The sister of a baby boy who died in Bessborough only found out that he was buried in a former famine grave via the Commission’s burials report.

Carmel Cantwell’s brother, William, was just six weeks old in December 1960 when he died at in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork after having been born in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home.

In the mid-1990s, Carmel’s mother went to the nuns requesting documentation about her time in Bessborough and seeking information as to where her son was buried. She was told he was buried in Bessborough in the small burial plot belonging to nuns.

Carmel Cantwell whose brother died shortly after he was born in Bessborough in 1960. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

In the intervening years, Carmel and her mother “checked everywhere and [wrote] to everyone” looking for confirmation of this. They got no answers until Carmel opened the Commission’s burial report yesterday and it was revealed that William is in fact buried in Cork District Cemetery, Carr’s Hill.

Although William is not named in the report, Carmel knows it was him as he was the only boy from Bessborough to die in December 1960 and the details in the report referred to her mother’s experience directly.

The report states that the Bessborough records show that the Sister of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary contacted the chaplaincy at St Finbarr’s Hospital seeking information on William.

In response to a query from the chaplaincy, the administrator of St Finbarr’s Hospital provided a full overview of the child’s stay in St Finbarr’s including the cause of death and the place of burial in Cork District Cemetery, Carr’s Hill, in December 1960. This information was contained in a letter dated December 12, 1994.

However, Carmel’s mother was never informed of this fact and was told her son was buried in Bessborough.

“I just cried and cried when I saw that section. To think we had spent years asking and writing and we thought he was in Bessborough. My mum doesn’t believe it. She can’t come to terms that he was anywhere else.

“The report refers to “unclaimed” babies but William was so loved and wanted. And then I think we should feel lucky that we are one of the few people that now know,” she said.

'I just cried and cried': Sister of Bessborough baby learns of brother's burial site in report

Mari Steed of the Bessborough Mother and Baby group – a contact and peer support resource for those who were born or adopted in the institution – said the fact that Carmel had to learn the burial place of her brother by reading the report is “galling”.

“Perhaps the most hurtful is the fact that one of our own beloved mothers learned the likely location of her baby boy’s grave from the interim report, rather than from the religious order and current record holders, from whom she has sought answers as early as 1994, and been refused.”

“If, as the Minister has said on numerous occasions, this inquiry and efforts to engage survivors of these institutions is a process of authentic ‘truth-telling,’ we must first know what that truth is. Survivors must be given full access to their own records, as well as administrative records that have impact on them or possible deceased family,” she said.

The group is calling for a full geophysical examination of the grounds at Bessborough and says the Order must be held accountable “for violating the rights of individuals in their ‘care,’ including those deceased”.

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