Kilkenny council apologises over mother-and-baby home

Kilkenny County Council has apologised to survivors and their relatives of the Kilkenny County Home, one of the institutions criticised last week by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters.

Hundreds of women and their children went through the council-owned county home in Thomastown – now St Columba’s Hospital – between the 1920s and 1960s and endured conditions described as “very poor”.

The women themselves were often put working as domestic staff in the home, unpaid, with duties including caring for elderly and infirm residents who lived alongside them.

Over half of the women who lived there lost a child either in the home, or outside it, during the period examined by the Commission.

During the period 1922-1960, 764 live births were attributed to “single women” and 140 infants died.

At its meeting yesterday, Kilkenny County Council unanimously agreed to provide an “appropriate memorial” to the people buried behind the main hospital building, known locally as the Shank Yard.

Survivors and their relatives will be invited to make suggestions regarding the memorial.

More on mother-and-baby homes

“Furthermore,” the council said in a motion put forward by Cathaoirleach Andrew Mc~Guinness, “Kilkenny County Council apologises to the survivors and relatives of the mothers and babies who resided there for the pain and suffering caused to them and their loved ones by the treatment they received at the facility while it was under the control of the council for the period up until 1970.”

The apology follows last week’s State apology issued by Taoiseach Micheál Martin to all former residents of the Mother and Baby Home institutions.

“There is no way,” the council added in its motion, “to undo the wrecking of thousands of lives or to erase the damage done to the reputation of our country. No words can explain the actions or inactions from State or Church, and nothing can undo this horrendous disregard for humanity.

“What happened in these Mother and Babies homes, locally at the County Home in Thomastown, happened while our institutions and trusted leaders turned a blind eye. It has tarnished the heart and soul of our country and has given us all a sense of shame.

“We accept that apologies are only words and cannot undo the past, but it is an acknowledgement of our deep regret that this ever happened in our country and indeed our county. It is a humble acknowledgment of the extreme lack of humanity towards mothers and babies while they were in these homes and the abject failure of our State to protect them. Specifically, this apology is an acknowledgment that Kilkenny County Council was part of that failure and we, as elected representatives are deeply ashamed of that fact.”

Seconding in the motion, Cllr Mary Hilda Cavanagh said it was “harrowing” to think that women and children endured such suffering within the county and throughout the country and further afield.

Cllr. Maria Dollard, speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, Green Party and independents, said “we cannot change the past but we can change the future”.

The commission’s report said that, in 1925, 58 infants were sharing 32 cots during an inspection at the time, and there were “no significant improvements” in conditions for decades afterwards. Laundry was done by hand by the women, without disinfecting facilities, electrical sockets, or heating and with no sanitary equipment in the labour ward.

Infant mortality at Thomastown peaked at 30% in 1927, dropping by the 1950s.

While many records believed to include burial registers from the period between 1920 and the 1960s were since incinerated, the commission found in a visit to the site in 2019 that the burial area was well-maintained, with a single cross marking its status as a former graveyard, with the inscription “Remembering those who died”.