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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 22 June 2021

Over 222 children died in Bethany Home but 1939 report says they appeared 'happy'

One child was taken to hospital with severe whooping cough, conjunctivitis and infected feet.

Bethany infants unmarked graves.
Bethany infants unmarked graves.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE BETHANY HOME in Rathgar was inspected on two occasions in the 1939 after a child removed from the home was in need of “urgent hospital treatment”.

The child was taken from the Bethany Home by the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society and taken to Loughlinstown Hospital. Reports into the matter state that the child was “very ill”.


The Rathdown Board of Assistance reported that the child was suffering from severe whooping cough and conjunctivitis, where fluid was leaking from his eyes. The report states that his feet were severely cyanosed, whereby the feet had a bluish discolouration of the skin and fingernails.

The report said:

…the boy was in such bad condition that no foster mother would take him.

The details into the inspections of Bethany Home, a protestant-run mother and baby home on Dublin’s Orwell Road, are contained in state files from the National Archive that have been seen by TheJournal.ie. The documents are currently in the care of the Department of Health, who withdrew the files during the inquiry into child abuse in the 1990s.

A newspaper report in The Irish Independent states that the Chairman of the Rathdown Board of Assistance commented on the matter in which the child was removed from the home, calling it an “epidemic”.

The board sent out their own supervising officer to inspect the home and to determine “where the children had come from”. It was decided that the whole matter would be reported to the Department of Local Government and Public Health.

This was not the first time concerns about the welfare of children in the home had been raised. Other state files show that there were a number of children who came to the attention of the authorities at the home.


The Rathdown Board of Assistance also mentions another child who was taken to hospital after he was “badly scalded” while another makes reference to the children being in a “very low condition” where another child’s “dirty nappy was not changed for some time”.

An inspection was carried out to determine the conditions in the home.

The home was found to be we “clean and comfortable” and not over crowded, said the inspector. “The children are cared for and appear to be happy and well fed,” states the report.

The report also finds that “several” children were suffering from impetigo, a highly contagious bacterial infection on the surface layers of the skin which causes sores and blisters. These children were put in isolation, said the report.

It is well recognised that a large number of illegitimate children are delicate and marasmic (malnourished) from their birth and if removed from consistent medical supervision and nursing attention would deteriorate quickly…

A follow up report was also filed a few months later said that conditions had improved since the previous report.

Despite these inspections being carried out in 1939, children continued to die, with death records up until 1949 showing that children died of malnutrition; convulsions; ‘delicacy’; meningitis; German measles; syphilis; ‘general debility’; and heart failure.

Catholic girls

The state files show that the Local Goverment and Public Health Department were aware of the number of complaints being made against the home. A report into the home in October 1939 states:

Complaints against Bethany Home are largely due to the fact they take in Roman Catholic girls for their confinement and keep them and their children subsequently. This practice is most undesirable as the home and its environment are definitely Protestant. This being so, the effects must be detrimental to these girls who are deprived teachings of their church…

In light of such reaction against the practice of taking in Catholic girls to the home, in October 1939 the managing committee of the home voted in favour of a resolution not to accept Catholic women to the home.

Originally Posted 07:10

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