Ancestry UK

County Nursery / Auxiliary Home, Kilrush, Co. Clare, Republic of Ireland

In 1922, the former Kilrush union workhouse, at St Joseph's Terrace, Cooraclare Road, Kilrush, was taken over by Clare County Council and administered by its Board of Health. The workhouse infirmary and fever hospital became the Kilrush District Hospital, while part of the main workhouse building was converted for use as the County Nursery, also known as the Auxiliary Home. The Board of Health established a Nursery Committee to manage the Home. The Home accommodated unmarried mothers and infants, although some unaccompanied children were also received there, including some of school-going age. The Home run by the Sisters of Mercy, who had previously staffed the workhouse infirmary and fever hospital since 1875.

The Kilrush site is shown on the 1920 map below.

Auxiliary Home / County Nursery site, Kilrush, c.1920.

In March 1922, an engineer's report for the Board of Health noted that the building's walls were rough, the windows small without proper frames or fittings, there were no grates, the passages were flagged, and the wood work was rough and defective. Initially, the school children were accommodated in the existing girls' school room but this proved unsatisfactory and the Nursery Committee decided to move to the 'sheds' — perhaps former fever sheds along the northern edge of the site. There were two dormitories there and a 'dining room on the flat, with outside dry closets, an outside bathroom attached to the old Infirmary and a pump all within a few yards of the sheds'. These new arrangements were said to 'very superior' when compared to the previous arrangements. The main kitchen was closed and all cooking was being done in the infirmary kitchen.

At the same date, the Committee heard that:

The mothers are neglected, they have no proper clothing and no comfort of any kind. They are willing to do any work even the most menial and unpleasant. A certain number worked in the laundry under the old management. The washing was done with scrubbing brushes. We are supplying washboards. A strong mangle is required. We don't consider it is humane to allow expectant and nursing mothers to wring out heavy twill sheets and blankets as they do at present. We feel strongly that the lot of these poor women should be improved. Some are under 20 years and we feel confident we could get good results both to the women and the Home if we could, with discretion and common sense, give them comfort in their work, food and clothing.

Some form of uniform clothing was provided to the women and children in the nursery. In March 1922, the Nursery Committee approved the Sisters' purchase of: 100 yards of flannelette for underwear; 20 yards of navy flannel, 100 yards of grey calico, 8 lbs of black 4 ply thread, 12 sets of knitting needles, a dozen packages of assorted sewing needles, 30 pairs of children's boots and 30 pairs of women's boots.

In December 1922, the Local Government Inspector, James McLysaght, inspected the institution and concluded that it was a 'perfect scandal to have anyone in the place'. There was no sanitary accommodation and no mains water supply and that it would cost a lot of money to make it habitable.

In April 1924, the matron complained that the institution was overcrowded as there were 164 residents in the nursery and children were sleeping two in a bed with 'every habitable corner occupied.'

A report on the state of the Home in 1925 also painted a depressing picture:

The Home is in a very poor condition of repair. There is no water supply and no bathing or sanitary accommodation, and the lighting is by lamps. The Sisters of Mercy, who are in charge of the Home, are themselves very insufficiently accommodated. They have no proper kitchen or refectory or bathing and sanitary arrangements. It is not fair to expect the Sisters to remain under the conditions as they exist.

The failure of the Board of Health to adapt the workhouse properly for the purpose to which it has been allocated reflects gravely on their administration.

There were 51 women and 105 children in the Home. The number of children over two years of age is 57. Of these 37 attend school outside.

The women are retained in the Home for two years if possible, and an endeavour made to find suitable employment for them on discharge and to keep in touch with them. The number of first offenders is 37. The Home is of sufficient size to permit of separating the less culpable from the degraded, and if the best is to be got from this Home some classification should be made.

The laundry work of the institution and also that of the District Hospital, which is on the opposite side of the public road, is done in a primitive and badly equipped laundry.

This institution serves a useful purpose. It is the only Home of this kind administered under the direct control of a Board of Health. The similar institutions at Tuam and Bessboro (Cork) are conducted on a capitation grant basis.

In the maternity department connected with the Home there is no labour ward. The provision of such is very necessary.

Although the Board of Health aimed to 'retain' mothers in the home for two years, it appears that they had no power to enforce such a policy. Despite this, there were instances were of women being 'detained' when they should not have been. A number of 'escape' attempts. were recorded. In May 1924, the matron reported that three women had 'scaled the wall' but had been arrested and brought back by the Gardaí. In October of that year, she reported that two women escaped over the wall leaving behind their two children, one aged three weeks and the other five months. The matter was reported to the Gardaí.

The Sisters of Mercy withdrew from the home in 1928 after the Department of Local Government and Public Health (DLGPH) refused to approve the appointment of one of their order as matron because she lacked a nursing qualification. From 1928 until its closure in 1932, the home was run by lay staff. The closure of Kilrush may have been precipitated by the opening in 1931 of a new mother and baby home at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea. The Clare Board of Health had been received a ministerial direction to transfer single woman and their infants to Sean Ross, which also had the benefit of lower weekly fees, and providing its residents with training. However, the matron at the Kilrush home protested that the move would result in the expense of her having to employ five extra staff to replace the women's lost labour.

At the closure of Kilrush, proposals were discussed for transferring existing inmates classed as 'first offenders' to Sean Ross, and 'repeat offenders' to the Good Shepherd Convent at Limerick, although it it is not clear whether these suggestions were actually carried out.

The workhouse building was subsequently demolished and a school and housing erected on the site.

In January 2021, Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation made its final report, which examined the conditions and treatment experienced by the women and children at the Kilrush Home. One feature noted by the report is the high death rate of infants there. In 1924, Dr Counihan, the medical officer for the Kilrush site, requested the Board of Health to approve a revised 'dietary scale' for the Home as 'the mothers were unable to nurse their children satisfactorily'. This was approved subject to sanction by the DLGPGH. In June 1927, the Department wrote to the Board questioning the dietary scale in the nursery: 'the allowances of bread, potatoes and butter in the amended scale are substantially in excess of those indicated in the Department's scale and the Ministry see no adequate reason for such increased allowances'. This was despite the fact that in March 1927, Dr Counihan had reported the death rate at the Home as being 'appalling', averaging around seventeen a year. Another indicator of the high mortality rate was the continuous requisitions for coffins which are recorded in the Board's minutes. This record also points to children of different ages dying in the nursery as the coffins were of different sizes.


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