MEET the wonder mum who was pregnant for 25 years.
Mary Frances Doherty married at the tender age of 17, had her first baby ten months later, and became pregnant almost every year after that, until she was 42.
With her whopping 19 children now reared, Mary Frances, 68, from Moville, Co Donegal, is still blooming and enjoying retirement with devoted husband, Harry, 70.
More like a classroom roll call than a single family, the couple’s 11 daughters and eight sons are: Bernadette, 51; Annemarie, 50; Hilary, 49; Patricia, 48; Shaun, 46; Paula, 45; Hugh, 44; Mary Majella, 43, Antoinette, 42; Seamus, 40; Laura, 39; Joe, 37; Ray, 35; Gemma, 34, Colm, 33, Orla, 31; Roma, 29; Paul, 28 and Leonie, 26.
Sadly, Mary Frances also suffered four miscarriages, bringing her total pregnancies to 23.
The fun-loving couple have 37 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Super-mammy Mary Frances, puts her remarkable fertility down to a non-drinking, non- smoking lifestyle and the enduring love of her husband.
“Myself and Harry never broke our Confirmation pledges and have been teetotal all our lives. We never once took a drink or a smoke and I’m sure that helped us have so many lovely babies,” said the plucky pensioner. Her first 15 were midwife-assisted home births, eye- wateringly, without painkillers.
But after complications with her 16th pregnancy, doctors insisted she have the next three babies in hospital. The couple’s miscarriages came after Bernadette, before Orla and before Roma while their last pregnancy, after Leonie, also sadly failed. When they first met as young teens in the 1950s, it was love at first sight.
“I was 17 and Harry was three months off 20 when we married. I had a baby every 13 or 15 months during our marriage and I never complained.
“I loved being pregnant and being a mammy and I thanked God for every wee child we got. Harry always helped me with the children and provided well for us all.”
The couple never once considered family planning even as they outgrew their three-bed council house.
“We never even thought about stopping after four, five or six children. I dearly love all of them and no matter how many I had around my feet, I cried every time each one started school.
“I never used the pill or anything – I’m a natural, country woman,” said Mary Frances, roaring with laughter.
Harry added: “We just loved having babies. It came natural to us.”
The Doherty brood are well known as the largest family in their hometown but are also one of the largest in Co Donegal, not to mention the entire country.
As they grew up, they provided a ready supply of employees for the family-run factory, Moville Clothing Ltd, which is one of the last surviving shirt factories in Co Donegal.
Twelfth-born, Joe, said growing up in such a huge family was hectic.
“Meal times were done in shifts because the table wasn’t big enough. The youngest ones were fed first, followed by the girls and then us boys. Our mother would never eat until we were all fed.
“We had to get an extension built and then my father put a mobile home outside the house for the older boys to sleep in at night,” laughed Joe.
As their factory prospered, the family bought a spacious seven- bed property with a large garden and orchard. Unusually, perhaps, for such a large family living in a recession black-spot that is Co Donegal, only one of the siblings – US-based Gemma – has emigrated while Mary Majella lives with her family in Cork.
Mary Frances and Harry, retired to a bungalow at the edge of town a couple of years ago and attend daily Mass at the local church.
Their home is variously filled each day by their doting offspring and grandchildren who mostly live nearby.
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