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. 

Damien writes:

  • 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.