We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland
state files

Mother and baby homes believed to give Irish women 'every chance of keeping their secret'

A report into ‘destitute Irish girls’ investigated the problem of unmarried pregnant women travelling to England.

This article was first published on 14 July 2014. It is republished today following the discovery of a ‘significant number’ of human remains at one of these mother and baby homes – in Tuam, county Galway. 

A NUMBER OF National Archive documents that were recalled by the Department of Health some years ago paint a stark image of Ireland’s attitude towards unmarried mothers and their children in the past.

A request was submitted by to see the documents after it was discovered that a number of files were missing from the archive and had not yet been returned following the State inquiry into child sex abuse in the 1990s.

‘In trouble’

Among the archives is a letter from the Board of Public Assistance in one county to the health minister in the 1940s to tell him about two women “in trouble” and to seek a directive.

The letter stated that the pair had wanted to travel to England but that ”on inspection” it was discovered that one of the women was pregnant and refused travel to England on that basis.

The letter says that the woman then threatened to “commit suicide” if they would not give her leave to go to England. She also refused to go back her home county.

The letter also mentioned another pregnant woman who had already made her way to England but was returned to Ireland upon the discovery of her pregnancy.

She also refused to go back to her home county.

The board asked for the minister’s permission to place the girls in a Dublin “institution”.

Under the law at the time, local authorities ran institutions or mother and baby homes that many of these women were placed in. The board was asking the minister to allow the women, who were not residents of the Dublin district, to be placed in institutions in the capital instead of being sent back to an institution in their respective counties.

The correspondence highlights how the minister was not totally comfortable with the request, stating that the Dublin local authority would not be too pleased at having to take on the responsibility of the women as they were not from the jurisdiction.

Another report in the State files shows that an investigation into the number of Irish unmarried pregnant women travelling to England was undertaken in 1935.

The report finds that the number of Irish girls coming to England was “diminishing considerably”.

“Fallen women”

The report says that “first fallen” Irish women who were discovered in England should be sent back to Ireland.

These “destitute Irish girls” should be “repatriated” says the report.

In the “Memorandum on the provision for destitute unmarried women in Eire” it states that the Department of Local Government and Public Health “realise very fully the difficult experience in dealing with Irish girls who leave this country when pregnant and arrive in England more or less penniless…”

The report says that the women should be encouraged to return to Ireland as there are a “number of special homes for mothers of illegitimate children”.

The home should cover the needs of every woman in the Free State and are under the management of religious orders and supported by public funds.

It states that women in these homes are provided with “good training” and states there is no set time period for their stay. There is also a specific mention of laundry work.

No laundry work other than that for the institution is allowed to be done in the home… Suitable arrangements are made for the girl’s baby before she leaves…

It goes on to say:

The area covered by the home is suitably large to give a girl every chance of keeping her secret.

The report states that these homes are generally for “first fallen” women, meaning it is their first pregnancy. A list of registered maternity homes is attached to the report.

Read: Government reminded local authorities of their obligation to report infant deaths in mother and baby homes in 1946>

Read: Who will chair the mother-and-baby inquiry? The Minister’s been given a list of candidates>

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.