Incredible as it seems a man and a woman have been arrested in the death of a newborn baby that occurred in April 1984 and created a worldwide sensation.

Editors note: The following is an extract from Niall O'Dowd's book "A New Ireland: How Europe's Most Conservative Country Became Its Most Liberal".

The only facts known were that on April 14, 1984, a dead baby with 24  stab wounds was found on a beach near the town of Cahersiveen, in County Kerry, and police immediately suspected a local woman, Joanne Hayes, who had been pregnant but no longer appeared to be. When a young woman was accused of having twin babies and killing them both. Media mayhem ensued when it was discovered that the two babies were not related genetically despite incredible claims by police about what really happened.

The arrest came after a new inquiry into the death of 'baby John' was launched in 2018. The man arrested was in his sixties, the woman in her fifties. For decades the trail had turned cold. 

Hayes protested her innocence and stated that yes, she had given birth to a baby boy, but the child had died of natural causes right after birth. She led police to a small grave on her parent’s farm where a body was found. The dead child’s blood type was the same as Joanna Hayes and that of a local married man she was having an affair with. So, one baby was accounted for, but what about the baby on the beach?

Desperate for a conviction, the police created a scenario that was utterly confounding. They accused Hayes of being the mother of the beach baby, too, and suggested she had very likely got pregnant by two different men on the same night! The story was widely carried until the beach baby’s blood type was found not to be a match for Hayes.

The fact is that the cock and bull story of the “extraordinary” pregnancy of Joanne Hayes, who allegedly conceived two babies by two different men and killed both of them, was widely believed. It was an indication of how deeply ingrained the bias against unmarried mothers and women generally was.

Joanne Hayes stood trial for the death of the beach baby— whose murder she had “confessed” to under corrupt police interrogation. The police theory was Hayes had become pregnant simultaneously by two different men through something called heteropaternal superfecundation and was the mother of both children, killing the one found on the beach.

However, the different blood types of the beach baby and Joanne’s caused somewhat of a problem for the prosecution and the case was dismissed. The Hayes family alleged they had been beaten and threatened in custody and Joanne withdrew her guilty plea and confession once the real facts became clear.

Leading feminist and Irish Times columnist Nell McCafferty wrote at the time, “The treatment of Joanne Hayes, who stood accused of no crime, was a model for Irish male attitudes to women.” Ireland was a place where the church had a “moral monopoly.” 

In 2018, 34 years after the Kerry babies case, the Irish government apologized officially to Joanne Hayes. Now it seems police may have cracked the case.