Mary Frances Doherty, now 68, from Moville in Co. Donegal married her husband Harry when she was 17. She fell pregnant soon after their wedding and remained pregnant almost every year after that, until she was 42.
"I was 17 and Harry was three months off 20 when we married. I had a baby every 13 or 15 months during our marriage and I never complained," Mary Frances told the Irish Examiner.
The brood which is made up of 11 daughters and eight sons includes: Bernadette, 51; Annemarie, 50; Hilary, 49; Patricia, 48; Shaun, 46; Paula, 45; Hugh, 44; Mary Majella, 43, Antoinette, 42; Seamus, 40; Laura, 39; Joe, 37; Ray, 35; Gemma, 34, Colm, 33, Orla, 31; Roma, 29; Paul, 28 and Leonie, 26.
The couple who ran the Moville Clothing Company provided enough offspring to run the family business. The company is one of Donegal’s oldest.
"Myself and Harry never broke our Confirmation pledges and have been teetotal all our lives. We never once took a drink or a smoke, and I’m sure that helped us have so many lovely babies," she added.
"I loved being pregnant and being a mammy and I thanked God for every wee child we got. Harry always helped me with the children and provided well for us all. We never even thought about stopping after four, five or six children. I dearly love all of them and no matter how many I had around my feet, I cried every time each one started school.”
Despite living in a cramped three bedroom council house in the beginning the couple never considered family planning. "I never used the pill or anything – I’m a natural, country woman," said Mary Frances. Harry added, "We just loved having babies. It came natural to us."
Twelfth-born son Joe reminisced about growing up in such a large family.
"Meal times were done in shifts because the table wasn’t big enough. The youngest ones were fed first, followed by the girls and then us boys. Our mother would never eat until we were all fed. We had to get an extension built and then my father put a mobile home outside the house for the older boys to sleep in at night,"laughed Joe.
The couple’s final family tally includes their 19 children; 37 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. The retired couple attend mass daily and their home is always bustling with adoring grandchildren who live closely.