• Sat. Oct 22nd, 2022

Feb 17, 2021

Jim Connolly did not know that his sister, while in care at a Dublin hospital, had a son. He has since discovered much more, he tells Aoife Moore
Jim Connolly wants answers from the Government about what happened to his sister Peggy while she was a patient in St Brendan’s Hospital.Peggy Connolly was 22 when she was taken to the facility after suffering a nervous breakdown following a period of time living in England.
The children’s mother had died young and Peggy was raised in a convent for a time with her sisters, before going to England to work.
“Peggy had no hardness in her, she was a very quiet person and somehow in England she ended up in prison. They said she assaulted someone,” Jim said. 
“We were shocked. 
We couldn’t see how she created an assault, but it was clear she wasn’t well, she had a nervous breakdown, so my sister went to England and brought her back to Ireland.
Peggy lived with her sister for a short time before she was taken to St Brendan’s Hospital in 1958. She was 22.
At first, Peggy appeared to be thriving in the facility, her family would visit, and Jim says she would hold conversations with him and seemed in “good form”.
After a time in the facility, the Eastern Health Board informed Peggy’s father she was pregnant and called him for a meeting.
“I waited outside as my father wouldn’t allow us to get involved,” Jim said.
“I remember him coming out really angry. He said ‘they want to brush it under the carpet’. That’s how he saw it, as far as he was concerned, they told him there was nothing to discuss.
“My father didn’t have much education and I think they knew that. He asked questions about it, but he never got anywhere, I think if he had been educated, it would’ve been different.
“Peggy was never the same after that. I will never forget it, you couldn’t hold a conversation with her.”
The child, a girl, was given up for adoption.
Jim says he avoided visiting for a while, due to Peggy’s mental state and St Brendan’s “wasn’t a pleasant place, it would frighten the shit out of you, to be honest”.
“Peggy after that, you’d talk to her one day and she’d be mumbling to herself, you wouldn’t know what she was talking about. She never had the ability to have a conversation. But she would remember me, Jamesy, she’d know me immediately.”
“After I got married in 1968, I decided to visit more, I’d bring up sweets and Easter eggs. I was well known there, and one day a nurse said to me: ‘I had Peggy out in town over the weekend and got her clothes’, and then she said: ‘I brought Peggy down to see her son’.
“I didn’t know Peggy had a son. I didn’t want to act shocked and stop her talking, so I didn’t bat an eyelid.
“She said: ‘He’s a lovely child, you’ll have no problems about where he was left or who he was adopted by, he was adopted by an influential person in Skerries.
“By the end of the discussion, she copped I didn’t know, I must’ve looked shocked. Nobody ever found out who this person was.”
Peggy’s treatment took a toll on her brother Jim Connolly. Photo: Moya Nolan
Her family says it is clear from Peggy’s mental state that she could not have consented to sex and could not have understood her pregnancies. They believe she was abused by a staff member, a visitor or another patient. The family was never told how Peggy became pregnant.
The family has significant concerns about Peggy’s care and wellbeing while in St Brendan’s, outside of the pregnancies.
On one occasion, Peggy appeared at her aunt’s front door in Dublin “practically naked in the pissing rain”.
“My aunt couldn’t understand how they didn’t know she was gone, she had to ring the hospital to say that Peggy was there, it was like they didn’t care.”
Through his own research, Jim has found two more birth certificates, which he believes could be children of Peggy’s, meaning there is a possibility Peggy had four children while being held in a secure psychiatric unit.
Peggy’s treatment took a toll on Jim and when he confided to a friend what had happened, he received more information.
“He started telling me that he knew a man in the hospital who controlled the keys and all you had to do is give that man a tenner and you could pick whatever girl you wanted in the hospital.
“I’m very sorry to say I backed off then, I should’ve gone to the police and gave the man’s name, but I was afraid and disgusted, I’m sorry I didn’t go further.”
In 1994, Peggy’s daughter came looking for her and Jim and his sister met their niece.
Her daughter visited her often, although Peggy was unable to understand who she was. Jim says her daughter could not have done enough for Peggy when she found her and the family are eternally grateful.