If your ancestors were born in Kerry, where were they born? And I don’t mean, what location? I mean do you know exactly where they were born? At home, a hospital, a private nursing home or …?
Well the answer is that it depends on when they were born. What era?
From the earliest times, all pregnant women in Kerry as in the rest of Ireland, were delivered at home. The majority were delivered by ‘handy-women’ –women who had no training but had learned from older women or their own experiences of pregnancy and labour. That continued in most places in Kerry until the first quarter of the twentieth century.
A few babies were born in their nearest District Hospitals (Killarney, Listowel, Dingle, Caherciveen, Kenmare) from the nineteen twenties & thirties. From the same time, those who could pay a fee, delivered their new babies in local private ‘Nursing Homes’. It was usually a qualified nurse who would open her own home and cater for two or three patients, who might or might not also have a local doctor in attendance. In Tralee these would be Nurse King, in Listowel there was Nurse Donovan, and Nurse Chapman and in Killarney there was Nurse Seymour. These private maternity homes do not appear to have existed in Kenmare, Caherciveen or Dingle. Have a look at the record of the birth of your ancestor on the Civil Register, see if it is the address of the family home that is listed in the column titled Date & Place of Birth.
After a recent query I had about a ‘Lying-In Institution’ in Killarney, I was sent a comprehensive list of the different possibilities of giving birth and indeed the ‘hospital’ situation in the county by Damien Switzer. I would like to thank Damien on behalf of our readers as he explains hospital facilities available in the county over one hundred and fifty years. I will expand next week on the ‘Lying-In Hospital’ which was a private voluntary maternity home in Killarney from 1866 for about ten years.
- Probably the first ‘hospital’ in Kerry was the County Infirmary in operation in Tralee in the late 18th century and was described rather unflatteringly in 1788 as “a ruinous building – the roof falling in”.
- Fever hospitals opened in Killarney in 1800 and Tralee in 1814. Limerick asylum, opened in 1827, originally catered for County Kerry, but in 1852 the Killarney District Lunatic Asylum (later St. Finian’s)opened in Killarney which catered solely for the county. By 1849 there were fever hospitals at Tralee, Killarney, Listowel and Cahirciveen.
- There were 28 dispensaries in the county.
- Killarney (workhouse opened April 1845). The District Hospital Killarney was opened in 1939 (importantly it replaced the old hospital which formed part of the infirmary of the county home) the original bed complement was 20 beds for medical cases and 2 for maternity. In 1956 that increased to 10 maternity beds.
- The Isolation Hospital Killarney, opened in 1940. It replaced the old building which was erected as a maternity hospital by Lord Kenmare which was later adapted for use as a fever hospital. So that appears to be St. Marys (Parish Hall – (Lady Kenmares Fever Hospital)
- To explain the County Scheme:
In Kerry, as in other counties, there was a major re-organisation of the local hospital services during the War of Independence. A County or Workhouse Amalgamation Scheme was initiated to place the local hospital infrastructure ona more efficient and economic basis. The joint committees of management of thecounty infirmary in Tralee and county fever hospitals at Killarney and Tralee
(Moyderwell) were abolished under the county scheme which came into effect onthe 1st of August 1921. The county scheme initially provided for the establishmentof only two institutions, viz., a county home at Killarney and a county hospital at Tralee, but subsequent amendments provided for district hospitals at Listowel,Killarney, Dingle and Caherciveen, and a children’s home in Kenmare.
- The report of the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor,published in 1927, gives a vivid insight into the operation of the local hospital services during the mid 1920s, a period of great economic distress and political uncertainty. The county home in Killarney was in part of the old workhouse and provided, under the scheme, for the reception of aged and infirm persons, chronic
invalids, children and unmarried mothers. The county hospital in Tralee was divided into three sections: the medical section in part of the old Tralee workhouse, the surgical in the old county infirmary and the fever in the male infirmary in the workhouse.
- The Listowel district hospital was in the infirmary section of the old workhouse, Killarney district hospital was in the front portion of the workhouse there, and the Caherciveen district hospital was located in the old workhouse fever hospital.
- The children’s home in Kenmare had not been established at the time of the Commissioners report and a district hospital was eventually opened there around 1928.
- The Dingle district hospital was situated in the old workhouse and there were 49 patients there in1925. The hospital was in a very poor state of repair in the late 1920s and the right wing was destroyed by fire in 1931.
