Recalling the Dublin baby snatching cases that had a happy ending

ALL shopping records were broken in Dublin in the run-up to Christmas 1954. In the midst of the hectic shopping bonanza, however, there was alarm when baby Patrick Berrigan was kidnapped the Saturday before Christmas.

Recalling the Dublin baby  snatching cases that had   a happy ending

His mother, Elizabeth Berrigan, parked the baby in his pram outside a shop on Henry St as she rushed in to buy the boy a teddy for his first Christmas.

Mrs Berrigan had been uneasy about leaving the pram unattended, because just two months earlier another baby, Pauline Ashmore, had been kidnapped in Camden St, Dublin, under similar circumstances, and had not yet been found.

Mrs Berrigan was therefore anxious about leaving the baby in the pram, and as the shop was crowded, she quickly returned — but found that the pram was already gone. The gardaí quickly cordoned off the area and conducted an intensive search.

The kidnapping was the main news story in the newspapers the next day, which highlighted the fact that it was actually the third kidnapping in similar circumstances in recent years. A £100 reward was promptly offered for information leading to the return of the children.

Photographs of the baby were published in all the newspapers. Louisa Doherty, who was returning to her home in Belfast following a trip to Dublin, realised the child bore an uncanny resemblance to a baby she saw on the train to Belfast that Saturday night.

The woman with this baby had been having difficulty as the baby kept crying. Mrs Doherty befriended the woman, who told her she was living in Belfast. Mrs Doherty reported this to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which conducted an investigation. A couple of days later the RUC found baby Patrick Berrigan at the home of Barbara McGeehan in the Whitewell district of Belfast.

The RUC promptly became suspicious about a 4-year-old blonde girl who was also in the house. Mrs McGeehan claimed that Bernadette was her daughter, but it became apparent that she was actually Elizabeth Browne, who had been kidnapped from the same area of Dublin when she was just three months old on Nov 25, 1950. This became famous as “the Browne Baby Case”.

Elizabeth Browne was one of five children. Her mother, Bridget Browne, was a newspaper seller. She had the baby with her in a pram as she was selling newspapers on the corner of Henry St and Moore St between 5pm and 5.30pm, when suddenly she noticed that the pram was gone.

It was later found in a nearby laneway, but it was more than four years before Elizabeth was located in Belfast. Within a month, following a tip-off given to the Evening Press, the gardaí had located Pauline Ashmore, the baby kidnapped on Camden St on Oct 19, 1954.

Theresa Fitzpatrick was charged with taking Pauline, but the court was told that she was “not well” at the time and she received only a suspended sentence. It just so happened that she gave birth to a baby of her own on the day that Pauline was handed back to her parents.

Barbara McGeehan was charged and convicted of taking Elizabeth Brown and Patrick Berrigan. The court was told she had been desperately trying to have children of her own but suffered a series of miscarriages. She was sentenced to two years in jail. She was released within 18 months, and she and her husband promptly visited Elizabeth at her home in Dublin.

Mrs McGeehan and her husband brought a doll and some other presents for the girl. John and Bridget Browne welcomed the McGeehans to their home and Elizabeth immediately ran into the arms of Mr McGeehan — the man she considered her father for so long.

The Brownes made it clear the McGeehans would be welcome to visit again, and Elizabeth and a sister were actually allowed to go to Belfast for summer holidays with the McGeehans. It was a magnificent gesture by the Brownes, which undoubtedly helped their daughter to overcome her separation from the couple who had cherished her.

Laura Elliot based her 2009 novel Stolen Child on the kidnappings. Elizabeth grew up to become Mrs James Hogarty, and had three children of her own. She died of cancer at the age of 38, in 1988.

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