"Mary": Grattan Street, Healthcare, Working Life

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"Mary": Grattan Street, Healthcare, Working Life


Ireland; Cork; Limerick; Middle Parish; The Marsh; Grattan Street; Occupational Lore;


‘Mary’ grew up on a farm in county Limerick, part of which was rented to a mental hospital to be worked by patients. By interacting with these patients she quickly learned who you could trust and who you couldn’t.

Mentions her brother’s physical and mental disability.

Discusses how the smell of tripe and drisheen reminds of father who died when she was young

Recounts her surprise and confusion as a child learning that her mother had remarried and her new husband was to live in the family home.

Outlines the routine on farm including looking after the cows, feeding hens, making bread, and how their dinner changed with seasonal availability of produce.

Talks about her commute to school on a bicycle with sister and standing up to boys who hassled them. Learned some subjects through Irish. Recalls her sister disliking being singled out by teacher because of her attractive eyes and hair.

Remembers seeing a young JP McManus cycling.

Explains how she always considered becoming a nurse. Discusses training and hospital experiences including with nuns. Believes that nurses who had worked abroad had a broader perspective on life.

Outlines the role of the Public Health Nurse which required entering patients’ houses and assisting them with births and deaths. Other features included the need to be able to read emotions and build trust with others and managing your work largely independently.

Describes some memorable cases as a PHN. A family singing Boney M to a baby with a severely lif-limiting condition. Waiting for an ambulance for a man struggling to breathe who lived without electricity. Trying to find help for an older woman struggling with dementia who was being passed from one agency to another without resolution. Fumigating a woman’s accommodation to rid it of fleas, the poor living conditions she found there and the ambivalent reaction of the woman to this health intervention.

Discusses vaccines, their role in eliminating polio and the varying attitudes to vaccination.

Recounts the story of social welfare officers in Grattan Street providing a bed to a woman who promptly sold it on the Coal Quay.

Reflects on the mutually beneficial mix of medical disciplines in Grattan Street and the positive relations between the staff.

Outlines the problems, changes and tensions relating to the car parking situation for Grattan Street staff and others in the surrounding community.

Talks about a child welfare issue where she had to attend court as a PHN.

Speaks of the deficiencies of the Grattan Street building including plaster falling off walls, the waste of paperwork, dry rot, bars on windows and a very out-of-date photocopier. Suggests future uses for the building.

Tells the story of the 2010 floods when the vaccines had to transferred  with difficulty to St Finbarr’s Hospital for safety.

Discusses the desirable feature of the new building in Gurranbraher including it having a central meeting area and parking as well as being of a manageable size, accessible and approachable.

Reflects on how she found her career of helping others rewarding.


14 March 2019




Cork, Limerick, Ireland, 1960s-2010s


Cork Folklore Project






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112 Minutes 13 Seconds



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Time Summary

0.00.00 - 0.00.25


0.00.25 - 0.02.29


Grew up in County Limerick. Dad died when young. Early memory as 3 year old feeding a calf. Trained in St Johns Limerick, midwifery in Glasgow, 1975 went to Australia- Melbourne, Sidney, Brisbane. Returned after a year. Worked in Orthopaedic hospital in Croom, Limerick. Came to Cork, worked in Sarsfield’s Court [Glanmire] in the chest unit. Met a man which is why she stayed in Cork. Nursing involved night-duty and weekends, and "Mary" was thinking forward and did the Public Health Course to become PHN Public Health Nurse- first assignment was Middle Parish based in Grattan Street.

0.02.29 - 0.05.26

Early Memories: Father’s Death, Family

Women with tea and USA biscuits. Seeing lines of men in the hay barn and animals coming out- must have been auction of the animals.

One older brother mentally & physically handicapped, 2 younger sisters. Mental Hospital St Joseph’s in Limerick rented land from their farm so there was an income coming in without the mother taking sole responsibility for running the farm. It was therapy for the patients working on the farm despite being out in all weather. "Mary" thinks that many of the male patients were there as a result of the war. One man was called Sergeant. "Mary's" family also got fresh vegetables from them.

Learning process for them, learned who they could trust and who not- “heightened our awareness of mankind”. Some people were fit and healthy and others had mental issues.

