The news that gardaí had arrested a couple as part of their investigation into the death of a five-day-old baby found in Co Kerry almost four decades ago was greeted with a complex set of emotions in Cahersiveen.
The killing of “Baby John”, whose body was found on White Strand near Cahersiveen on April 14th, 1984, has always haunted the local community. The arrests on Thursday night of a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s have brought the tragedy to the surface again. The woman was released without charge on Friday.
“I would say that it’s the first response I get from well over half the people I meet when they hear I am from Cahersiveen – for so many people around the country, Baby John, the Kerry Baby, is sadly what they associate with the town,” said one local who did not wish to be named.
For many locals the news revisited a wound that has never closed.
Parish priest Fr Larry Kelly has ministered in Cahersiveen for 10 years and he said he hoped the arrests would bring closure as well as justice for Baby John. He also counselled against judgment and urged compassion in a homily at the Daniel O’Connell church in the town.
“The breaking news today is about Baby John. Hopefully, this breakthrough will bring a conclusion to this case and justice will be served for Baby John. There is a lot of sadness and grief in south Kerry about this case, which is understandable, about anything that remains without a conclusion.”
Kerry Babies: 'There's no good end to this'
Fr Kelly asked people to remember Joanne Hayes, who had been wrongly accused of the murder, and her family and all the pain and suffering they had experienced.
“Society in the 80s was very different to our society today. People were more judgmental. There was a lot of shame and fear and moral judgment. There was very little help available or places to go for help or advice in those days,” he said.
“Thank God, life has changed from those dark days of shame and guilt. I would say ‘judge not, and you shall not be judged’. We all have done wrong in our lives and so let’s leave it to God to heal all the hurts and all the wounds around this case.”
Local Fianna Fáil Cllr Norma Moriarty said people were surprised to hear of the arrests.
“Every part of this cold case has come as a surprise because they have run a very tight ship and been very professional so there was no indication there was going to be arrests made so it certainly has shocked people and certainly surprised them that these arrests were made,” she said.
[ ‘Kerry Babies’ case: Woman released without charge after arrest over 1984 killing ]
[ Kerry babies case: Today, Joanne Hayes trial would be laughed out of court. Back then ... ]
Ms Moriarty said people viewed the killing of Baby John as a tragedy on several levels, including the fact that it led to a grievous and shameful wrong being done to Joanne Hayes and her family.
“It’s an awful case for those reasons and I think people have a real sense of whoever was involved in this, they have gone through 40 years of prolonged suffering in many respects ... there is that kind of sense of real sadness around it.
“And there has been a patience with the gardaí and their investigation too and that’s because there is a belief that an answer does need to be found for the sake of the child, Baby John, and there is a sincere sense of that this child’s life was ended in a really horrific way,” she said.
The postmortem on Baby John by then State Pathologist, Dr John Harbison, found that the infant had suffered multiple stab wounds.