Forbes: Why That Story About Irish Babies “Dumped In A Septic Tank” Is A Hoax

6/09/2014 @ 12:12PM

Few of us are inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth, and that applies in spades to journalists running with a sensational news story. But even by normal media standards, recent reports about the bones of 796 babies being found in the septic tank of an Irish orphanage betray a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility rarely surpassed by allegedly reputable news organizations.

Although the media attributed the “dumped in a septic tank” allegation to Catherine Corless, a local amateur historian, she denies making it. Her attempt to correct the record was reported by the Irish Times newspaper on Saturday (see here) but has been almost entirely ignored by the same global media that so gleefully recycled the original suggestion. That suggestion, which seems to have first surfaced in the Mail on Sunday, a London-based newspaper, reflected appallingly on the Sisters of Bon Secours, the order of Catholic nuns at the center of the scandal.

An image was created of satanic depravity: wicked-witch nuns shoveling tiny human forms into a maelstrom of excrement and urine. In reality the odds that anything like this happened are vanishingly small.

Today the Irish Times has published a reader’s letter that has further undercut the story. Finbar McCormick, a professor of geography at Queen’s University Belfast, sharply admonished the media for describing the children’s last resting place as a septic tank. He added: “The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many part of Europe.

“In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries…..Such tombs are still used extensively in Mediterranean countries. I recently saw such structures being constructed in a churchyard in Croatia. The shaft was made of concrete blocks, plastered internally and roofed with large concrete slabs

English: Irish Celtic Cross

Celtic cross: Some get a better send-off than others. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Many maternity hospitals in Ireland had a communal burial place for stillborn children or those who died soon after birth. These were sometimes in a nearby graveyard but more often in a special area within the grounds of the hospital.”

For anyone familiar with Ireland (I was brought up there in the 1950s and 1960s), the story of nuns consciously throwing babies into a septic tank never made sense. Although many of the nuns may have been holier-than-thou harridans, they were nothing if not God-fearing and therefore unlikely to treat human remains with the sort of outright blasphemy implied in the septic tank story.

So what are we left with? One fact seems beyond dispute: conditions in Irish orphanages up to the 1960s (when the orphanage at the center of the uproar was shut down) were positively Dickensian. Certainly the death rate at many was shockingly high. But who should be blamed? A major part of the problem would appear to have been the pervasive poverty of the time. Because they were so desperately underfunded, Irish orphanages were disgracefully overcrowded, which meant that when one baby caught an infection, they all caught it. Not the least of the hazards was tuberculosis, a then incurable disease that spread like wildfire in overcrowded conditions.

The nuns who ran the orphanage have long since gone to their reward but if they could speak they would no doubt claim they were doing their best in appalling conditions. Certainly it is reasonable to suggest that Irish society generally had much to answer for. As for the nuns, they were so young when they entered religious life — typically in their late teens or early 20s — that they had little understanding of the secular world and were evidently short on managerial skills. Less forgivably, however, they took a highly puritanical attitude to the “fallen women” who had the misfortune to come under their purview. Allegedly they even — in some cases at least — banned the use of anesthetics in childbirth, the better to ensure that mothers would atone for the “sin” of having an out-of-wedlock child.

At the end of the day, the verifiable facts that have emerged so far amount merely to a strong story for the media of one small country.

The one “fact” that turned all this from a disturbing national story into a screaming global sensation is one that is almost certainly false.

There is a moral here for those who are increasingly bewildered by the modern world: the global media are becoming less and less accountable. Sometimes the truth eventually does come out, or at least some of us have sufficient knowledge to suspect the facts are misstated. But very often readers do not have the experience and worldly wisdom to see through the nonsense, particularly in interpreting reported developments in nations whose cultures diverge sharply from those of the West (I am thinking in particular of East Asia, a region about which on the basis of 27 years of residence I can claim some knowledge ).

While we are constantly assured that we live in an Information Age, in reality the noise to signal ratio in our media has probably never been higher. This is an age of disinformation.

