A government-appointed commission announced on Friday that a mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children has been found at a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland.
Excavations at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing "significant quantities of human remains," said a judge-led Mother and Baby Homes Commission.
"Everything pointed to this area being a mass grave," said a local Tuam historian Catherine Corless, who recalled how local boys playing in the field had reported seeing a pile of bones in a hidden underground chamber there in the mid-1970s.
Investigations started in 2014 by the government following the work of Corless, who found death certificates for nearly 800 children who were residents at the facility but a burial record for only one.
DNA analysis of selected remains confirmed that the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to 3-years-old, said the commission.
They were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers, and their children.
Among the hardest parts of Mam's work: the thinly veiled or silent local hostility in Tuam to this situation being uncovered #tuambabies— Adrienne Corless (@AdrienneJoCo) March 4, 2017
The government's commissioner for children, Katherine Zappone, said Friday's findings were "sad and disturbing," and pledged that the children's descendants would be consulted on providing proper burials and other memorials.
The announcement confirms decades of suspicions that the vast majority of children who died at the home were interred in unmarked graves, a relatively common practice at such Catholic-run facilities amid high child mortality rates in early 20th century Ireland.
The Tuam home closed in 1961.