Infants' remains found at former mother and baby home in Ireland

"Significant quantities of human remains" have been found at a former mother and baby home in Ireland.

A commission investigating alleged abuse at religious-run institutions has been excavating a site in Tuam, Co Galway, where the remains of 796 infants are believed to be buried.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes said it was "shocked" after finding remains in at least 17 of 20 underground chambers it has been examining.

"A small number of remains were recovered for the purpose of analysis," the commission said.

"These remains involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to 2-3 years."

The home for unmarried mothers and their babies was run by the Catholic Church for 36 years, from 1925 until 1961.

The commission said it was likely that a number of samples dated from the 1950s.

It added: "Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time frame relevant to the operation of the mother and baby home."

Ireland's children's minister, Katherine Zappone, said the discovery "was not unexpected as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years".

Nevertheless, she described it as "very sad and disturbing news".

"Up to now we had rumours," she added. "Now we have confirmation."

Local historian Catherine Corless has previously said that there were death certificates for 796 babies and children from the home, but no burial records exist for them.

Labour Party TD Joan Burton said: "It now appears as though these children were interred in some kind of mass grave, possibly without normal funeral rights, and maybe even without their wider families having been made aware."

Ms Burton added that it was "incumbent upon the Catholic Church to assist in whatever way they can".

About 35,000 unmarried mothers are thought to have spent time in one of 10 homes run by religious orders in Ireland.

In addition to the one in Tuam, three other mother and baby homes are believed to have "little angels" plots containing the remains of more than 3,000 infants.

They are Bessborough in Co Cork, Castlepollard in Co Westmeath, and Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary, where the story of Philomena Lee began.

In the 1930s and 1940s, infant mortality in some of the homes ranged from 30-50%.