Postscript, June 12

Even by the normal standards of internet discourse, this commentary has elicited an extraordinary outburst of vituperation and incivility. Some reader responses have been overtly mendacious and many have been malevolently misleading. In an effort to discredit me, one interlocutor has even attributed to me the absurd view that there is no evidence of human remains at the site in Tuam where the orphanage was located. Do I have to state that I have always believed the media are reliable in reporting such evidence? The larger question is why would anyone make up something out of whole cloth if he or she is sincerely concerned to promote some larger truth? (Incidentally I am in general agreement with the mainstream press on most other aspects of the story, most notably the point that the death rate at Tuam was disgracefully high. This is merely to state the obvious but where internet commentary is concerned if you don’t state the obvious you can count on someone — probably someone hiding behind a cloak of anonymity — to pop up to accuse you of denying the obvious.)

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).

Now let’s consider my interlocutors’ contributions. Although they have a point when they say that Catherine Corless’s comments have been inconsistent, they cannot gainsay the fact that her settled position as of today is the one I have quoted above.

 My interlocutors have done little to challenge Finbar McCormick’s expert testimony. True, they have produced a map on which a sewage tank is marked but contrary to their contention this proves nothing. Given that an institution – a so-called workhouse for the indigent – already existed at the site as far back as the nineteenth century, the existence of a cesspit in close proximity to the building was entirely to be expected.

Basically we are still left with a totally confused picture. But even if we are to assume that the babies’ last resting place was a disused sewage tank, this does not justify the sensational “dumping babies bodies in a septic tank” allegation that made this story a global sensation. On the whole I agree with Andrew Brown, a commentator on religious matters, who has written a thoughtful and balanced commentary for the London Guardian. As he points out, for those who want to dismiss the nuns as wicked witches, the problem is chronology. He comments: “If the bodies were placed in a sewage tank long after it had been drained and disused, this would seem much less shocking. That less shocking story is at least plausible.”

In defending the global headlines, the media have to prove that the nuns consciously shoveled babies’ bodies into a hell-brew of human waste. This sets the evidential bar rather high:

  1. The media have to show that the bodies were “dumped.”
  2. They have to show that the place where these bodies were “dumped” was indeed a sewage tank.
  3. They have to show that the sewage tank was still being use for its original purpose at the time the bodies were placed in it.
  4. They have to show that the nuns were conscious of the utterly blasphemous nature of what they were allegedly doing.

My point remains that though many of the nuns may have been holier-than-thou harridans, blasphemy is unlikely to have figured in their agenda. No one has come even close to substantiating the implied charge of blasphemy and I don’t think anyone ever will.

My case rests. The image of nuns consciously dumping babies in a septic tank is one of the most irresponsible press hoaxes of modern times.




Same Media That Ignored Kermit Gosnell Pushed Hoax of Babies Buried in Mass Grave in Septic Tank

by Wesley J. Smith | Washington, DC | | 6/21/14

Remember when the media ignored en masse the mass murderers/late term abortions of the monster Kermit Gosnell? Remember the empty seats at the trial? Remember the important stories that were never written?

In that highly newsworthy circumstance, the media knew what it didn’t want you to know.










But notice how quickly this same media spread the word–nay, ​breathlessly reported one unsubstantiated local Ireland story–that the bodies of long-dead babies were found discarded in a septic tank at a long closed home for unwed mothers run by nuns.


Example, the Washington Post...


In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam. Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond.

Some of their children were not so fortunate. More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s play ground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has perhaps now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.

One itty-bitty problem: It isn’t true.

From a commentary in Forbes by Eamonn Fingleton

Today the Irish Times has published a reader’s letter that has further undercut the story. Finbar McCormick, a professor of geography at Queen’s University Belfast, sharply admonished the media for describing the children’s last resting place as a septic tank. He added: “The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many parts of Europe…

The one “fact” that turned all this from a disturbing national story into a screaming global sensation is one that is almost certainly false.

