One of the few joys of reading the old title documentation of Irish land transactions are the curiosities that often emerge from them. By Deed dated 17th June 1917 a small parcel of land was sold to the Guardians of the Tuam Workhouse by Captain Quentin Dick, holder of the Fee Simple, or ultimate title to that land. As appears on that Deed (see below) one of the Dick family residences was at Grosvenor Crescent, Belgrave Square, London, part of what is known as Belgravia, a neighbourhood where only the very wealthy have ever been able to own a house.
Those old enough to be devotees of the vintage television series Upstairs, Downstairs will recall that the fictional Bellamy family lived at 165 Eaton Place. The list of notables who have lived there is substantial and diverse. Today the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich who owns Chelsea Football Club, has a large property on the corner with Belgrave Square.
Quentin Dick was a 'toff' with a family tree and wealth which guaranteed his privileged place in society. Like so many who occupied such a position, his family had been owners of significant tracts of Irish land. Indeed, Dáil questions in March 1946 (footnote 1) dealt with the delayed disposal of the Captain Quentin Dick Estate by the Land Commission. The family always combined its wealth and position in society with the presence of its males in the forces of the Crown. There have always been Dicks in the British Officer Corps.
The 1917 transaction was a small one, involving a plot adjoining the wall of the Tuam Workhouse. The parcel of land in question was in possession of one of the sub-lessees of the land to which the Captain held ultimate title. For some years the Guardians of the Tuam Poor Law Union, had paid a rent of Three Pounds a year for this patch of land and a further Six Pounds a year for an easement over it.
The easement in question was permission to have the raw sewerage from the Workhouse flow out and spread over the land in question. It is unlikely that from within the perfumed urbanity of Eaton Square, Captain Dick was ever aware of this unusual and somewhat indelicate arrangement over his land.
The Mother & Baby Home or “The Home” was originally known as a workhouse (a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment). It was built in 1841 under the Irish Poor Laws. Like many other workhouses, it had been designed by Poor Law Commissioners' architect George Wilkinson to house up to 800 people. The workhouse opened in 1846, during the famine. The building had dormitories, an infirmary and an "idiot's ward". There were sheds built to house extra inmates and fever victims. A fever hospital was later constructed close by. After the Famine was over there was still extreme poverty in Ireland so the workhouse continued to house the poor and homeless for more than sixty years.
In 1916, British troops took over the workhouse evicted the occupants and turned it into a barracks. During the Civil War in 1923 there were eight IRA Volunteers executed at the workhouse. In later years when it was taken over by the nuns a monument was erected in their memory.
Between 2011 and 2013, Catherine Corless,a local historian from Tuam worked tirelessly researching the whereabouts of the children that was in the Tuam Mother & Baby Home. She paid €4 each time to get the publicly available death certificates of 796 children who died at the home at a total cost of €3,184 to her.
Over the 36-year period the average number of deaths was just over 22 a year. The youngest child to die at the institution was only 10 minutes and the oldest was 9½ years
Often up to two children per day were recorded as dying at the home, while on some dates, such as April 22nd, 1926, three deaths were recorded. Just over a week later on April 30th four deaths were recorded.
The information recorded on these State-issued certificates shows the children are marked as having died variously of tuberculosis, convulsions, measles, whooping cough, influenza, bronchitis and meningitis, among other illnesses.
The list below, compiled by Catherine Corless, lists the 796 children who died at the Tuam mother and baby home between 1925 and 1960 and 6 women who are also missing.
- Patrick Derrane 5 months
- Mary Blake 4 months
- Matthew Griffin 3 months
- Mary Kelly 6 months
- Peter Lally 11 months
- Julia Hynes 1 year
- James Murray 1 month
Our mission is to support survivors of Mother and Baby Homes by offering solidarity and friendship through a peer-supportive network to enable them to speak candidly of their experiences. Assisted by advocates, we work jointly to ensure that no survivor, regardless of length of stay or experience in such Institution is left behind – and that their place, central to the process of recognition, is guaranteed at all times.