Monday 20 November 2017

Nineteen to the dozen when Dohertys get together

Linda McGrory

IT is a long way from 2.4 children. Pensioner Mary Frances Doherty evokes a different era when she looks back at the joy and tribulations of raising a brood of 19 children.

Now, the 68-year-old, and her husband Harry (70), still enjoy a bustling home in Moville, Co Donegal, as they are also surrounded by 37 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Mary Frances, who married at the age of 17 and had her first baby 10 months later, became pregnant almost every year after that until she turned 42.

She puts her remarkable fertility down to a non-drinking, non-smoking lifestyle and the enduring love of her husband.

Mary Frances also has plenty of advice for new parents. "We never drank or smoked and I think that helped me get pregnant so many times. I always ate healthy food and plenty of fruit, especially when I was pregnant. I think that made the babies strong," she said.

The small family now dominates, with the standard being two to three children, according to a 2006 study from the ESRI examining the trends over the past 20 years. Just two generations previous, family sizes ranged up to eight or more children.


The Doherty family's offspring reads like a classroom roll-call, from Bernadette (51) down to Leonie (26).

Their offspring also provided a ready supply of employees for the family-run factory, Moville Clothing, one of the last surviving shirt plants in Co Donegal.

The 12th-born, Joe (37), said growing up in such a large family was hectic. "Meal times were done in shifts because the table wasn't big enough. The youngest ones were fed first, followed by the girls and then us boys. Our mother would never eat until we were all fed," he said.

"We had to get an extension built and then my father put a mobile home outside the house for the older boys to sleep in."

Despite living in a recession blackspot, just one of their siblings, Gemma (34), emigrated to the US, while Mary Majella (43) moved to Cork with her family.

Harry said the modern-day practice of fathers attending births was not for him. "I don't think men should be there and, anyway, I never wanted to see Mary Frances in pain," he said.

The couple said they had not considered turning to family planning even as they outgrew their three-bed council house.

"We never even thought about stopping after four, five or six children. I dearly love all of them," Mary Frances said.

"I never used the pill or anything -- I'm a natural, country woman," she joked.

Irish Independent

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