0.05.26 - 0.09.30

Memory of Smell of Tripe Cooking reminds of dad

When in St Johns in 2nd year of training ages 19 or 20- she had a memory of a taste and smell. Walking on corridor in 1st floor she got the smell. Found her way to room 8 and a priest was having tripe and drisheen or tripe and packet as it’s called in Limerick.

You could get the smell passing Shaws abattoir on the way into Limerick City. They had a hooter which would sound at 1pm and 5pm or 6pm in the evening which could be heard by "Mary" at home.

Says that tripe is the lining of a sheep’s stomach. “Villi”- nooks and crannies. Still buys it in the English Market on the left hand-side when you enter from the Grand Parade- and there was someone in front of her in the queue so she wasn’t the only one buying it! Advises opening a window to let the small out!

0.09.30 - 0.10.35

Typical Day on the Farm when Growing up- making bread 

They had a cow on the farm. Woman called May who helped out their mother on the farm. They would put on their “busy coat” or “duds” to milk cow, bring in milk, make brown soda bread.

Remembers mother making bread around 10am in an earthenware crock with sour milk in it which went into the Aga oven.

0.10.35 - 0.13.05

Learning about her Mother Remarrying

Tom worked with the mental hospital and he would call in and there was a china cup for him. "Mary" asked her mother whether Tom slept in the house now, and previously asked May where her mother was and was told she was on holidays. Subsequently she realised that her mother had married Tom and they had been on honeymoon.

Reflects on how little information she was given about this change in situation and how it applies in her nursing role and thinks that sometimes less information is better when dealing with young children who may not fully understand everything.

0.13.05- 0.16.00

Typical Day on the Farm when Growing up

In winter deal with the cow: hay, water, and muck out. Cow let out in the field in spring and summer. Dinner would be any time after the cake was made- ready about 12:30. Dinner usually bacon, cabbage, carrots, parsnips. As season moved on more turnips and potatoes. Seasonal. Started with Ker Pinks then Golden Wonders, didn’t like soapy Aran Banners. Then apple or rhubarb tarts. Supper at 5pm or 6pm: beans, bananas, eggs. They had hens which had to be fed.

Went to bed at 8pm or 9pm. In evening have to bring the cow back down and there might be 10 or 12 bullocks following you- nightmare that they would trample you to death?

Mother and May made the food. When "Mary" was 7 or 8 years old May was let go as "Mary" was considered old enough to help out.

0.16.00- 0.17.57

Interaction with the Patients of the Mental Hospital

Looking out the window watching them. Sheep shearing and rolling of the wool. Taking off the “daggings” and rolling the wool into fleeces. Or bringing in the hay watching them piking and the change from horses to tractors.

There was an archway into their yard and it became harder to get larger machines through the arch over time.

Later on it became bales of hay rather than wines of hay (in Limerick) whereas in Cork they would call it trams.

0.17.57 - 0.19.17

Animals, Games and Mushrooms

They prepared the animals with special soaps for the Limerick Show in August [Limerick Agricultural Show Society]. As children they would sit on the walls in the cow house (cowhouse) and use the chains as stirrups and pretend to be riding horses.

Picked mushrooms in fields often along the path the cows had made where you’d find mushrooms. 

0.19.17- 0.21.36


Going to School and Standing up for Yourself

Walk across the fields to get to the road to school which was 2 miles away, wear wellies if raining. When older cycled to school. Had the younger sister in the carrier. Fell off the bike coming down Ryan’s Hill and the sister fell into the bushes and the nettles. Mother gave out to them for falling off the bike.

In 6th class coming up the hill on was home from school at cousin Mick Clancy’s hill boys thought it was fun to hold on to the carrier to hold them back. "Mary's" mother advised to throw a stone at the boys. The next time it happened she picked up a rock and the boys ran away. It was lesson for "Mary" for life to stand up for herself and that the threat was enough to work.

0.21.36- 0.25.44



5 years old when she started school, thinks it might have been around Easter time. Small two teacher school. Mrs McAvoy the principal of the school had taught her father, and was distantly related to "Mary". "Mary's" sister was put on the teacher’s desk to be admired because of her beautiful eyes and hair- which she disliked because she was being made to feel different. 

