After the unearthing of human remains at the suspected mass grave of 796 children in Tuam, County Galway, just over a week ago, the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors circulated a comprehensive fact sheet and history of these Church and State run institutions during the last century.
The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors consisting of members of the groups Adoption Rights Now, The Bethany Home Survivors, Beyond Adoption Ireland, Adopted Illegally Ireland, The Castlepollard Mother & Baby Home Group and The Adoption Coalition Worldwide.
In a statement the group said “Survivors seek urgent meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny to resolve outstanding issues it is time for Ireland to finally deal with the reality and legacy of its treatment of single mothers and their babies since the foundation of the State.”
They added “Now that the work of historian and heroic campaigner Catherine Corless has been vindicated in the eyes of the world, it is time for immediate action on the part of the Government to meet with the survivor representatives to resolve the serious outstanding issues faced by our ageing and overwhelmingly elderly community. We have sadly witnessed many of our active members pass away without ever seeing a personal resolution to their many years of often heartbreaking campaigning work. In this instance, justice delayed is justice permanently denied.”
Here is their history of the mother and baby homes, slighted edited down:
Approximately 35,000 women and girls went through nine mother and baby homes between 1904 and 1996. It is unlikely the true figure will ever be known.
At least 6,000 babies and children died in the nine homes and their births and deaths were registered just as they were in Tuam.
Pelletstown / Saint Patrick’s
Originally a public workhouse it was, almost certainly, converted for use as a “Special institution”, exclusively for single mothers, in 1906. It was owned and financed by the Poor Law Guardians and the Dublin Union and run by the Sisters of the Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul (later called the Daughters of Charity) on their behalf.
Saint Patrick’s was by far the largest mother and baby home, in terms of the numbers who passed through, and approximately 9,000 to 12,000 women and girls went through its doors. Babies and children who passed away were sent for burial in Glasnevin Cemetery, in north Dublin, to both the children’s “Angel’s Plot” and in the early years to the pauper graves.
There are two periods when exact numbers of deaths are known: 1924 to 1930 inclusive when 662 children died. An average of over 97 per year, or nearly two per week for seven years.
Saint Patrick’s operated for 20 years before these figures begin and it is known that the further back, the worse the conditions were in all the Mother and baby homes. There was not a significant drop in infant mortality rates in the homes until the second World War ended, in 1945.
Local government reports also confirmed the fact that, between 1940 and 1965, Saint Patrick’s and its sister hospital Saint Kevin’s “donated” the bodies of at least 461 deceased babies for routine dissection practice in all the major, medical teaching institutions in the state, including Trinity College Dublin, The College of Surgeons and University College Dublin medical school.
Saint Patrick’s relocated and downsized in 1985 to a period house on Eglinton Road, in Dublin 4, and operated ‘supervised flatlets’ in its new premises.
Kilrush Mother and baby home seems to have been in existence at the foundation of the state in 1922. Originally a county workhouse, it was designated a ‘Special Institution’ for the sole use of single mothers in 1922 and run for the local authorities on their behalf by the Sisters of Mercy who also ran many of the country’s Industrial schools for girls.
Little is known about this home except for an article in the Clare People, written by Joe O’Muircheartaigh, and some minor mentions in the local government reports.
There seems to be confusion as to where the babies who died are buried with most adoption activists believing there is an Angel’s Plot [a child’s graveyard] near the former home. Approximately 800 women and girls entered the home and approximately 250 to 350 babies and children died.
It closed in 1932.
The Bethany Home
The Bethany Home opened 1921 in Blackhall Place, in Dublin’s city center and moved to Rathgar 1934. Bethany was the sole mother and baby home for Protestant women who found themselves single and pregnant. It was the only such semi-secure institution for Protestants and it also doubled up as an orphanage, center for Protestant women and girls on remand from the courts, on probation, etc.
At least 227 babies died between 1921 and 1949 and it is likely the final figure will be approximately 300 or more.
The names of the 227 babies and children who died are listed on a Memorial in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin erected through the relentless work of the first person to campaign over the issue of Mother and baby homes, Derek Leinster.
The Bethany Home closed in 1972.
Bessboro was opened in 1922, by the Chigwell, a Sussex based order of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It became a mother and baby home in 1924 and was an approved Extern Institution. The home was bought with over 200 acres of land, which was farmed by the women. It also had its own farm shop. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 girls and women passed through its doors.
