St Patrick's Home and Eglinton House, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

St Patrick's Mother and Baby Home occupied premises on Navan Road, Pelletstown, at the north side of Dublin's Phoenix Park, where Kempton Avenue now stands. The premises were originally the workhouse school of the South Dublin Poor Law Union. The school site is shown on the 1907 map below.

South Dublin workhouse school site, 1907.

In 1910, the operation of the school was taken over by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. In 1919, in the wake of the merger of Dublin's North and South unions, the Pelletstown site took on a broader role. It was to cater for all mothers and infants; motherless children; all healthy children under the age of five; and all sick children such as the medical officers considered would be suitably treated there. It was at this point that it began to become a home for mothers and babies, though not necessarily confined to unmarried mothers, and adopted the name of the St Patrick's Home.

Up until 1931, the Dublin Board of Guardians continued to administer the former South Dublin Union workhouse (renamed St Kevin's Hospital) at James's Street, as well as the former North Dublin workhouse at North Brunswick Street and its children's home, which was also on Navan Road. During this period, entrants to St Patrick's were initially received at St Kevin's, where there a nursery and crèche were provided for mothers and children pending their being sent to St Patrick's after delivery of the baby.

In 1931, the Board of Guardians was replaced by the Dublin Board of Assistance. In 1935, a maternity hospital was opened at St Patrick's. In the same year, the Board of Assistance adopted a proposal whereby it would lease the St Patrick's premises to the Sisters, who would then be paid the weekly sum of !2s. 6d. for each mother and each infant in residence. The Sisters would then have much greater autonomy of the running of the home and would also admit applicants directly without them first having to be received at James's Street.

Prior to the 1970s, the mothers slept in two large dormitories: St Mary's had fifty beds and St Brigid's thirty-three, neither offering privacy of any kind. The dormitories were then divided into cubicles, each fitted with a bed, chair, wardrobe, cupboard with mirror, and over-bed light.

Eglinton House

St Patrick's was closed in 1985 and its operation transferred to new premises provided by the Eastern Health Board at Eglinton House, 75 Eglinton Road, Dublin 4. It was to be run by two of the three Sisters from St Patrick's. The Sisters would provide day care but not live in the house, lay nurses being employed to provide the night services. The new home, a three-storey semi-detached house in an upmarket suburb, opened in January 1986 and was a very different institution to St Patrick's. It provided places for up to thirteen expectant and new mothers and five nursery places for unaccompanied babies. The homes was managed by the Daughters of Charity until 1997. Some of the women at Eglinton House moved to use the nearby Belmont Flatlets, which were opened by the Sisters in 1980.

The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation

In January 2021, Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation made its final report, which included a detailed investigation of the conditions and treatment experienced by the women and children at St Patrick's.

  • A total of 15,382 women and 18,829 children were resident at St Patrick's and Eglinton House between 1920 and 1998.
  • Of the children admitted 5,888 or 31% were unaccompanied by a parent, with some of these children recorded as 'foundlings' or 'abandoned'.
  • There were 3,615 deaths among infants and children with the leading causes of death overall being non-specific at 19% of cases, which included congenital debility and prematurity, respiratory infections were responsible for 19% of deaths and gastroenteritis 16%.
  • The highest infant mortality rate at the home was recorded in 1920, at 50%. It fluctuated during the 1920s between 23% and 36% before increasing to 41% in 1937 but had dropped to 2% by 1954.
  • 2,048 children (59% of the total) were unaccompanied at the time of death and 1,423 children (41%) were accompanied by their mother at the time of death.
  • Physical conditions in the home were generally poor, with the building generally dilapidated and in need of improvement, repair of redecoration.
  • In 1950, it was reported that there were just four toilets for 140 mothers. Some wards and dormitories were overcrowded, while the ward where babies slept was too large and too noisy.
  • The leading cause of death of infants in the 1960s was spina bifida. The Commission's report notes a peak of unaccompanied children being admitted at this time, after the government decided that children with disabilities should no longer be housed for extended periods in state-run county homes.
  • After adoption was legalised in 1952, it became the most common pathway out for children, with 42% going through legal adoption. A further 27% of children left the institution with their mother or returned to the family home, while 24% went to another institution. A total of 367 children were sent for foreign adoption from St Patrick's, with 90% of these going to the United States and 7% to Great Britain.
  • The 1970s were the busiest period for the home, with admissions for mothers peaking at 415 in 1971. They then decreased, with a dramatic fall in 1984 to 109 from 197 the previous year. The average mother's age was 23, with nearly three-quarters being categorised as domestic servant or unskilled worker, but 14% were professional. Around 30% were on their second or third pregnancy.
  • Most women, 59%, left the institution and returned to the family home or other private address with 26% being "discharged to employment".

A former resident during the mid-1970s told the Commission that life in St Patrick's was very disciplined; the whole institution was spotless; everyone had different jobs to do and there was no opportunity to engage in any recreation, exercise or education. She was allocated work in the nursery looking after babies and feeding them a few times a day; there were six women working in the nursery and about 20 babies and the nuns also helped. The oldest child she remembers was eight or nine months. Mass every day was compulsory. She remembers being very cold. All the women lived in cubicles which were just big enough to dry their clothes. They were given just about enough basic food; there was a shop where you could buy things but she did not have any money. Washing facilities were very poor; clothes were hand washed; there was no laundry equipment except for a very small spinner. She did not feel free to come and go but does remember going to the city centre with other residents. The doors were locked day and night; the windows in the cubicles were so high up that they could not see out. Some had family visits but she did not. She said that she received very little ante-natal care. Her blood pressure was not monitored. She saw a doctor once a month. She was told nothing about giving birth. Labour was 'horrendous'; she was left alone for most of the time. She was not given any pain relief or medical treatment. Eventually a doctor from another hospital was brought in and gave her an anaesthetic. She said she had a symphysiotomy but did not know this at the time.98 She bottle-fed the baby every four hours but not during the night; she left five days after the baby was born. She said that no one ever discussed the adoption process with her.

In response to the Commission's report, the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Mícheál Martin said the report, described a 'dark, difficult and shameful chapter' of Irish history for which the government would apologise.

Records

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Bibliography