6 pupils in her class in 5th class and they were given the choice to do History and Geography through English or Irish and they chose to do it through Irish. The teacher was from Dingle and from him they learned a “love and appreciation” for Irish.

Had good spoken Irish in a secondary school in Limerick City. Her knowledge of Irish helped later on as a PHN when she was assigned an area which had a Gaeltacht in it. Most Gaeltacht schools were insistent that the PHNs did use Irish.

"Mary" went to Secondary School in the Presentation in Sexton Street. 

0.25.44 - 0.27.57

Neighbour’s House and JP McManus on a Bike 

A little old lady, a spinster called Noni lived in road opposite them. She had old open fireplace with bellows, and thatched roof and two dogs. "Mary" had a step-brother and a step-sister. The step brother was quiet and calm in Noni’s house but he was cross and looking for attention when he was at home.

A guy in secondary school used to cycle past in a red bike and "Mary" later discovered it was JP McManus [businessman and racehorse owner] and her younger sister knew him.

0.27.57 - 0.29.49


Starting in Nursing after School

Always in the back of her mind to do nursing. Did leaving cert when 17 and did interview for nursing. Had started a commercial course. The Blue Nuns ran St. John’s Hospital and knew she was due to start in February. Millford House in Castletroy was run by Blue Nuns and they had a nursing home and "Mary" dropped the commercial course and worked there as a nurses aid. It was a good introduction and confidence building exercise for her. "Mary" thinks that for the nuns patient care was paramount and the written work less important but it is almost the reverse today.

0.29.49 - 0.34.51


Decision to do Nursing and Other Career Options 

Looking at magazines and what nursing involved. Career guidance consisted of blue leaflets. Through the commercial course "Mary" heard about the Junior X course to get into the civil service and the ESB jobs which she hadn’t been aware of through school. Travel was something that she considered and nursing catered for that. The nurses who had lived abroad were easier to work with they had a broader perspective on life and “didn’t sweat the small stuff”.

When you started nursing you got to see the different fields and "Mary" liked theatre work and enjoyed the labour ward when she was doing midwifery. Matron had said to her that she should considered doing the tutoring course. Thinks this is because she was questioning what her tutor was reading out of textbooks. 

She applied for the tutoring course. But she while she had anatomy and biology for the leaving cert but not chemistry and physics. So she did leaving cert physics and chemistry that year but dropped the physics because she had also taken on introduction to psychology. But she had already gotten the Public Health so she chose that.

0.34.51 - 0.43.07

Public Health Nurse: Role and Duties

PHN you are on your own to some extent you can plan your day, assess the patient. Communicate with the patient GP and hospital. You were independent to a large extent. Had continuity you could see things improving or ‘disimproving’.

House visits, vaccination clinics as part of a team, coffee or lunch in Grattan Street where you met other disciplines not just nursing. A mix.

Could be rostered for a dressings clinic in Grattan Street. They might have been referred after discharge from the Mercy Hospital. Now the Mercy would have its own dressings clinic. 

Going to schools dealing with healthy children and teachers. Originally had an admin person with them but now just a doctor and nurse when going to vaccinate in schools. 

HPV vaccination a big team goes to try to get the first years done in one go. 

Health promotion going into houses and dealing with young mums. Private houses, corporation houses built in 1950s and 1960s, apartments or flats as they called them then. Leave a note for someone who you couldn’t find in a flat. Maybe a baby that wasn’t feeding very well. Hear that the mother has moved house and start detective work to track her down asking neighbours. And the nurse in their new area would be informed. 

Write letters to council about the poor conditions of housing. And then neighbours would ask for letters then as well.

0.43.07 - 0.51.42

Perspective & Expectations of Patients on Healthcare 

Most people were welcoming and giving you tea that you didn’t want. A few were trying to get the PHN to adapt too much to their own schedules.

For patients the PHN came at the beginning of life and at the end of life. Would be asked “do you think it’s better today nurse?” and trying to read the emotions of the other family members.

Understanding with the GP about what the family situation was. Some people would ask for everything they thought they could get other families would never ask for anything. 

PHN has to decide how necessary a request is or how much someone needs to be persuaded.

Try to stay on side and be persistent.

