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'It was an era when we accepted what we were told'

RTÉ sports presenter Des Cahill was a cub reporter with 'The Kerryman' in 1984 and his news story about Baby John made the front page. He recalls a painful era when shame and embarrassment were dominant

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Frontpage of The Kerryman newspaper

Frontpage of The Kerryman newspaper

Des Cahill: the fallout was huge

Des Cahill: the fallout was huge

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Frontpage of The Kerryman newspaper

My memories are vivid. It was a sunny Sunday morning as a I sat with Sgt Paddy Reidy from Cahersiveen, waiting for the Assistant State Pathologist to come to the hospital in Killarney to examine the baby that had been found on the beach the night before.

We were chatting about how it was such an incredibly sad story, but neither of us had any idea of how great an impact it was to have on the county.

Having grown up in Dublin, I was shocked, and am still saddened, by the consequences of the search for the mother of the dead baby.

Reasonably enough, the gardaí began asking around if anybody knew of a woman who might have been pregnant, but didn't have a baby to show for it.

The fallout was huge. This was still the era when the Church was hugely influential, and pregnancy outside marriage was frowned upon by elements of conservative, rural Ireland.

Many young women were reported to ­gardaí. Some had indeed been pregnant but had gone to England for an abortion. Some were not pregnant, but gardaí still had to check out the reports. I was even told of a couple of women being reported who had simply put on weight.

Can you just imagine the impact of gardaí calling to a house, in relation to the finding of a dead baby in Cahersiveen? It caused huge pain and grief in some houses - ­especially where the young women had gone for an abortion and not told their families.

It also led to suspicion and falling out amongst rural neighbours over who had reported the women to the gardaí.

When I tell young adults now about the situation, they are appalled.

Isn't it horrific to stop and think of the pain and suffering caused to so many women and babies in our country, because of this dreadful culture of shame and embarrassment?

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The rumours and whispering campaign in Kerry increased when the garda focus eventually centred on Joanne Hayes (the young woman from Abbeydorney against whom charges were eventually dropped).

I remember the sense of shock I felt when told that Joanne's brothers had admitted driving out to West Kerry and throwing the baby into the sea (they later withdrew this). It was only weeks later that I wondered about the circumstances of the interview where they made that admission. My sense of shock increased tenfold, when I was later told that the mother had twins. They had just found another dead baby on the farm in North Kerry.

I immediately wondered why would they bury one baby on the farm, but then drive all the way out to West Kerry to throw another baby into the sea? It didn't really make sense to me. But the media never questioned anything. It was an era when we just accepted what we were told. Members of the Murder Squad in Dublin had been brought down to Kerry to work on the case. We then heard the "twins" had different blood types. Joanne and Jeremiah Locke (her partner and father of the other baby) were both blood type O, so could not be parents of the Cahirciveen baby.

But then the gardaí mentioned ­superfecundation. They suggested Joanne could have had sex with two different men in a short space of time, and twins could be born by different fathers.

I was a young reporter, with little knowledge of science or murder. When I reflect on the story now, I feel slightly ­embarrassed that we didn't ask more ­questions as the inquiry was continuing.

Most of all, I think about the impact of it all on the Hayes family.

I can't comprehend what they have been through. There was the trauma of the birth and dead baby, burying it, then the garda investigations, and subsequently the inquiry. Every intimate detail of Joanna's life was made public.

I have no doubt that 35 years later, the pain hasn't gone away.

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