A PAUPER’S REFUGE - PART TWO OF OUR SE­RIES ON THE ‘HOMEBOYS’

IN THE SEC­OND OF HIS SE­RIES ON NAZARETH HOUSE AND ITS SLIGO HISTORY, AU­THOR, HIS­TO­RIAN AND SO­CIAL WORKER JOHN MICHAEL MUR­PHY LOOKS AT THE ORIG­I­NAL MO­TI­VA­TION FOR OPEN­ING THE HOUSE

The Sligo Champion - - FRONT PAGE -

FOL­LOW­ING his ap­point­ment as Bishop of El­phin in 1895 John Joseph Clancy (1856-1912), had be­come in­creas­ingly dis­turbed at the plight of in­mates in the Sligo work­house. The nine­teenth cen­tury had thrown up a num­ber of work­house scan­dals, most no­tably at Car­rick-on-Shannon.

At Car­rick work­house, staff had sex­u­ally ex­ploited in­mates and mis­ap­pro­pri­ated their food, goods and money.

Bishop Clancy’s par­tic­u­lar con­cern was to end the in­car­cer­a­tion of pauper children with adults, espe­cially un­re­lated males.

In the first decade of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury there were no suit­able in­sti­tu­tions avail­able to care for des­ti­tute and or­phaned boys in the west of Ire­land other than place­ment in in­dus­trial schools, re­for­ma­to­ries and work­houses.

Bishop Clancy, there­fore, in­vited the Sis­ters of Nazareth, a re­cently founded, Lon­don based, re­li­gious Con­gre­ga­tion, to staff and run a new boys’ home in Sligo, and to care for both male and fe­male el­derly pau­pers.

In 1910 five Sis­ters of Nazareth ar­rived in Church Hill, Sligo to oc­cupy Merville, the for­mer Pollexfen/Yeats home, a mod­er­ately large Ge­or­gian House and small es­tate.

In or­der to open a home so quickly the Sis­ters took the build­ing at Church Hill, Sligo, on a 5 year lease from the lo­cal Tighe fam­ily, one of whose mem­bers was a nun.

The first 17 boys in res­i­dence ar­rived on 15 th Au­gust 1910, taken di­rectly from the Sligo Work­house, which was si­t­u­ated in Bal­ly­tiv­nan.

Af­ter the cre­ation of the Free State in 1922, the work­house be­came a County Home for the aged and in­firm, and also acted as the med­i­cal sec­tion of the County Hos­pi­tal.

The site be­came known as St John’s Hos­pi­tal and the orig­i­nal work­house struc­tures were grad­u­ally re­placed. Only the for­mer fever hos­pi­tal build­ing re­mains.

The work­house au­thor­i­ties pro­vided £10 to be re­lieved of their up­keep. The scale of need is re­flected in the num­bers ac­com­mo­dated less than a year later.

By 1911 there were 53 peo­ple liv­ing at the Nazareth House Home. Out of this to­tal, seven were Sis­ters, five were el­derly men, four el­derly women, and four oth­ers (three fe­male) aged from 16-38 years.

There were 33 boys, whose ages ranged from 3 to 12 years, in­clud­ing four pairs of broth­ers.

All ex­cept the Sis­ters were clas­si­fied as pau­pers un­der the cen­sus sta­tis­ti­cal re­turn.

All Sis­ters were Ir­ish born, as were most in­mates, the vast ma­jor­ity of them hav­ing been born in county Sligo, al­though sev­eral boys had been born in Scot­land.

Merville, with its 14 bed­rooms and ex­ten­sive sta­ble block and out­houses, was sub­di­vided into separate liv­ing, din­ing and sleep­ing units for each of the six dif­fer­ent groups ac­com­mo­dated there: Nurs­ery boys, older boys, el­derly men, el­derly women, the Sis­ters, and the hand­ful of do­mes­tic/ labour­ing help.

Even so, sev­eral of the ba­bies had to sleep with some of the el­derly ladies. The in­creas­ingly cramped liv­ing con­di­tions con­tin­ued for some 15 years un­til funds were raised to build the ad­ja­cent pur­pose-built boys’ home and ful­fil Bishop Clancy’s de­sire for separate ac­com­mo­da­tion for children.

This care pro­vi­sion was based on a model aimed at relief of the des­ti­tute and needy, ‘res­cu­ing’ or ‘sav­ing’ those children in phys­i­cal and moral dan­ger.

These mea­sures rep­re­sented a rad­i­cal, pi­o­neer­ing at­tempt to pro­vide more ap­pro­pri­ate care for the des­ti­tute young and old.

That this pro­vi­sion was in such a large Home, al­beit one very much smaller than the work­house, went against the grain of de­vel­op­ing child care prac­tice in Bri­tain, how­ever.

In Eng­land large child care homes were be­gin­ning to be re­con­structed into smaller units, espe­cially for those children who were in vol­un­tary care, but also for some work­house children.

This was re­flected in the rapid de­vel­op­ment of cot­tage homes.

These were in­sti­tu­tions, of­ten in the coun­try­side, where large num­bers of children were cared for in a se­ries of smaller cot­tage-style liv­ing units.

These were de­signed to make care more home-like and per­sonal, and to abate the in­sti­tu­tional bleak­ness of the largest in­sti­tu­tions.

In 1903 there had been 25 such homes in Bri­tain; by 1914 there were 115.

Al­though the new Nazareth House Home in Sligo may have been op­er­at­ing from the out­set on a model that was be­com­ing less com­mon in child care pro­vi­sion, it was still sev­eral steps up from the care it re­placed and was a char­i­ta­ble re­sponse to the acute and chronic needs of des­ti­tute children and old peo­ple.

The ar­range­ments in Sligo, in­deed of all of Nazareth Homes, were mod­elled on and con­formed with the struc­ture and op­er­a­tion of the first Nazareth House Home in Ham­mer­smith, West Lon­don, which is still the Head­quar­ters of the Nazareth Sis­ters world­wide.

The next Nazareth House ar­ti­cle to be pub­lished in The Sligo Cham­pion on 1st Jan­uary 2019, will out­line why the boys came into care at Nazareth House, Sligo.

BISHOP CLANCY WANTED TO END IN­CAR­CER­A­TION OF PAUPER CHILDREN WITH ADULTS

Merville - First Nazareth House Home in Sligo - Now Nazareth Con­vent

Pic: Sis­ters of Nazareth Ar­chive.

Boys at Dit­ton Nazareth House, Eng­land pic­tured in 1910, the same year the Sligo Nazareth House opened.

Pic: Carl Bren­nan.

A Famine me­mo­rial now lies at the site of the for­mer Sligo work­house.

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