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Shocking infanticide cases in Mayo
A view of Garden Street in Ballina where the bodies of the two dead infants have been discovered Photo: National Library of Ireland, LROY 07404

Shocking infanticide cases in Mayo

Gruesome discovery of two babies’ bodies under a mattress

Ballina, 14 May 1913 - Mary McDonagh, a widow and publican from Ballina, Co. Mayo has been charged with the murder of two infants at her home.

Police searching Mrs. McDonagh’s house this week found the bodies of two infants. One of the bodies was found in a small parcel concealed between two matresses in a bedroom and was in a mummified state. It is thought to have been there for two years and the cause of death is unknown.

The second body was also found between the mattresses, wrapped in a red cloth. The infant had been dead for four weeks and the cause of death was asphyxia.

The gruesome discovery of the bodies came when Kate Stokes, a domestic servant who worked in the house, was making Mrs. McDonagh’s bed. Ms. Stokes told an Inquest into the two deaths that when she had asked Mrs. McDonagh about what she had found, there had been no reply. The Inquest was adjourned for a time when a Juror fainted – and was then discharged from duty – on hearing the evidence in the case.

The discovery of the two dead infants in Mrs. McDonagh’s house came as an Inquest was held in the town into another case of apparent infanticide. A young boy playing in a field near the town found the dead-body of a newly-born infant in a coal-bag. Evidence was provided at the Inquest that the child had been born alive twelve hours before it was discovered and that death was due to want of care at birth or from exposure.

The incidents in Ballina come in the same week as another case in Tullamore, Co. Offaly where a young woman was also charged with killing her child. Anne Hickey, wife of a labourer named James Hickey, was charged with killing her three months old daughter, also named Anne, by throwing her in the Grand Canal. An Inquest in Tullamore heard that the young mother had most likely been suffering from post-natal mania, with a local doctor claiming that the woman was not in a fit state to have care of a child

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.