Friday, June 24, 1994

Sr. Dominic

On the 6th of November, 1933 Kathleen McHugh of Ballycorman, Ballylinan, a few miles outside Athy entered the local Convent of Mercy. On the 8th of May of the following year she made her first profession and received the name Sr. Mary Dominic Joseph. She then spent four years training as a nurse in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, before returning to Athy on the 14th of January, 1940 to work in the County Home which is now known as St. Vincent's Hospital. Sr. Dominic was to spend the next forty one years working there.

Initially an assistant to the ageing Sr. Angela, then matron of the County Home, Sr. Dominic was herself to be appointed to that position on the lst of April, 1957. One of her abiding memories of the 1940's and 1950's was the role played by the County Home in providing temporary accommodation for the homeless. In those days there were very few local authority housing schemes and privately owned rented accommodation was a common feature of town life. Evictions for non-payment of rent were not infrequent and it was to the County Home that dispossessed families were obliged to go for shelter. The strict separation of the sexes initiated on the opening of the County Home as a workhouse in 1844 ensured that husbands and wives, brothers and sisters were kept apart while living in the County Home.

Sr. Dominic remembers the ingenious use made of tea chests and butter boxes by families leaving the County Home to make a new life for themselves outside the institution. Tea chests and butter boxes fulfilled the dual roles of packing the few precious family possessions while later they served as table and chairs until times improved and furniture could be bought.

Tramps or vagrants who came to the County Home were always assured of kindness from Sr. Dominic. She was never known to turn away anyone deserving of assistance even if sometimes it took the help of the local Gardai to calm the boisterous and drunken behaviour of "the knights of the road" before they could be admitted to the County Home. The 'casuals' as they were called were invariably males who were required to do some work in return for their keep before they were discharged from the County Home. Usually they were employed in bringing turf to feed the open fires which heated the wards of the County Home. At other times they brought hot water in buckets from the boiler room to the various wards, all the while presenting Sr. Dominic with the additional problem of maintaining discipline in the female wards. On Saturday evenings special passes were available to the men living in the County Home who were able to walk into town where they had every opportunity to spend the half crown which they were allowed to retain out of their pensions. No such passes were however available to the women inmates. Drink was very cheap in those days and many a time the County Home wheelchair was despatched to town to wheel home the unfortunates who had indulged too well if not too wisely.

Another group who were regular visitors to the County Home were travellers who availed of it's maternity facilities for their confinements. In those days long before we became aware of politically correct language itinerants were called “tinkers” and to them the County Home was invariably referred to as 'the Spike'. When the time for the confinement came near the expectant mother went into the County Home while the rest of her extended family camped on the roadside nearby.

Sr. Dominic retired in 1981 and is today living in retirement in the Convent building in the grounds of St. Vincent's Hospital. She will be celebrating a very important birthday next February but wild horses would not drag out of me any indication of her age. She remains today as formidable as ever with a generous and charitable nature for which she is fondly remembered during her long association with the County Home.

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