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.
The workhouse belonged to Galway County Council. The building became available as a result of the closure of all the workhouses in the county by the Galway Board of Health. The order of Bon Secours Sisters, led by Mother Hortense McNamara, took over the Tuam Workhouse in 1925 and converted it into "The Home". Sisters who ran The Home in early years was Mother Euphremia, Sr Gabriel. Superioress was Sr. Elphage. Sister Priscilla Barry, spent most of her life in Tuam and the grandnephew of the former Archbishop of Tuam Dr. John McEvilly named as Rev. Peter J. Kelly, was chaplain in the early years. Three women stayed with the Sisters all their lives, Bina Rabbitte, Annie Kelly, Mary Wade and Julia Devaney remained in the home until it closed.
The Mothers & Children from the workhouse in Glenamaddy were transferred in 1925. On the 3rd October 1925, on the Tuam Herald under the heading “Conversion of Workhouse into Children’s Home” stated the cost of the transfer as £5,000. Some members of Tuam Town Commissioners were opposed to the relocation of the Home from Glenamaddy to Tuam and how costly it was.
For each mother and child in the home, the County Council paid the nuns £1 a week. After 12 months the mothers had to leave and their babies were kept at the Home. The children stayed there until they could be adopted, fostered, or until they were old enough to be sent to Industrial schools. Even at that time, there were some complaints of fostered children being exploited. An October 1953 article in The Tuam Herald said "an effort was not always made to find the home that most suited the child or the child that most suited the home. The allowance given to foster parents was not always spent on the child's welfare".
A 1947 report by an official inspector who visited the Home says some of the children were suffering from malnutrition, and 12 out of 31 infants examined were described as being "emaciated and not thriving". It also says that the Home was overcrowded, with 271 children and 61 mothers living there. Death rates were extraordinarily high: 34 per cent of children died in the home in 1943; 25 per cent died in 1944; 23 per cent died in 1945; 27 per cent died in 1946. The report states "The death rate amongst infants is high... The death rate had appeared to be on the decrease but has now begun to rise again. It is time to enquire into the possible cause before the death rate mounts higher." The Medical Officer in attendance was Dr. Thomas B. Costello an elderly doctor which according to some residents hardly ever visited The Home.
The Home closed in 1961, and most of the occupants were sent to similar institutions, such as Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea. The building lay mostly disused until its demolition in 1972. A Playground and a new housing estate was built on the site.
Below is a map showing the location of Mother & Baby Home site: