The case of the Kerry babies

Opinion: Unanswered questions remain

Joanne Hayes

Joanne Hayes

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 00:01

Thirty years ago this month, two tragedies set off a chain of events leading to the Kerry babies case, gripping national attention and putting the spotlight on the place of women in Irish society, sexual mores and the conduct of An Garda Síochána.

Joanne Hayes, approaching her 25th birthday, gave birth late on the night of April 12th, 1984, in what later became controversial circumstances, to a son who did not survive. The infant would later become known as the Abbeydorney baby, named after the north Kerry village close to the Hayes family farm.

Some 75 kilometres away, at the other side of the county, the body of a baby, who had died from stab wounds to the heart, was washed up in the White Strand, near Caherciveen on April 14th, 1984. The murdered infant would become known as the Caherciveen baby.

The fallout would lead to a judicial tribunal, revealing an Ireland largely unrecognisable today.

Thirty years ago, Ireland was a very different place. Contraceptives were available only on prescription for bona fide family planning and health purposes; there was no divorce; homosexuality was illegal. The Catholic Church was still a powerful institution, the scandals that would erode its authority some years away.

A comparison between the Ireland of 1984 and today would suggest that the Kerry babies case could not happen again, although An Garda Síochána remains under intense scrutiny. The tribunal would not today be as male dominated as it was 30 years ago and somebody in Hayes’s situation would not be subjected to what was criticised at the time as intrusive and detailed questioning about her personal life.

In 1984, Joanne Hayes worked as a receptionist at the Tralee sports centre and lived with her mother, sister, two brothers and an aunt on the family farm. She was pregnant for the third time in a relationship with a married man.

Her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage in June 1982; in August, she became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter, who lived with her and the family in Abbeydorney.

According to Joanne Hayes, she gave birth, at the end of her third pregnancy, in a field on the farm after midnight about 30 yards from the farmhouse. She said she pulled out the baby by the neck, gripping the umbilical cord firmly in her hands and breaking it.

She did not think the baby was alive. She placed the infant, and the afterbirth, in a bundle of hay and returned to the house. The baby was dead.

She returned to the field at dawn, put the body in a paper bag and then a plastic bag and placed it in a small nearby pool under an overgrown ditch beside a tree.

She was later admitted to Tralee hospital, where she denied to a gynaecologist she had given birth.

Signed statement
The then elite Garda murder squad, led by Supt John Courtney, veteran of several high-profile cases, was called in to investigate the murder of the Caherciveen baby.

Under questioning, Joanne Hayes signed a statement saying that she had killed her baby in the house. Members of the family signed statements about dumping the body of the baby in the sea off the Dingle Peninsula. Gardaí would later strenuously deny allegations by the Hayes family that they were coerced into making the statements.

An offer from Joanne Hayes to show gardaí the location of the body of her baby on the farm in Abbeydorney, which she said would prove she was not the mother of the Caherciveen baby, was refused.

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