Kerry babies timeline: Two arrested almost 40 years after death of ‘Baby John’

Arrests in Munster on Thursday mark new chapter in case, which previously led to a State apology to wrongly accused woman

April 14th, 1984: The body of a baby boy is discovered on White Strand beach in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. The infant had 28 stab wounds. He is named “Baby John”.

May 1984: Joanne Hayes is arrested by gardaí in connection with the death of the child, while her family is accused of concealing the birth of a child. Investigating gardaí from Dublin had learned Ms Hayes, who lived 80km away in Abbeydorney, had been in hospital apparently after a lengthy pregnancy but with no sign of a baby.

October 1984: All charges against Ms Hayes and her family are dropped. They accuse gardaí of having forced them to make false confessions. It transpired that Ms Hayes had told gardaí she had given birth to a child, Shane, who was stillborn or died shortly after birth. He had been buried on the family farm around the same time as the body was found on the beach. Shane’s remains were subsequently located.

Late 1984: A tribunal of inquiry, known as the Kerry Babies Tribunal, is established to investigate how Ms Hayes was charged with murder and her family with concealment. It was conducted by Mr Justice Kevin Lynch. During the process, likened by some to a “witch hunt”, the young woman was asked thousands of questions, many regarding her sex life.


1985: After Ms Hayes, then 25, is publicly cross-examined over five days on the stand, the tribunal’s report mostly exonerates gardaí and finds Ms Hayes was not the mother of the baby on the beach. However, it makes other claims against Hayes and her family, which the family says are untrue, not supported by any evidence and purely speculative.

2017: Ms Hayes is ruled out as the child’s mother following a DNA test.

2018: Some 35 years after the fact, Ms Hayes receives apologies over her treatment from then taoiseach Leo Varadkar on behalf of the State, and then acting Garda commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáinon behalf of the force. An Garda Síochána announces a review into the death of Baby John.

Restating the apology, Supt Flor Murphy said: “On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I would like to sincerely apologise to Ms Hayes for that, as well as the awful stress and pain she has been put through as a result of the original investigation into this matter, which fell well short of the required standards.”

December 2020: Ms Hayes and her family secure declarations from the courts and the State that all findings of wrongdoing made against them by the tribunal were unfounded and incorrect. The family receives a €2.5 million damages pay out.

September 2021: The remains of Baby John are exhumed from Holy Cross Cemetery in Cahersiveen in order to extract a DNA sample. While one had been taken during a postmortem in 1984, gardaí needed a larger sample to make the most of advances in technology. “We believe people are out there who have not yet come forward,” Supt Flor Murphy, who headed the investigation, said in a public appeal.

March 23rd, 2023: Two people, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s, are arrested in the Munster region on suspicion of the murder of Baby John.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter