3,156 women and girls were admitted to Dunboyne mother and baby home

Report details how 47 babies were adopted out to new homes in the US while 37 infants died between 1955 and 1990

ANN CASEY

At least 3,156 women were admitted to the Good Shepherd Mother and Baby home in Dunboyne between 1955 and 1990, according to the report of the Mother and Baby Home Commission which was published today (Tuesday).

Records from the institution show there were 37 baby deaths associated with the home over the same period.

The Commission received very few complaints about the conditions in Dunboyne or the physical treatment of the mothers there.

"All the evidence seen by the Commission and the evidence of the vast majority of former residents who spoke to the Commission suggests that Dunboyne provided comfortable, warm accommodation and the residents were well looked after physically.

The younger residents were provided with educational opportunities from the 1980s," according to the report.

There was a complaint in the 1960s by a woman who said her baby was adopted without her consent and the commission heard complaints from mothers who said they felt pressurised into giving their babies up for adoption.

Of the 37 babies whose deaths were associated with Dunboyne, nine were from respiratory infections, five from spina bifida, twelve from other causes, four were non specific and two were from congenital heart defects.

The available records show that 33 were born in Holles Street Hospital and 20 subsequently died there; five died in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin; three in Temple St Children’s Hospital; two in the Rotunda Hospital and one in Dunboyne. The place of death was not available for the remaining cases.

The worst year for child deaths was 1975 - five children died that year.

All five were born in Holles Street to women transferred from Dunboyne - three subsequently died in Holles Street and the others died following transfer to Temple Street and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital.

The Commission identified 47 children who were placed for foreign adoption from Dunboyne.

Most of those children (89.4 per cent) were adopted in the USA; 8.5 per cent in Great Britain and 2.1per cent were adopted in Northern Ireland.

There are a number of letters in the Dunboyne institutional files from former residents expressing gratitude for the kindness shown to them. "A letter, written in the 1990s by a woman who was in Dunboyne in the 1970s and who kept her baby, stated that she was very grateful for the time spent in Dunboyne; she described it as ‘a refuge, a sanctuary, a place of tranquillity, stability, rest and safety’, according to the report.

Former residents did make complaints about the adoption process. In general, the adoptions were arranged by adoption societies and not directly by Dunboyne. However, the Sisters in Dunboyne did talk to the residents about adoption and clearly did encourage them to place the babies for adoption.

"Many of the mothers, clearly felt that they had no choice about adoption but it must be recognised that the pressure for adoption was also coming from their families," the report states.

One woman who provided an affidavit to the Commission said she was in Dunboyne for six months in the early 1980s. She was aged 15. She said that she was pressurised into adoption. (There is a thank you letter from her in the Dunboyne institutional records.)

She said that there were no formal rules and regulations but they were ‘made to go to Mass and confession on a regular basis’. She described packing greeting cards and ‘doing cleaning and washing jobs that needed to be done around the house and for ourselves, sometimes a bit of gardening’.

She complained that the father of her child, who was considerably older than she, was not prosecuted.

In 1966 a woman made a complaint to the Department of Justice about the adoption of her child from St Clare’s, Stamullen and about the involvement of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Dunboyne in that adoption. The matter was referred to the Gardaí.

The Gardaí called to Dunboyne in January 1966 to discuss the matter with the Good Shepherd Sisters. The Garda report states that the woman, who was aged about 16 at the time, had been moved from an industrial school to Dunboyne when she became pregnant in 1961.

The woman woman said she had been under duress and threats and been told she would never get her freedom. The Good Shepherd Sisters denied that any such threats were ever used towards any unmarried mother. The baby was adopted to the USA.

In the years 1955 to 1970, 606 women were admitted to the home. A significant increase in admissions was recorded in the 1970s peaking in 1973 and 1974; 144 women

were recorded in each year. By the 1970s women were staying for a much shorter period of time.

Although admissions had decreased by 1980 - 113 women were admitted that year - they increased steadily until 1986 when 143 women were

recorded. Average annual admissions in the late 1980s stood at 117 and 95 women were recorded in 1990, its last full year in operation.

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Speaking after the publication of the long-awaited final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said it “opens a window into a deeply misogynistic culture in Ireland” and sheds light on a “dark, difficult and shameful chapter”.

The full report details the experiences of women and children who lived in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes – a sample of the overall number of homes – between 1922 and 1998.

It confirms that about 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation – about 15% of all the children who were in the institutions.

“The regime described in the report wasn’t imposed on us by any foreign power,” the Taoiseach said.

We did this ourselves as a society, we treated women exceptionally badly, we treated children exceptionally badly. We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy and young mothers and their sons and daughters were forced to pay a terrible price for that dysfunction.”

“I don’t want to dictate to others but I do believe that the church should examine this report comprehensively. And then maybe make the appropriate apologies in respect of sectors of the church that have behaved so badly here and that in many ways imposed what I described earlier as a perverse moral code in relation to sexuality,” he said.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman confirmed he has written to the religious congregations involved seeking meetings in the weeks ahead.

“Particularly to discuss the issues around whether they were looking to make their own apology, a contribution to the Restorative Recognition Scheme and also the provision of some of their records.”

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In a statement the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which ran mother and baby homes in Bessborough, Roscrea and Castlepollard on the Meath Westmeath border said it wished to apologise to those “who did not get the care and support they needed and deserved”.

“As today, we respond to the urgent and unmet societal needs in our mission throughout the world, so we responded at that time and established the three homes in Ireland.

"Our thoughts today are mainly with the thousands of women who were taken, sent or driven by societal and family pressure to have their babies in secret in mother and baby homes.

“For our part, we want to sincerely apologise to those who did not get the care and support they needed and deserved.

"It is a matter of great sorrow to us that babies died while under our care. We sincerely regret that so many babies died particularly in regard to Bessborough in the 1940s. We also want to recognise the dreadful suffering and loss experienced by mothers."

***

Catherine Corless, whose research uncovered a mass burial site at a former home in Tuam, told RTÉ’ News that survivors would be disappointed by the Taoiseach's rmarks that put the blame back on society.

“Nobody’s looking for naming and blaming whatsoever, they just want an acknowledgement of what’s happened to them in those homes, because the State weren’t in the homes when the survivors went through a terrible time. The government are talking about the horrendous testimonies from the people, surely to goodness the church needs to make a statement,” she said.

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