A total of 177 children who lived at the Kilkenny County Home in Thomastown between 1922 and 1960 died, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission found.

Over half of the mothers who lived there (54%) during that time experienced the death of at least one child, with a quarter of those deaths taking place outside the County Home.

Some records relating to the home were incinerated about 30 years ago, including burial registers, but a visit to the grounds in 2019 by the commission found that the former graveyard was well-kept, with a single cross commemorating those buried there.

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

In most cases, the cause of death was listed as "inanition," which is defined as "severe weakness and wasting as occurs from lack of food, defect in assimilation or neoplastic disease" while other causes of death included heart disease, convulsion, gastric ulcer, meningitis, pneumonia and, in one case, a fractured skull.

Meanwhile, of 477 children admitted to the county home after birth, 37 died.

Living conditions at the Thomastown facility were "very poor," with the nursery section the worst part of the institution. The home was formerly a workhouse and is now St Columba's Hospital and used as a public nursing home.

Between 1922 and 1960, mothers and children made up one section of the population of county homes throughout the country, which were controlled by local authorities.

Most of the residents were older or infirm people, or suffering from physical or mental disability or a mental illness, with the unmarried mothers carrying out most of the work including looking after some of the older residents, unpaid.

Some women were not sent on to other homes, such as Sean Ross in Roscrea or Bessborough in Cork, because they were "needed" in the county home in Thomastown, according to the commission.

Most county homes didn’t employ domestic staff so unmarried women were given "onerous duties" essential to the running of the homes and continued to carry out unpaid work in these institutions until the early 1960s.

In 1925, 58 infants were sleeping in 32 cots in Thomastown and the Commission found there were "no significant improvements" for several decades.

There were eight baths, 16 WCs and 16 hand-basins in the home in 1946, shared by 250 men, women and children, with the baths seldom having hot water.

The laundry was done by hand, with no disinfecting facilities, no electrical sockets or heating or sanitary equipment in the labour ward.

The Department of Health deferred the installation of central heating in 1949, giving priority to hospitals and sanitoria.

Infant mortality at the home was worst in the 1920s, peaking in 1927 at a rate of 30%. The average death rate in the 1930s was 11%; in the 1940s it was 15.4%; and mortality dropped by the 1950s, with no infant deaths in 1953 or 1954.

The worst year for infant mortality at Thomastown was 1922, when 20 children born in the institution, or admitted there, died.

According to the institutional medical officer at the time, the high infant mortality rate was due to "careless and indifferent mothering," and because "mothers are not sufficiently careful in giving the infants nourishment".

However, a local government inspector found the nurse section was overcrowded, home to 35 women and 35 infants at the time; understaffed and "the worst part of the institution".

There was also a practice of removing the infants from the nursery at night and placing them in an unheated dormitory, passing through an open yard on the way.

In 1942, an 18-month-old girl fell 30 feet to her death at the home, after sitting on a ledge at an unfastened window. The girl’s mother told an inquest that she was in the habit of sitting her child on the window ledge and didn’t realise it was unfastened.

In 1932, statements were taken by an inspector from some of those living in the home and some of the women referred to the father of their child.

One woman said that "Mr M" worked for the county council, on the roads, while another said "Mr R" was a baker. Another said "Mr D" was the father of her child and he used to watch for her on the road as she was going home from the shop. "He induced me to cross over a ditch on the roadside more than once."

A visiting committee reported on the Thomastown county home in 1945 and found that 60 or 70 men were in the dining hall and eating "meagre" rations including meat which contained "large lumps of fat that in any home would be diverted to the offal for dogs and pigs".

There were 12 or 14 unmarried mothers in the female dining hall. "The same state of affairs existed there, as there was not a pick of food visible, except potato skins and the relics of the pig," the committee found, with conditions which "did not appear to be ideal".

A 1952 report by an inspector, Alice Litster, found that the children living in the home "appeared to be well-nourished, robust and on the whole in good health". Some children had been admitted to the home with broken limbs and "dying from neglect," she said.

The average length of stay of children who were born in, or admitted to, Thomastown in the 1920s was 97 days, but this rose to 224 in the 1930s.

Information on "exit pathways" from the home were in relation to 201 children who lived there, or 16% of admissions, and showed that most left with their mother or were "boarded out" to other homes, while two were adopted by people from the United States.

Of the women who lived there, information was available for 11.9%, or 115 women, and showed that they returned to the family home or went to live in another institution.

Three women died while in Thomastown - one from heart disease and two were "indirect obstetric deaths," or from conditions developed during pregnancy, rather than directly from pregnancy or childbirth. 

The majority of women left the county home within 50 days of giving birth. Most women, just over 70%, were aged between 18 and 29 when admitted to the home, with 24% aged 30 or over. 

A groundsman who worked at St Columba’s, formerly the county home, from 1986 told the Commission that he was told, around 1990, by a matron to "incinerate institutional records" which included burial registers relating to people who died in the home and were buried on the grounds.

Shortly afterwards, the graveyard was renovated, having been neglected for some years, with the site levelled and grassed. The site was found in 2019, by the Commission, to be well-maintained, with a single cross marking its status as a former graveyard, with the inscription "Remembering those who died".

This graveyard operated from 1854 until 1978 and the Commission "considers it likely that children who died in Thomastown County Home were buried there".