for any spotlight drawn personally on her. My ordinarily very private, retiring and self-professed-reclusive mother has already put herself on a public stage to a degree that has been astonishing and even alarming to those close to her for the sake of a cause she feels very strongly about, and I support her decision.
Rosita Boland wrote to me by courier at my address 4th of July (copy of letter can be seen here). She thereafter sent me a short audio clip at my request.
Rosita Boland’s letter to me stated
“Your mother did in fact say to me on June 5th that it “seemed impossible” that 204 bodies of the children registered as having died between 1925 and 1937, could have been put in a working sewage tank. However, you maintain in your blog that “this is false.”
Regarding the sewage tank being in use or not, my mother’s position regarding whether or not the sewage tank was still working in those years is that this is not clear (it may not have been, meaning children registered as having died between 1925 and 1937 may indeed be in that same former sewage area). The audio clip does not refer to this section of the interview. My mother never did claim at any stage that any children who died would have been “put in a working sewage tank”. In this way, I maintain that for Rosita Boland to write “Corless admits that it now seems impossible” (my emphasis) is false because it suggests new information as a result of the Irish Times interview, which is not the case.
If the Irish Times article wished to downplay the widely-reported and unsavoury aspect of the sewage tank, they could have highlighted – simply – that at no stage did my mother’s findings suggest that it was a working sewage tank. As my mother is already quoted in the Connacht Tribune, in one of the first-ever interviews she gave about this sad situation, the entire aspect of the sewage tank “is not nice to think about”.
In connection – once again – with the “confusion” about maps: the short audio clip records my mother saying the words “that must be a mistake” – meaning the date on the map’s caption of 1892 must be a mistake as my mother knew full well that the map represented – the base map as I have explained in this blog post – could not itself be dated 1892 – just before the clip ends. The audio clip does not reassure me that my mother was misrepresented in relation to “confusion”. Furthermore, though she did know that the map could not of course be dated 1892, if my mother did not immediately recognise what the caption on the map related to and if she did not make this perfectly plain to the journalist in a way the journalist could also understand, I have painstakingly outlined the clarifications in this blog post, in a way that I hope that anyone can now understand. My mother also tells me here today that she went on at that point of the interview to back up her findings relating to the sewage tank to the journalist (using Tuam Herald archival material 1900-1918 containing the minutes of the meetings of the Home Assistance Committee); perhaps the journalist has that conversation recorded also.
Despite this, and despite my painstaking clarifications above, the position of confusion about maps is still, to date, clearly maintained by the Irish Times journalist and features editor.
While I found the article by the Irish Times journalist jarring and discomfiting to read, even notwithstanding my personal connection to the story, and I found its headline and tagline (which apparently were not written by the journalist) misleading, I do not accept the charge that “public accusations” – mine or others – about a single newspaper article will damage a journalistic reputation in this instance. I have read many wonderfully-written and interesting articles by this journalist before and after the report on the interview in question here; I simply do not number that article among them.
To date, I have received no correspondence from any other media publications referenced in my blog post above.