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The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co. Donegal, Republic of Ireland

In 1982, a hostel housing up to ten unmarried mothers and their babies was opened at The Castle, Newtowncunningham, Co. Donegal. It was established following discussions between the North Western Health Board (NWHB) and the Derry Diocesan Child Welfare Society about the need for such a facility in the north-west area (Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo). In 1978, to house the scheme, the NWHB bought the Castle for £48,000, with a further £17,000 expended on fees and repairs. The Catholic dioceses of Raphoe and Derry each contributed £10,000 to the capital cost. A management committee to run the hostel was formed with a representatives from each diocese and three from the NWHB.

The project ran into a number of difficulties. Extensive repairs to the roof and other changes to the interior delayed the opening. There were also difficulties in recruiting a suitable person to run the hostel. The position of hostel supervisor was advertised in July 1979. The successful candidate was required to be a qualified nurse and midwife. They were to be be a good organiser and administrator with the ability to foster and maintain a homely atmosphere in the Hostel. A self-contained flat was provided with the post. In December 1981, it was decided to appoint a housekeeper rather than a midwife. The Castle officially opened on 7 December 1982 and the first resident arrived that day.

Between 1982 and 2006 395 women entered the Castle. They were accompanied on entry by 94 children. There was a general policy of not accepting women until they were at least six months pregnant but exceptions were made for particular circumstances. A few of those admitted were not pregnant, mainly young girls whose foster arrangements had broken down. There was also a general policy that women could remain for six weeks after the birth even if the baby was not with them, although women rarely stayed that long. The babies were born in maternity hospitals — mainly Letterkenny Hospital and Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry.

Almost all of the women would have had an income. A small number were working while staying at the Castle. They travelled by bus to Letterkenny or Derry for work. Some were entitled to Maternity Benefit. A small number were on maternity leave from work where full payment was made by their employer (for example, public servants).

Standard medical care was provided for the residents. The women were taken to doctors or the hospital for regular ante-natal care. Nurses called at the Castle to take blood pressures. Local doctors and doctors in Letterkenny hospital spoke to the women about contraception. Women were brought to doctors and the hospital for post-natal visits. The children were brought for vaccinations. Doctors were called when required.

The Castle staff were very sympathetic towards the women and probably did more for them than was envisaged when the hostel was established. They were very attentive to the needs of the women, particularly as they approached their due date. On one occasion a staff member talked to an upset resident until 3 a.m. Constant supervision was provided for a mother with an intellectual disability. Staff stayed overnight because of a concern that a mother was abusing her child. A woman who alleged that she had been raped was taken to a Garda station. The staff monitored the women and ensured that they got to hospital for the birth. Taxis were used to bring women to the hospital but sometimes a staff member drove the woman. On occasions, a staff member stayed with the woman while she gave birth. They frequently visited the women when they went into hospital and/or spoke to them on the phone during this time. The staff took the women and children on outings, for example, to the beach.

Between 1997 and 2000, the Castle building switched to use a children's home and for access visits by fostered children to their mothers. During this time, the mother and baby hostel was in a house in Letterkenny but moved back to the Castle in 2000.

The Castle was closed in 2006. The building no longer exists and the housing of Castle Park now covers the site.

In January 2021, Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation made its final report, which included an examination of the operation of The Castle.


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