Academic journal article Nursing History Review

The Nursing Radicalism of the Honourable Albinia Brodrick, 1861-1955

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

The Nursing Radicalism of the Honourable Albinia Brodrick, 1861-1955

Article excerpt

The Honourable Albinia Brodrick was born into the English aristocracy in 1861 but died a pauper in Ireland in 1955. During her lifetime, she moved from England to Ireland, changed her name from Albinia Brodrick to Gobnait Ni Bhruadair, and embraced Irish nationalist ideals that were in total opposition to the unionist political beliefs of her family. Throughout all these changes, this article argues, her life, work, and ideals were shaped by her embrace of the profession of nursing and her commitment to the rights of nurses. Her dedication and energy helped shape nursing politics in Ireland in the early twentieth century.

Brodrick was born on December 17, 1861, in Middlesex, England, to William Brodrick, Viscount Middleton, and his wife Augusta. She had the usual upbringing and activities of an aristocratic Protestant daughter, including attending concerts and balls at Buckingham Palace.1 She became familiar with politics as she accompanied her father on his visits to the House of Lords. She also accompanied him on visits to the family estates in County Cork, Ireland.2 However, there was always more to Brodrick than the ritualistic rounds of the upper classes. At the end of her twenties, she was known to be writing articles on political and scientific issues for English journals and possibly lived in Oxford as hostess for her uncle, George C. Brodrick, Warden (1831-1903) of Merton College.3 Yet, these activities were obviously not enough for her. By 1904, she had become a nurse.

Her introduction to nursing was not easy. She trained as a certificated nurse at the District Infirmary in Ashton-under-Lyne, and in later life, she was to refer to the hardships she experienced in her role as a nursing superintendent in a workhouse.4 By 1909, she was able to declare that she was "a trained nurse; I have the certificate of a trained midwife; I have the certificate of a health visitor, and I have two certificates to qualify me as a sanitary inspector."5

Brodrick and Ireland

In 1904, at the age of forty-two, Brodrick moved to Ireland but not to the estates of her family. She not only did her midwifery training in Dublin in 1905 but also spent some time in Kerry learning Irish. In 1908, she purchased land at West Cove near Caherdaniel in Kerry in the west of Ireland. The poverty of the land can be gauged by the fact that it was in one of the areas covered by the Congested Districts Board, an institution established by the British government to attempt to promote development in areas that were overpopulated or "congested" and where the population was regarded as permanendy close to starving.6 This was to be her home for the rest of her life, although the next twenty years saw her traveling continually between England and Ireland.

Appalled by the poverty she saw, and in particular by the health problems of the population, Brodrick set about building a hospital using her own money. She wrote to readers of the British Journal of Nursing on the evolution of her ideas and of her desire in middle age to build "A Hospital for Kerry, for one corner of Kerry, because of the children haunted by tuberculosis, the women tortured in childbirth, the men struck low before their time." She had received litde encouragement for this idea when she sought advice on her scheme and she castigated those who derided her plans, asking, "Did you ever need to be driven eighteen miles with a fractured thigh? Has your wife bled to death in childbirth for want of help? Is it your child that goes lame for life for want of treatment?"7

Brodrick called her scheme Ballincoona, the House of Help, and from the start it was no modest undertaking. Four acres were reclaimed from bog, 5,000 trees were planted, a road was laid, and a twenty-foot well was dug. A shelter, a storehouse, a workshop, a fowl house, a piggery, and a catde house were all completed and the foundations for the hospital laid in the first year, all for an expenditure of £2,620. …

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