Research by Conall O’Fatharth in the Examiner newspaper revealed that the infant mortality rate in 1944 was 68 percent when the national average was about five percent. One-hundred-and-twenty-one babies and children were buried in that year alone
A conservative estimate of total deaths would be at least 1,200 babies and children. Several witnesses at Bessboro saw babies buried in the marked Angel’s Plot on the grounds.
It closed in 1996.
Tuam, County Galway
The Home in Tuam opened in 1925. Tuam was a converted workhouse owned and financed by the Poor Law Guardians and the Local Authority and run by the Bon Secours nuns on their behalf.
According to the interdepartmental report of 2014, there were 1,101 births included in the records of the general registers office during the home’s lifetime but this seems extraordinarily low and may reflect the fact that Tuam did not have a maternity unit during its early years and births outside the home would not have been registered to the home.
Tuam was also used as an overflow county home if needed.
An Angel’s Plot still survives although the buildings have been demolished. Most of what is known about the home is thanks to the work of local historian and campaigner Catherine Corless. At least 796 babies and children died and were buried in the Angel’s Plot at the back of the home.
It closed in 1961.
Sean Ross Abbey
Roscrea, County Tipperary
Sean Ross Abbey was opened in 1930 by the Sacred Heart nuns and was purchased with more than 600 acres of land.
Approximately 6,000 girls and women passed through its doors. There was a commercial laundry where outside work was taken in and workshops where religious paraphernalia was produced at various times. There is some unconfirmed anecdotal evidence that they also produced children’s coffins.
There is a designated Angel’s Plot where the babies and children who died are buried. Approximately 800 died between 1930 and 1950 and it is not known how many died in its final 20 years although it would be considerably lower than the first 20 years.
Academic research revealed that, in its opening year, 60 of the 120 babies who were born died. A conservative figure would be approx. 1000 died in total.
It closed in 1970 and is still owned by the Sacred Heart Order and presently for sale.
Saint Gerard’s, 39 Mountjoy Square, Dublin
Saint Gerard Majella is the patron saint of expectant mothers. The home, Saint Gerard’s, was opened in 1933 by lay Catholics in a four-story over basement, terraced Georgian house. It was opened as what would be now called a “boutique” Mother and baby home to cater for fee paying private cases and “select destitute cases”. It was certified for 20 mothers and 12 babies.
The home only had one recorded death during its years of operation. It appears to have been reasonably well run.
The interdepartmental report 2014 records that 45 births were registered in Saint Gerard’s. Most of the births almost certainly took place in the nearby Rotunda Hospital. Girls stayed on average for about six months.
It closed in 1939.
Saint Peter’s Hospital
Castlepollard, County Westmeath
Saint Peter’s was bought in 1934 by the Sacred Heart Order as their third and final mother and baby home. It was the only custom built mother and baby home / maternity hospital and opened in 1935 with Saint Peter‘s Hospital completed in 1939. The entire cost of the stand alone, three-story, 125-bed Maternity hospital of £65,000 was met by a government grant from the sweepstakes fund. It was certified by the Government for 75 mothers and 125 infants. It closed in 1971 and was sold to the Midlands Health Board.
There is a preservation order on all its buildings, including the manor House, chapel and mother and baby home. It is currently empty and its future is unknown.
Approximately 4,000 women and girls passed through its doors. There is a walled Angel’s Plot.
Newly completed research by the Castlepollard group of survivors has found 203 confirmed and registered deaths. Freedom of Information requests and appeals have revealed that during 24, of its 36-year operation, 77 stillbirths were recorded in the official ledgers.
Dunboyne, County Meath
Ard Mhurie was opened in 1955 as the last of the nine mother and baby homes. It was operated as an extern institution by the sisters of the Good Shepherds who also operated four of Irelands largest Magdalene Laundries.
Numbers are difficult to estimate but it is likely that about 1,000 to 2,000 women passed through its doors. It appears to have been an attempt to go slightly ‘upmarket’ in the competitive mother and baby homes industry and it seems to have been reasonably well run compared to the others and mortality rates were probably low.
It closed in 1991.
Holding centers and miscellaneous
Saint Patrick’s Infant and Dietician hospital aka Temple Hill
Blackrock, south County Dublin
Saint Patrick’s opened in 19 Mountjoy Square in the 1920s and later moved to a large Manor House in Temple Hill, in Blackrock. It was closely associated with Saint Patrick’s Guild Adoption Agency.
