Ireland has been in a state of turmoil following the discovery of nearly 800 infant remains in a mass grave at Tuam, County Galway. The babies – aged from 35 foetal weeks to two to three years – died between 1925 and 1961, mostly, it is suggested, from infectious diseases or malnutrition.

The site was a “mother and baby” home for unmarried mothers, run by the Bon Secours order – at the behest of the Irish state – and the mass grave may have been subsequently connected to a septic tank built over it, although this claim has not been fully established.

A formal investigation is under way, but in the meantime, the animus against the Irish Catholic Church is more hostile and intense than anything I have ever experienced. When I suggested, on Twitter, that the stern treatment meted out to single mothers from 1925 to 1961 was part of wider social attitudes held by families and by society, as well as by the Church, a torrent of abuse followed. No – only the Catholic Church was responsible, and nothing could excuse their unique cruelty! The Catholic Church was “worse” than the Nazis. The most appalling images of nuns bathing in the blood of dead children were posted on social media.

The story is very distressing, certainly, and the full facts surely need to be examined forensically and impartially. The social truth must also be faced: it was often their own families who consigned pregnant girls to institutions, at a time when there was no social welfare available.

There was also scant effort, it seems, to make the fathers of these infants face up to their responsibilities. In Cork, I was told of a historic case of five unmarried mothers in a local institution – all made pregnant by the same guy, who got off scot-free.

It’s a sad state of affairs that St Patrick’s week brings such a melancholy picture of Irish history – and such ferocious and unrelenting hatred of Irish nuns and the Irish Church.

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