The story of an Ennistymon mother and the death of her daughter has been described as one of the most heartbreaking stories to emerge from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation.
An inquest into the death of baby Mary Sherlock was held in April 1926. A full report was carried in The Saturday Record where one witness gave evidence that she was an ‘inmate’ of the nursery and that she saw Annie Sherlock take the baby into her bed at about 5.30 in the morning. She said that later than morning when Annie got up, her baby did not move and she called out that Mary was dead.
Another witness, a nurse, said that as the place was not properly heated in winter, the mothers took the babies into the bed with them. Dr Counihan examined the baby and said that he found ‘no bruises or marks of violence’ and that the body was well nourished. He concluded that she died from smothering or asphyxia but he could not say how it happened.
The jury found that the child died from asphyxia and they ‘attached no blame to anybody’. The investigating Garda Superintendent, William Geary felt otherwise and stated that the ‘verdict may be all right but it would not do the state. I will have Annie Sherlock arrested and formally charged before the district justice’.
A second report in the same newspaper that at a special court sitting held at Kilrush Barracks, Annie Sherlock was charged with “the murder of her illegitimate child aged 7 weeks at the Co Nursery, Kilrush were she had been an inmate and remanded in custody to the District Court at Kilrush”.
No further references to the case appeared in newspapers after this but Annie was listed as an employee at the Kilrush nursery in March 1927.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, historian Rita McCarthy who contributed to the chapter on the County Clare Nursery recalls one of her most moving findings she came across during her research. “When I came across the story of Annie and Mary Sherlock in the Saturday Record from March 1926, I was horrified. On a cold morning in March 1926, Annie Sherlock took her baby Mary into her bed to feed her and keep her warm. Tragically, they both fell asleep and when Annie woke later that morning, she was heard screaming that Mary was dead. At the inquest Dr Counihan found Mary died from asphyxiation and that she was well nourished.
“The inquest found that there was no blame in the case but this did not satisfy Superintendent Geary who was stationed in Kilrush and represented the state, he insisted that Annie be charged with Mary’s murder and she was brought to Kilrush Garda Station later that day and charged. I did not find any record of the case going to court. Mary’s only crime had been to love her child and try and keep her warm on that cold morning and the evidence was given at the inquest to that effect. I found Mary’s baptismal record some time after I had read that story and I have to say I was moved to tears. I lit a candle for them both. They suffered at the hands of a state that lacked humanity or compassion”.