- By the early 1930s the staff at Valentia Cottage Hospital included one nurse, one maid, a secretary and a visiting doctor. While the hospital was mainly supported by voluntary contributions, the Kerry Board of Health also gave the hospital a subvention.
- The advent of the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes provided funding for the modernisation and expansion of the local hospital infrastructure. Dingle hospital was reconstructed with Sweepstakes money and a 150 bed county hospital in Tralee opened on the 23rd of June 1934. A new district hospital opened in Kenmare in February 1936. On the 26th of October 1939 two new hospitals were opened in Killarney,a district hospital and a fever hospital. A new district hospital opened in Listowel on the 9th of June 1941. Our Lady’s and St. Teresa’s Tuberculosis Hospital opened at Edenburn, an old residence of the Hussey family, on the 2nd of August 1937.Staffed by the Bon Secours nursing order, it contained beds for 104 patients and cost £36,000. It later became a home for the elderly and closed in 1987.
- By the late 1940s, the following hospitals were operating in the county: a county home at Killarney (537 beds), county mental hospital at Killarney (800 beds), county hospital at Tralee (St. Catherine’s) (141 beds), district hospitals at Cahirciveen (18 beds), Dingle(St. Elizabeth’s – 46 beds), Killarney (27 beds) and Kenmare (27 beds), a district and fever hospital at Listowel (63 beds), St. Anne’s Isolation Hospital at Killarney (44 beds) and Tralee fever hospital (37 beds). There was also the public voluntary hospital, Valentia Village Hospital, at Valentia Island. By March 1957, 36% of the population of the county was on the general medical services register which entitled them to free hospital and specialist services provided by the local health authorities.
- A new 34 bed district hospital at Cahirciveen was opened on the 7th of June 1955. The building of the hospital had begun in 1952 and it replaced the existing district hospital, which was in a very bad condition structurally. It cost£100,000.
I have no idea about this Finucan/Finucane name from Kerry 1853 ish. Father was Michael for Mary Ann.
Ms. Caball – this is really quite fascinating- thank you for giving us a glimpse into our history and the lives of our kinfolk. It is a wonder that babies & mothers survived. It would be intersting to know what the mortality rate was for infants and mothers as well. Again, thanks for your amazing work.
Margaret, i have checked the mortality rate for Kerry. There is none published but from my reading and other research I think it was probably under 10% – probably 8%. In my own research, when I am compiling genealogy reports for clients and perusing the 1911 Census records, it is illuminating to read the question on ‘How Many Children Born’ and then ‘How Many Children Living’. The mortality rate was much higher in places like Dublin with large families all cooped up together.
You can find a comparison of 1916 and 2012 birth and infant mortality rates by the Central Statistics Office here: https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-1916/1916irl/bmd/births/. You are spot on in your estimate, Kay!
Polly, thank you for confirming my guesswork! Kay
Very imformativ , as usual Kay.
Thank you so much for this article. Really interesting information which I would never find without you. Looking forward to you next one on lying-in hospitals.
Barbara, I have spent the last two months chasing up the ‘Lying In Hospital’. Finally I hit the nail last week. Its really so satisfying when after ‘digging’ and ‘digging’ suddenly the answer comes up. I had Facebooked a number of older local people in Killarney and they all kept coming up with ‘Nurse Seymour’ but she was a 1940s + person and I was looking for 1870. Its an interesting story … for next week. Kay
Talking of births. While seeking the birth of my Grandfather I found the Baptisms of all his siblings in the Firies list ( no register being available at that time ) but no mention of Granddad. They would all have been born at home (Leamnaguila) I guess, as they were farmers and probably poor also. My Grandfather, Cornelius Hurley was born about 1870, so hard to get any answers. Kevin.
Kevin, I am not certain what Register you are referring to here or if you have checked the Civil Register?
Have you written or will you write about Roman Catholic baptismal practices? I’m especially interested in those of the first half of the 19th century, when one pair of my great-great-grandparents were born (Jeremiah Doyle, perhaps c. 1813, in the townland of Gearha near Sneem/Ballybeg and Mary Shea, perhaps 1822-1835, in Cappanacuss, Templenoe civil parish, Kenmare RC parish). As far as I know, church records are not extant for the Sneem area before about 1845. Would the parish priest make rounds periodically to baptize babies at their homes? Would this be as soon as possible after birth (given the likely infant mortality rate at the time) or was there often a substantial delay, for one reason or another? Or were parents expected to travel to their parish church or chapel for baptisms? (For the Shea family, the early chapel just off the road between Kenmare and the Blackwater River would have been closer than the church in Kenmare.) The dates in parish records are baptismal dates, not birth dates? Was there any monetary responsibility for the parents (which, if such existed, might have resulted in delaying baptisms)?
