The Kerry Babies’ case showed Irish attitudes to unwed mothers in the 1980s

The Kerry Babies’ case showed Irish attitudes to unwed mothers in the 1980s
File Photo Government files from 1985 released today under the 30-year rule reveal that the Garda Commissioner of the day was critical of parts of the force’s investigation into the Kerry babies

Papers reveal behind the scenes despair at Garda investigation

The Kerry Babies affair – the discovery of the seriously injured body of a newborn baby boy with stab wounds in the heart, and a fractured spine on White Strand near Cahersiveen in Co Kerry on 14 April 1984 – gives a snapshot of Ireland as it was in 1984 and 1985 and of official Irish attitudes towards women.

Irish State Papers released last week reveal that the then Garda Commissioner Larry Wren was privately severely critical of the police investigation into the case.

The papers also show that the Fine Gael Labour government of the knew the tribunal of inquiry it established in 1984) to explore the case was not guaranteed to get all the answers it sought. A memo to the cabinet said it would at least bring the facts of what happened out into to the open so people could make up their own minds. On 1 May local woman Joanne Hayes was charged with the murder.

The Kerry Babies’ case showed Irish attitudes to unwed mothers in the 1980s
Ban garda Ursula O Regan on her way to the Kerry Babies Tribunal

But the following day the body of another infant was found on the Hayes’ family farm in Abbeydorney, some 50 miles away. The two babies had different blood groups. The tribunal into the case concluded that Ms Hayes was not the mother of the Cahersiveen baby.

In October 1984 Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges against Ms Hayes and the government’s public inquiry was established. Former gardaí have for years called for DNA tests to try to trace the parents of the newborn infant ‘Baby John’.

Chief Superintendent John Courtney (R), head of the Garda Murder Squad, with sergeant Gerry O'Carroll at Dublin Castle During the Kerry Babies Tribunal of Enquiry. 1985
Chief Superintendent John Courtney (R) with sergeant Gerry O’Carroll 

Pat Mann, solicitor for Joanne Hayes who was wrongly believed to be the baby’s mother, said they would welcome any forensic testing. The Kerry solicitor also appealed for anyone with information about Baby John to come forward. The infant’s grave has been repeatedly attacked over the past 20 years.

The grave bears the inscription: “I am the Kerry Baby baptised 14-04-1984, named John, and I forgive.” “I believe that the one thing which could help resolve this matter is that if someone with information on Baby John came forward,” said Mr Mann.

• Thirty years after huge public inquiry case still unsolved
• Irish papers show Garda commissioner critical of original investigation
• Lawyer for woman at centre calls for new witnesses, DNA tests


Ireland feared it would fail UN women’s tests

Meanwhile Irish State papers released last week show that five years before Ireland elected a woman as President for the first times there were concerns in 1985 that Ireland would have some difficulty signing up to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The advice to government was that efforts must be made to ensure women in rural areas had access to adequate health care, including family planning services.

But there was less concern about women being refused membership of golf clubs. This was, the Department of Foreign Affairs concluded, not an issue of human rights or fundamental freedoms.



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