Half the children housed in the institution died in 1925

Imagine an orphanage where news that the mortality rate for the last year was 19% was good news. That was the mother and baby home in Pelletstown in Dublin in 1930.

While fatalities had undeniably fallen, the fact remained that 66 – or almost one in five – of the 336 children housed in Pelletstown died in the year to March 31st, 1930.

Half the children housed in the institution died in 1925, with a measles epidemic cited as the explanation for the high death rate. The following year, more than a third died. The death rate rose to 42 per cent in 1927 before falling to under 20 per cent in 1930.

Between 1924 and 1930, 662 children died at the institution, an average of over 94 deaths a year. This compares to the 796 deaths recorded in the children’s home inTuam over a 36-year period between 1925 and 1960, an annual average of 22.

Frightening, isn’t it.

It’s not that the nuns were cutting the children’s heads off or anything. It’s the institutionalization and overcrowding.

“The deaths in these institutions are generally caused by an epidemic of some kind, measles, whooping cough, etc, which spreads quickly among the children and wipes out the weaklings,” the 1933-1934 local government report notes.

It says the “nurseries are laid out to accommodate too many children and the provision for isolation is not adequate”, before going on to list steps being taken to confine the size of nurseries in Tuam and Sean Ross Abbey.

This wasn’t a secret, but apparently no one could find the will or the money (or the will to find the money) to do anything about it.

The department of local government and public health was aware the death rate among children born to unmarried mothers was unacceptably high. In its report for 1927, the department refers to figures compiled by the registrar general for 1925 and 1926 showing the mortality rate among what it called “illegitimate” infants was five times the rate of those born within marriage. A third of those who died failed to reach their first birthday.

This was acknowledged in the reports as a “deplorable” loss of life.

“It is recognised that illegitimate infants are handicapped by constitutional and environmental disadvantages, which tend to have a heavy incidence of infant mortality, but even when allowance has been made for these adverse factors, the death-rate of such infants is still disproportionately high in view of the experience in other countries,” the report says.

Other countries did better, then. I wonder if that was because other countries didn’t hand babies born to single mothers over to the Catholic church.

It was never a good idea. The Catholic church has warped ideas on sex and sin, so it was bound to treat what it saw as the product of both with disgust and cruelty.


  1. AsqJames says

    “It is recognised that illegitimate infants are handicapped by constitutional and environmental disadvantages…”

    Neither of those sources of disadvantage follow naturally from birth outside of marriage. They only exist because the society they were born into treated them differently to other children. Whether or not you think their mothers have done anything wrong (I do not and I doubt anyone here would disagree), to accept as somehow normal the “handicapping” of thousands of children from birth is a horrific indictment of every person who actively or passively allowed such attitudes to continue.

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