RTÉ documentary details story of unmarried mother's death as she was refused treatment in two Kerry hospitals 5 years ago

RTÉ documentary details story of unmarried mother's death as she was refused treatment in two Kerry hospitals

Peggy McCarthy's tragic story is being broadcasted publically for the first time.

A tragic story which involves the birth of a baby girl whose pregnant unmarried mother was turned away from two Kerry hospitals some 70 years ago has been uncovered in an RTÉ documentary.


The piece follows Peggy McCarthy, a young woman whose harrowing death by childbirth resulted in the local clergy refusing to let her body lie in the church overnight before her burial.

On February 10, 1946, a gravely ill McCarthy was refused medical attention while in labour twice by nuns working in both Listowel and Tralee hospitals.

Both hospitals refused to treat a pregnant woman out of wedlock.

Her neighbour, hackney driver John Guerin, transported the distressed 25-year-old to a series of different hospitals to try and help the young woman in her time of need.


RTÉ’s compelling Documentary On One: In Shame, Love, In Shame relays how the young Kerry mother died from certified eclampsia.

It also follows Breda, McCarthy's child – who was born with an intellectual disability, believed to have been caused by her mother’s difficult labour process – was placed in a Magdalene Laundry by a priest at the age of 18.

The documentary also features information on the story's background and aftermath.

"In 1946, in an act of defiance against such rules, a group of local men in Listowel, County Kerry force open the locked gates into the Parish Church," the blurb reads.


"This action by the townspeople of Listowel never makes it into the newspapers, nor is it recorded anywhere else at the time.

"In fact, the incident has largely faded from the town’s memory yet has never been forgotten by some. What was it that drove a normally compliant congregation to challenge the local Parish Priest, Canon Patrick Brennan's, dominion?

"Behind this act of defiance lies the story of a Subsequently, an alliance between Church and State has had a devastating impact on three generations of Peggy's family - including on the daughter she gave birth to, Breda - which persists right up to the present day."

Famed balladeer Séan McCarthy wrote a song, Shame, Love, In Shame, about the young woman at the centre of these events. Peggy was Séan's younger sister.


Years later, Peggy's story also inspired local Listowel playwright Tony Guerin to write the play 'Solo Run'.

Documentary On One: In Shame, Love, In Shame looks at the events behind this story, of Peggy's life, of her daughter Breda's life, of how the people of Listowel rallied round and defended Peggy - and of what happened before and since those Church gates were rammed open in 1946.

The piece can be listened to online here.