Older people at the time had the idea that you only left a hospital in a box. So it could be hard to persuade them to go to hospital. Fear of lack of independence as well. 

Reflect on how nursing training prepares PHN for these situations. "Tread wearily" and "feel the vibes" when entering a new patient environment. 

Privilege to be with people in their time of need because you felt that you were doing something and you were a support to the family especially in the time before morphine pumps. Even saying “I don’t think anything is going to happen tonight” might be the simple reassurance that the family wants. 

Fear with a bedbound patient is that they would get pressure sores. One of the ways to avoid this is to change their position. And there was some education involved in ensuring whoever was moving the patient when the PHN isn’t there was doing it correctly. Extended family would assist with a patient in a way less common today. 

0.51.42 - 0.55.45


Memories of mothers and their babies and music

Remembers a family who lived in one of the lanes off North Main Street. “me mam” was what the family called the beautiful mother who had a lame leg, she had grey-blond hair. One of the daughters had a baby that had a life-limited condition. The whole family were supporting them. They were always well made-up and the sick baby was in the middle. The baby didn’t survive only lived for 8 or 9 months. The family used to sing “Brown Girl in the Ring” by Boney M and the baby used to recognise it and respond. 

Sleet and rain coming up North Main Street. Pound shop maybe called Powers Jim Reeves and Bing Crosby singing White Christmas which lifted her heart. Streets were full at Christmastime.

0.55.45 - 1.01.36


Patients and Cases and conditions in the Grattan Street/ Middle Parish Area 

Remembers rickety stairs leading to flats above shops which you wouldn’t realise were there. 

Old man lived in laneway off Grattan Street in a tenement house like those in Glasgow she had seen near York Hill, with red sandstone buildings. Went to this man on a quick “social visit” and he had rasping breath. Just “kippins” or laths on the fire. No electricity. Waiting two hours for ambulance to come. Man didn’t survive. Something else in place of the building now. There may not have been a door on the house you could just walk straight in.

0.55.45 - 0.58.18

Patients and Cases and conditions in the Grattan Street/ Middle Parish Area- difficulties of nursing and dealing with different agencies. 

Woman with dementia in 1970s one room flat in warm house. Bathroom outside. Wasn’t able to look after herself. Had the newspapers stored on top of the electric cooker. GP trying to get her somewhere. Woman would lock herself out. Half naked walking across Sheare’s Street. "Mary" put her in own car and brought her to Our Lady’s Hospital to be seen by psychiatrist. They wouldn’t take her because of her age. Arranged geriatrician appointment who wouldn’t take her because she was psychiatric. A “street woman” (homeless woman) moved in with her and was able to make sure the house wouldn’t be set on fire. Meals on Wheels or Penny Dinners sharing the one meal. "Mary's" frustration with the bureaucracy.

0.58.18 - 1.05.20

Woman with Flea Bites/ Flea Marks

"Mary" being polite said told her it was a rash but the woman had no qualms about calling them fleabites. "Mary" got temporary eviction order to clean out her flat. Process was traumatic for "Mary" & the woman. Woman spent her time in St Francis Church while her flat was being cleaned. The woman had collected things from bins and stored them in her house in case she might use them and they removed 57 bags of rubbish. Found a beautiful photograph album. Mounds of rubbish as high as the bed. Bucket to empty into the toilet. Candles in danger of burning the house down. The woman was upset that her stuff had been taken but they had put her things in storage in case she wanted them. As PHN you can wear your own clothes but "Mary"wore white uniform in case of infestation in the flat. Man from environmental health section sprayed the flat. "Mary" counted 57 dead fleas on her uniform when she took it off in the bath when she got home.

Later with her boyfriend at the time the same woman shouted “Hello nurse!” at her.

1.05.20 - 1.18.38


Vaccines, Vaccination and the anti-vaccination 

People were pro vaccinate after 1956 polio outbreak in Cork. Many people would have been familiar with Polio, its devastating affect and that you can be vaccinated against it. People had to come to the clinic 3 or 4 times with a baby which might be difficult for families with many children and buggies. Remembers vulnerable family in Knocknaheeney. The mother was poor with keeping appointments and she came in the pouring rain with 4 or 5 children. Cost of taxi was 11 pounds or euro even though she had to live on social welfare. The staff suggested that she could get a bus. But she pointed out that one of her children was ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and that he would be climbing on the bus stop. "Mary" says the woman deserved a medal and reflects that they as staff had been judging her for her predicament.