The Post (which ran two stories on the “septic tank” babies) and other outlets have been forced to issue correctives.

So we are left with an interesting question: Why would real murders of babies–that took place in the present day–be all but ignored, while a false report of disrespectfully discarded bodies from many decades ago be reported high profile internationally?

Answer: The former story reflected badly on abortion, so beloved by most in the media, while the latter validated their anti-Catholic bigotry–particularly their disdain for that church’s views toward sexual morality and pro-life activism.

This is one example of why the public’s trust in the media is in the, well, septic tank. They earn every ounce of our disdain. Note: Wesley J. Smith, J.D., is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a bioethics attorney who blogs at Human Exeptionalism.


Original English Newspaper Source w/ pictures that didn’t fit the reporters biased story-line:



  • The person originating the story, Catherine Corless, denies making any references to a septic tank and never used verbiage like “dump the bodies”.
  • Other locals prayed at and decorated the graves for years, and apparently did not find anything shocking about the mass graves apart from the fact that it is, well, a grave.
  • The shocking aspect of the story comes specifically and singly from the idea that someone found a septic tank an appropriate burial method. Remove that, and all you have is a mass grave in a country where misery was common, properly cared for by the locals.

The average number of deaths over the period in question was 18-20 per year. That is about 1-2 per month, in depression and war years, in one of Europe’s poorest countries, in institutions where “TB was rife?” And that’s a scandal? I would say the nuns did a pretty good job under very difficult conditions. Try looking at the number of people who die from Cross Infection in hospitals, not decades ago, but today! That’s if they recorded them as well as this Children’s Home did…

The Irish News (sourced in Forbes article) every baby in question had a certificate of death. They were registered and recorded with the Government authorities of the time. Does that sound like dead bodies being secretly and unceremoniously dumped?


I grew up in Ireland (like the Forbes author) and knew many people who walked a mile or more to school in the fifties – hail rain or snow with no shoes and that was after milking the cows at the crack of dawn. We got free education from the nuns. Many people, especially the media, tend to write from a perspective of life today. The reality is that Ireland was a former English colony until the 1920’s – the horrific conditions of the indigenous Irish Catholics was “beyond the pale” – one can thank the Royal Crown and their aristocratic absentee Land Lords for a history of raw and naked callousness and cruelty.  Ireland has 32 counties. It was only between 1922-1939 that 26 counties of Ireland became a Free State and a Republic much later. 6 counties in the North still belong to the Royal Crown.ression – Beyond the Pale: Around 1450 the English control in Ireland was reduced to a 20 mile wide strip around Dublin (didn’t last long), known as the Pale. The English defended the area, and as such the Irish were unable to completely drive the English off the island. The Pale was surrounded with a fence to keep out the Irish. The 3 major English Lords whose estates were within the Pale formed alliances with some of the neighbouring Irish and became very powerful. Outside the Pale (particularly Munster), former Norman Lords had practically become Irish, and many of them joined with the native Irish in their hatred of the English (this was stopped by the statue of kilkenny, penal laws etc. because if we all got along where would that have left the kings/queens and their treasury…these globalists need strife and destabilization in order to survive in their ongoing land grabs and mining deals.  To travel outside of the boundary, beyond the pale, was to leave behind all the rules and institutions of English society, which the English considered synonymous with civilization itself. IOW, to live outside or beyond the pale was, in their opinion, to be outside of civilization,  that is, uncivilized and with no expectation of civilized treatment. Use the search engine here and type in Irish Famine and Irish Slavery only two of the many atrocities committed by the English against the Irish. It’s only in the past 30 yrs that Ireland has become modernized. Only those people who have lived under the English Empire can really understand what I’m talking about…the history books are much too kind to these parasites.


Note: They could have just sent them babies to be incinerated for fuel at a local hospital with other medical waste and avoided burying their tiny bodies at all – Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals , right? And hardly a word about it – any word of the investigation one might wonder. And were we given the names of the babies? Death certificates? Were the deaths of little babies reported to the local government to be registered? No!

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