Considerable anecdotal evidence and eyewitness testimony insists conditions in the hospital were harsh, with babies and children left on their own in cots all day and night and often with large safety pins attaching the ends of their sleeves to the mattresses while they slept so they were unable to move or turn over.
Almost nothing is known about the numbers of babies and children who passed through the home. Total numbers are extremely difficult to estimate but may be around 4,000 to 5,000+ allowing for about 100 a year passing through for 50 years with a steady reduction towards the end.
The first baby to be sent from Temple Hill to America was on the November 18 1947. Saint Patrick’s Guild sent 572 children altogether, far more than any other agency and about one quarter of the total.
It is unknown where babies who passed away were interred although it was most likely the national Angel’s Plot in Glasnevin.
It closed in the 1980s.
Saint Patrick’s Guild
Saint Patrick’s Guild (SPG) was set up by Mary Cruice in 1910. At the time, there was a Protestant agency facilitating fostering and so SPG was set up as the first rival Catholic agency of its type to compete with them. It later became an adoption agency.
Its offices were in 50 Middle Abbey Street, in Dublin, just off O'Connell Street. Later they were in Haddington Road and it is presently in 203 Merrion Road, Blackrock, Dublin 4. although it is being closed at this time.
It is part funded by the HSE (€126,000 in 2013).
SPG was taken over by the Irish Sisters of Charity and in 1942 it came under the control of the Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid and his successors. It has a notorious reputation for illegal practices although it has never been prosecuted despite been caught red handed on several occasions facilitating illegal adoptions, forging signatures and arranging for the adoption of “legitimate” children.
Saint Clare’s / Saint Joseph’s Home
Stamullan, County Meath
Stamullan, a holding center, opened in 1952. It was established by the Sisters of the Poor Clares who also ran Saint Joseph’s Industrial school, in nearby Cavan, where an infamous fire on 23 February 1943 saw 35 girls and 1 adult employee die, and a whitewash inquiry afterwards.
It’s estimated that there were 60 babies in residence at any one time and an average stay of about six months. This would among to 3,000 to 4,000 allowing for a drop off in numbers towards the end.
By all accounts Stamullen was run firmly but very well and mortality rates were probably very low. They also cared for several special needs babies who were never adopted at a time when that was almost unheard of.
Some vaccine trials took place between December 1960 and November 1961.
There is an Angel's Plot in Stamullen Cemetery believed to contain from 50 to 100 babies although this seems very low.
It formally closed in 1996 although numbers were very low for the last decade of its existence.
Fermoy, County Cork
Very little is known about the Nurseries except that it was used to hold unaccompanied babies in the 1920s and 1930s. Numbers are impossible to estimate.
Westbank/ Saint Philomenas etc
There was a network of smaller centers around the country that held unaccompanied children who were too old for mother and baby homes but too young for industrial schools. This is an unseen and generally unknown ‘second layer’ of institutions between mother and baby homes and the industrial schools. Although usually called ‘orphanages’, in fact very few of the children were orphans. Children were transferred from Saint Patrick’s mother and baby home to two such places for example.
Many children who were born in mother and baby homes, held in temporary care for a few years in the second layer, and later moved to industrial schools or adopted. As adults, some of the women found themselves in the private ‘fourth layer’ of the Magdalene Laundries.
Many of the 16-year-old girls who left Industrial Schools ended up back in the mother and baby homes after becoming pregnant outside marriage as a direct result of being ejected at 16 years of age into an alien environment without a shred of sex education and desperate for love after a lifetime of deprivation. A lethal combination that doomed many women to a life time of misery and heartbreak in Institutions.
Private nursing homes
There were around 300 maternity homes in total registered under the 1934 Registration of Maternity Homes Act and most of them were small nursing homes usually in converted period homes of varying sizes.
Many of them -- but not all -- accepted single pregnant women among their clients but many of them specialized in single mothers only. The private nursing homes were where the well off and upper classes of the day sent their daughters to discreetly make their problems disappear.
Many of the nursing homes played hard and fast with the birth registration rules with many babies falsely registered as the natural children of married couples. There was an underground grey market in what amounts to child trafficking among the wealthy who could afford to use the private nursing homes. Although some nursing homes such as Saint Rita’s, in south Dublin, are well-known for the political and criminal intrigues attached to them, others are virtually unknown even though they were bigger and in some cases custom designed or remodeled as mini-mother and baby homes.