The Kilrush nursery, as it was known, was located in the west Clare town and housed unmarried mothers and their babies, as well as orphaned and abandoned babies, from 1922 to 1932.

It came into being after the closure of the workhouses in 1921, when the authorities agreed that part of that institution would become the nursery as an "auxiliary home for infant children and their unmarried mothers".

It was run by the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy nuns up to 1928, afterwards by lay staff.

Another part of the workhouse building became Kilrush District Hospital.

Conditions during the nursery's ten-year existence were described as very poor, the building was in a bad state of repair with leaking roofs, no baths, and no inside sanitary accommodation.

The mothers who lived there were also described as neglected, with no proper clothing or comfort of any kind.

The Commission of Investigation's report said it is not possible to establish how many women and children lived in the nursery during its ten-year history, but with the limited information available from newspaper and board of health references they say there were between 300-400 mothers there, and considerably more children.

As there are no existing records of births at the Kilrush nursery, the commission has examined baptismal records of the time which suggest that 330 children were born there during the period 1922-1932.

Some of the records contained the words "extramarital, born in home" and the godmother referred to was another mother in the nursery.

Where a child was found abandoned, and housed, the words, "infantus expositus" were entered on the baptismal cert.

There are no available records of child deaths at the nursery, but the deaths of "illegitimate" infants is recorded as 168 during that ten-year period, and the commission said it is likely the vast majority died there.

In addition to this, there are reports of the '"continuous requests for coffins of various sizes" suggesting that many children died there.

The question of the closure of the Kilrush nursery was a constant one, because of the poor conditions there and the fact that it was overcrowded, with 164 residents there in the mid-1920s and the matron complaining of children sleeping two to a bed, and every habitable space occupied.

The home closed in 1932, when the local Board of Health put forward proposals to close it and to board out some of the 90 children there, and to send their mothers to the county home. 

Many unmarried mothers were then being sent to Sean Ross in Co Tipperary, where the Board of Health at the time noted, the average cost of keeping a mother and child was 21 schillings, as compared to 24 schillings at Kilrush, thereby saving the Kilrush nursery 3 schillings for each mother and child pair that they kept at that institution.


Read more: Mother-and-baby homes