More than 150 “illegitimate” children under the age of one died in county homes and county hospitals in a one-year period in the 1940s official records from the time show.
The information is contained in a file held in the Department of Health which has details of infants born to unmarried mothers housed in institutions maintained by Public Assistance Authorities between 1946 and 1947. These authorities assisted the poor and provided for their food and lodgings.
The information comes amid calls for county homes to be included in the terms of reference of a forthcoming inquiry into mother and baby homes.
The records, which cover a one-year period to March 31st 1947, also detail 50 further deaths which occurred in two State-supported institutions in Dublin, St Patrick’s Home (formerly Pelletstown) and St Kevin’s Institution. Another 37 deaths were recorded in the Children’s Home in Tuam in 1946/47 (although more recent death records compiled by the General Register Office show that 47 deaths actually occurred in the home in this period).
In total 240 deaths were recorded in State-supported county homes, hospitals and mother and baby homes in the one-year period covered by the file.
The most commonly recorded causes of death among the infants were congenital debilities, accounting for 32 of the recorded deaths. They were also a contributory factor in four other deaths.
Marasmus, a form of acute malnutrition, was a contributory factor in 22 infant deaths while three deaths were due to malnutrition. In one instance the death of an infant in Offaly is attributed to “inanition...” (a weakness due to a lack of nutrition) “...from birth”.
Prematurity was recorded as the sole cause of death in 18 cases but there were 10 more instances where prematurity was listed as a contributory factor in infants’ deaths. This included the death of twins who died in Galway Central Hospital who were born premature and died with severe maternal toxaemia/eclampsia.
In the period between April 1946 and the end of March 1947 over 1,000 children were born to unmarried mothers in county homes, county hospitals and the two State-supported mother and baby homes, the records show.
A further 387 infants under the age of one were admitted to such institutions in the same time period bringing to over 1,400 the number of infants born to unmarried mothers who were housed in such institutions in the 12 month period. A total of 31 stillbirths involving unmarried mothers were recorded in public assistance authority institutions in the same time period.
Statistics on children born outside marriage in public assistance institutions were requested in a circular issued by the Department of Health in 1948. Returns were provided for 30 local authorities (figures for the local authority area covering Limerick city are not included in the records).
The Coalition of Mother and Baby home Survivors (CMABS) have been calling on the county homes to be included in the terms of reference of a forthcoming inquiry into mother and baby homes.
Spokeswoman Clodagh Malone, who was born in St Patrick’s Home in Dublin in 1970 said: “This is our one chance – our last chance to get justice and closure. Therefore the inquiry needs to be all inclusive”.