Friday 21 November 2014

The Kerry Babies Case: The shocking scandal and tragedy that divided the nation and the mystery that was never solved

Thirty years ago a trail of disturbing facts began to emerge in the south west that raised troubling questions about the treatment of women in Irish society... and changed the life of Joanne Hayes forever. Joe O'Shea reports

'John', The Kerry Baby, in Cahersiveen Cemetary in Kerry
'John', The Kerry Baby, in Cahersiveen Cemetary in Kerry
In the eye of the storm: Joanne Hayes with her mother and family as the whole country became engulfed in a story that seemed to represent a fight for the soul of Catholic Ireland
Joanne at time of the controversy
Lover: Jeremiah Locke, the man Joanne was having an affair with at the time of the controversy
Joanne Hayes answers her door in Abbeydorney, Co Kerry, in 2009
Jeremiah Locke at his home near Ballymacelligott Tralee, Co Kerry, in 2012

It is only 30 years ago. But a look back at three cases involving three very different Irish women in 1984 reveals an Ireland that is both unrecognisable and strangely familiar.

In January of that year, schoolgirl Ann Lovett was found, close to death, lying next to a Marian shrine on a hill-top in Granard, Co Longford. The body of the baby she had just given birth to, a stillborn infant boy, was wrapped in her school coat next to her. The 15-year-old who had kept her pregnancy a secret, died shortly afterwards.

It was the year a teacher called Eileen Flynn lost another appeal against her dismissal from a Catholic School in New Ross, Co Wexford. She was fired after the school authorities had learnt that she was pregnant with an "illegitimate" child. The father was a local publican who was married, though separated.

Ms Flynn fought her case all of the way to the High Court, where she finally lost in March 1985.

While dismissing Ms Flynn's appeal in the Circuit Court, Judge Noel Ryan observed that the nuns had been too lenient with her. The judge pointed out that elsewhere in the world, women were condemned to death for this sort of offence. Not, Judge Ryan added, that he agreed with that sort of thing. Bank of Ireland had previously refused to set up an account for donations to support Ms Flynn's legal battle.

And in Kerry, starting in April 1984, a tragic, disturbing series of events centred on the bodies of two infants would become known as the Kerry Babies Case and raise fundamental questions about the treatment of women in Irish society.

Two dead newborn babies were found in Kerry in April 1984. The first was that of a baby boy with multiple stab wounds found on the White Strand in Cahirciveen. Two weeks later, the body of another baby boy was uncovered on the family farm of a local girl, Joanne Hayes, at Abbeydorney.

In the intervening weeks, gardai had drawn up a list of local women suspected of being pregnant or who had recently left the area; the list included women in a local home for unmarried mothers or who had been involved in relationships that had recently broken up. Similar lists also included "hippies" and "tinkers" who may have been in the area.

Local gardaí, and detectives from the Murder Squad in Dublin who had taken the unusual step of travelling to Kerry to help the investigation, at first suspected the Cahirciveen baby belonged to Ms Hayes.

Joanne and her family were brought in for extensive interrogation and signed statements which apparently backed the garda theory.

However, charges against Joanne Hayes were dropped after it emerged the blood group of the Cahirciveen baby was different to that of Ms Hayes, the married man, Jeremiah Locke, with whom she was having an affair and the other baby, found at the family farm. Hayes had admitted to giving birth to the baby on the farm, saying it had died shortly afterwards and she had hidden the body.

The identity of the Cahirciveen baby, found on the strand and christened John by the local undertaker, has never been established. In 2010, the baby's grave was badly vandalised, the headstone was smashed with what may have been a sledgehammer.

As the case against Joanne Hayes effectively collapsed under the weight of forensic and scientific fact, the investigating detectives stuck to their guns, putting forward a very complex theory, which attempted to prove the babies were twins by different fathers.

A Tribunal of Enquiry was set up to examine the handling of the case by gardaí. Its findings included a mild rebuke for some of the policemen (accused of "gilding the lily").

Today, Don Buckley says they could not have written the story if it wasn't for contacts and sources – including whistleblowers – they had established while writing previous stories about garda activities.

"Joe and myself got the story because we had sources and contacts and they told us that something was happening in Cahirciveen."

The two journalists covered the initial stages of the tribunal in Tralee. And Buckley remembers one particular night in the Brandon Hotel, which revealed a lot about local attitudes.

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