Crowds of people and buggies. Role of extended family in assisting with child rearing. Some children may be difficult to deal with. Obstacles to families getting children vaccinated. 

Vaccination card files. Brought from City Hall to the place of vaccination and not locked. Vaccines were taken from a fridge in City Hall and brought in a biscuit tin along with adrenaline in case someone had a reaction. Compares this to the modern method of cold-chain. 

After Professor Wakefield made an association between MMR vaccine and autism the vaccination uptake reduced and it’s been an uphill battle since to reverse it. 

In 1970s and 1980s there was memory of measles, mumps, meningitis and polio. 

"Mary" worked in a school where a child refused vaccinations in junior infants in the early 1980s. That child got measles, encephalitis and was in a wheelchair by 1st class and by age 8 or 9 she was dead. HCA (Handicapped Childrens Allowance) allowance handicapped children’s allowance financial support for the extra care that was needed for the child. Thinks of the scaremongering about vaccines and the consciences of those people if they knew what the result of not getting vaccinated was. That incident happened in the early 1980s. 

Worked with a doctor who had difficulty walking after he had got polio in the 1950s. 

Young mothers in 1970s and 1980s had mothers who influenced them based on their accounts in the diseases in 1950s.

Rural approach to vaccines: if you eat healthy and are healthy then you won’t contract the disease. "Mary" says that while a weaker person succumbs to a disease faster it’s not a protection against a disease. Rural culture which still exists of “I don’t believe in vaccines”.

HPV vaccines. With all vaccines certain percentage of risk even though it is very rare. Weigh up the advantages versus the risk of something happening.

Vaccine cold chain from manufacturer to the administering to the child is much more streamlined.

Incidence of polio came down so vaccines were effective. 

1.18.38 - 1.21.46


Earliest Memories of Grattan Street

Waiting room now it’s opened up with pillars and a balcony. When "Mary" started it had a ceiling and so was enclosed and it had a wooden floor where you could hear the “clip clop” of people walking across it echoing. They didn’t have access to the upstairs with stores and pigeons. According to Anne [a friend who worked there] there were stores of the things leftover from when Grattan Street was used as a dispensary/pharmacy/chemist. Old fashioned metal chairs with a timber seat.

Queue in the mornings for the dressing, older people with big swollen legs.

Mr Hart and Mr Condon were the social welfare officers and they would have clinics which had crowds of people waiting for them. People would receive bed linen or washing machines.

Mr Hart advised "Mary" once that when he started out he was given a sob story and he got someone a number of beds and later he saw them being sold on the Coal Quay!

Smoking was allowed at the time so there was the smell and fog of smoke.

1.21.46 - 1.23.14


Repairs and Revamp/ Refurbishment of Grattan Street

Transferred to the City Hall while there was revamping or refurbishing of Grattan Street. Once they returned one of the admin staff noticed that a there was some dry rot on part of the wood in the jam of the door and more repairs had to be done.

Beautiful once the repairs were done. Opened up the ceiling with the balcony. The big tea room could be used for meetings and there was a fridge and kettle- luxury!

1.23.14 - 1.27.35

Grattan Street as a Workplace

“You could never call it glamorous!”. Bars on the windows. Hose reel for the fire. For fire drills the bars on some windows could be opened. The people to work with were fabulous. Dave in podiatry said ‘the building was crap but the people were lovely’. Building was fine, serviceable. "Mary" had a sense of history of the building and that it was privilege to work in it. Beautiful cut limestone blocks. Appreciated that and the big windows.

Anne set off the alarm once when she went out the back door.

There was once a mix up with the keys. The cleaners would lock up and throw the keys in the letter box and someone else would open up in the morning with another set of keys. But somehow both sets of keys were in the letter box. "Mary" climbed in through a window that was opened and was able to open the door from the inside! Sean the porter would remember this story and Pam from the eye clinic would remember it as well.

