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Call for inquiry into high mortality rates at mother and baby homes

Mortality rates in some mother and baby homes were as high 55 per cent during the 1940s, a new report claims.

Image: Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland

ADOPTION RIGHTS NOW (ARN), an Irish adoption support group,  have called for an immediate public inquiry into what they claim are “high mortality” rates at Catholic-run mothers and baby homes since the foundation of the State.

ARN believe that as many as 10,000 babies were neglected in various homes throughout the State, which may have ultimately lead to their death. A research document compiled by the group, entitled ‘Report into the history of adoption in Ireland since 1922′, shows that mortality rates for babies could have been as high as 55 per cent in some homes during the 1940s.

The report said the exact numbers of babies born who died both inside and outside of the mother and baby homes may never be known. It went on to say that 10,000 babies could have been “neglected” with  mortality rates  being “direct results of the nuns’ policies, practices, and attitudes towards unmarried mothers”.

The report examined figures for mortality rates at three separate Sacred Heart mother and baby homes: Sean Ross Abbey in Co Tipperary,  Bessborough in Cork and Castlepollard in Co Westmeath.

Mortality rates for three Sacred Heart mother and baby homes during (1944):

  • Bessborough Sacred Heart mother & baby home, Co Cork  – 44.6 per cent,
  • Sean Ross AbbeySacred Heart mother & baby home, Co. Tipperary – 33.7 per cent
  • Castlepollard Sacred Heart mother and baby home, Co. Westmeath – 9.1 per cent

Research carried out in Sean Ross Abbey by Maria Luddy, a Warwick University History professor, shows that the mortality rate for 120 babies born in 1930 was up to 50 per cent. Further figures provided by ARN at Sean Ross Abbey  show the mortality rate for the 174 babies born in 1945 was 27.6 per cent.

Figures provided for Bessborough show the home had a mortality rate of 55 per cent in one of the years of 1945 to 1948, according to records detailed by Dr James  Deeny, Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer at the time.  Deeny also noted that during one particular year,  when 180 babies were born, more than 100 of those may have died.

According to ARN,  there were 2,800 to 3,000 babies born at Castlepollard, with its graveyard containing at least 300 to upwards of 500 bodies, which they believe suggests a mortality rate of at least 10.7 per cent to 16.7 per cent over its 35-year lifespan.

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