Thomas Shea apparently had a child (daughter) outside of his marriage, with a woman quite possibly a neighbor. Would the child have taken the mother’s surname? Do you know what financial (or other) responsibilities he might have had while the child was a minor? What was the age of majority, for girls, at least, in those days? 18? 21? Was the age of majority the same for both males and females?
Marge, thank you for your comments. I have written a number of blogs over the years on baptisms and the customs associated. I think if you Google ‘Kerry Baptisms MyKerryAncestors’ you should get links to a few of them.
Sometimes the priest who moved around on horseback, would have been called to the house where the birth had taken place and he would baptise the child as soon as possible after birth. A younger person would have been sent to contact the priest and let him know of the arrival. In other cases, the father or grandparents would take the child to the church as soon as possible – if they journey was not too difficult. I am not aware that money exchanged hands, but I am sure some gesture of appreciation would be given to the priest, if not cash, then some home produce – a chicken, freshly laid eggs, turf delivered to his house etc. The reason that Baptisms took place so quickly after birth was the fear that if the child died unbaptised it would not go to Heaven but would end up in Limbo. Later, from 1864 when compulsory Civil Registration was brought in, on occasions particularly in remote country locations, the child while always baptised might miss out on Civil Registration. It shows that the population had much more respect God than for Queen Victoria!
Child mortality was high and many people died in young adulthood while few lived into advanced old age. However, infant mortality rate in Kerry was not as high as in the Irish cities.
Children born out of wedlock almost alwyays took the mother’s name but this could vary depending on circumstances. There was no ‘age of majority’. It was called ‘full age’ on marriage records and this was 21years.
So very interesting as always, thank you
This is an very interesting article and brings back some memories.
I spent one night as a patient In Valentia County Hospital and was well cared for.
I subsequently spent another night on the”rack” beside the stove in my aunt Bridge’s house in Chapeltown.
Tim, thank you for your comments. Explain the ‘the rack’ beside the stove. I can remember that the stove was always on and the warmth was good for sick animals who would be placed beside it – was that ‘the rack’? Kay
My paternal grandmother, Hannah Dowd (or O”Dowd) Fitzgerald, delivered babies in Tralee for years dueing the first part of the 1900’s. She was not a trained nurse, but she did all sorts of nursing. She also laid out the dead.
Evelyn, thank you for that information. Do you know what location in Tralee that Hannah Dowd lived in and I will include her in the blog?
My maternal great grandmother, Johanna Houlihan did the same around Caherciveen and around the same time! The 1901 census had her living at Loher near Waterville and in 1911 at Ardkearagh. She had no training but was well known in the area. When speaking with a friend’s grandmother in the 1970 s in England she remembered Johanna’s name as the woman who helped deliver babies in that area.
Lizzie, could you give me your grandmother’s name (Johanna ? ) and I will add her to my blog.Kay
Hello, I am contacting you about my great grandfather who was born in Killorglin in 1845. I have never been able to find much about his family, his name was Cornelius Flynn. Was this part of Ireland particularly poor? I know it was the beginning of the Great Famine but apparently he had a good well nourished body by the time her joined the British Army in 1865. He was Catholic were there many reasonably well off families in that area??
Linda, that is a difficult question to answer as you have not given any details re his parents etc. One would need to know his family land situation – were 1they living in a cabin, were they ‘labourers’ or ‘farmers’ – big difference here. Why not read up more on the context of the family or if you have my book Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry it would give you more background information.
I love reading your postings.
Thanks for sharing
Richard, thank you.
Very interesting information kay. Thank you so much, love reading your blog.
Bernie, thank you. Feedback always appreciated. Kay
I’m working on a short article on Irish fever hospitals. “Population (Ireland) Status of Disease and Deaths, Table 1–Patients in Infirmaries, Fever, General, and Special Hospitals”, HMSO, Parliamentary Papers 58, 101 (1863) lists a fever hospital in Kilarney with a foundation date of 1800 but I have not been able to locate any additional information confirming the foundation date or the name(s) of the founders. Perhaps it closed soon after it opened? There was one there by the 1830s. More information would be appreciated.