1.27.35 - 1.30.11


Description of Grattan Street

Historic, homely, old grandeur, comfortable but uncomfortable, people are willing to work and find solutions. Nice building at one level but primitive at another level.

Staff were always lovely and gelled. Started with 3 disciplines and that expanded. People were caring and good sense of comradery, work spirit and work ethic.

Old photocopier that was there for 20-30 years which was always breaking down. They used to repair it themselves. When they asked for a new one they were told “it’s not pride is making ye ask for a new one!”

1.30.11 - 1.31.23


The Effect of the Mix of Disciplines

Levelling effect. Nobody thought they were above anyone. Meet people from other disciples who could make exceptions or give advice- could tic-tac with one another. It was very personal. You weren’t going into someone else’s territory through some doors. They all met in the tea rom.

1.31.23 - 1.33.08


Car Park

No car parking when "Mary" began. Staff and outsiders could park there. There was some kind of grandfather clause which allowed non-staff to park there. There used to be agro between the staff about it until they realised they were all in the same boat. Then the Educate Together School opened up and they were trying to park their cars there too. It’s hassle. Manic at times. Compares it to Mr Bean. Residents had parking.

1.33.08 - 1.35.46


Child Welfare Case

Child welfare issue was brought in front of Judge Clifford. The mother had issues with alcohol and depression (those problems could affect children not getting vaccines as well). "Mary" remembers child or 4 or 5 years of age with bottle in their mouth and the bottle had whiskey in it. The fridge had one tomato in it. What should the staff wear to court- should they wear a hat? "Mary" was obliged to call to the house as a result of the case. And the child was eventually fostered.

Wheelchairs and how tough it was for families and children growing up and needing bigger wheelchairs. Makes you think how lucky you are according to "Mary".

1.35.46 - 1.37.39


Curiosities and Quirks of Grattan Street Building

Pigeons could be heard upstairs and the exterminator came. Plaster crumbling off the walls in Grattan Street.

Paperwork and records. New letterheads and they were ordered to dump things while people downstairs were looking for things but there was money being wasted on paperwork being thrown out.

1.37.39 - 1.41.50


Floods 2010 and Transporting Vaccines

Vaccines were stored in a special room with fridges wired directly to the mains, there was a fear the power would be lost. Water was at the door. Vaccines should be transferred to St Finbarr’s hospital. "Mary" and Sean the porter waited for a van to come to transport them. Eventually a fiesta arrived with 2 big men. They had 20-30 boxes like cool boxes. They made two trips in "Mary's" car to bring the vaccines across town through the floods. Describes herself as a determined person.

Onetime borrowed waders from Meitheal Mara on Crosses Green and walked to Grattan Street in them.

1.41.50 - 1.43.18


Future of Grattan Street Building

Historical connection with William Penn. Would like to see Grattan Street be a visitor centre or a place for weddings. Could have a little garden or courtyard.

Current waiting room could be used.

Catering could be provided there as well.

1.43.18 - 1.46.50


Hopes for St. Mary’s Primary Care Centre

Hopes there is suitable parking. And tied up thinking from the planning department and developers. Encouraging people to go green and use bicycles etc. is fine but closing parking isn’t the place to start.

There should be a place to make a cup of tea yourself.

Good service for people who need it and people feel they can access it.

Hope it isn’t too big, and there won’t be sections that you will never meet.

A central meeting place is desirable where you could meet someone you don’t directly work with.

1.46.50 - 1.48.40


Making the Building Approachable

Easy access. Does there need to be a service for mothers to get up the hill to the health centre? Will there be a place for children to play in?

People should be given specific individual appointments not 20 appointments sent out for 2pm. Access to water like a watercooler.

1.48.40 - 1.52.00


Decision to Become a Nurse

Would choose to be a nurse if she had the option over again. Has enjoyed life and had a good home life. Have had lots of opportunities.

Could have become pigeonholed in one area. In one way "Mary" feels she has cut herself off from other aspects of nursing that she was interested in- clinical and theatre related work.

Rewarding helping mothers and children with bed wetting issues.

1.52.00- End

Outro. Interview ends 1.52.13


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Cork Folklore Project, “"Mary": Grattan Street, Healthcare, Working Life,” accessed April 17, 2024, https://corkfolklore.org/archivecatalolgue/document/242.