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
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
Boys at Ditton Nazareth House, England pictured in 1910, the same year the Sligo Nazareth House opened.
A Famine memorial now lies at the site of the former Sligo workhouse.