Jane Ward: Grattan Street, Healthcare, Working Life

Grattan Poster for Email 286 by 400.jpg


Jane Ward: Grattan Street, Healthcare, Working Life


Jane grew up in Balbriggan and Skerries County Dublin. Describes her love of the Georgian house her family lived in and her love of old buildings and antiques before they moved to a smaller home.

Recalls her first holy communion where one girl arrived late and had to experience the ceremony on her own.

Speaks of some childhood games and playing and picnicking by the sea.

Enjoyed school at Loreto Convent Balbriggan even though the nuns were strict. English was her favourite subject.

Talks about her desire to become a nurse and her experiences in Dublin hospitals. Describes the strict discipline and hierarchy in hospitals including the way superiors exercised power over how nurses were required to dress and commented on their physical appearance with impunity. Jane outlines the negative impacts of this culture including fear of making a mistake and the incentive to cover up of mistakes. Outlines a rare challenge to authority when nurses boycotted a graduation ceremony. Mentions the role of religion in hospitals.

Outlines her time spend nursing in USA, a romantic relationship and her emigrant experience there before returning to Ireland to pursue Public Health Nursing (PHN), which she prefers as it feels she is making a difference.

Discusses moving to Cork and her early positive impressions of Grattan Street Medical Centre and its staff. Speaks about the Grattan Street building itself, including its sense of history, graffiti on its outside walls, and its convenient location in the city centre and proximity to other services. Describes the problems with car parking and the resulting tensions with neighbours.  

Jane speaks of her PHN work in Blackpool and a court case involving a child and social worker. Outlines the characteristic of a good PHN, and how much of the role is learned through experience. Regrets the turn her career has taken towards management and away from dealing with patients.

Discusses the 1999 nursing strike which lead to a new role for an immunisation specialist which she was hired for. Describes how colleagues insisted on referring to her by her previous title, refusing to acknowledge her promotion and equal status. Describes her role including overseeing Swine Flu vaccinations.

Explains the vaccine cold storage system, the sense of responsibility for ordering them and overseeing them. Tells stories of when vaccines were relocated during a flood to protect them, and when the electricity was monitored during a storm in case the power was cut to the vaccine fridges. Mentions vaccine policies, myths and technological developments.

Outlines her preferred time to move services from Grattan Street to St Mary’s Primary Healthcare Centre Gurranabraher.


4 June 2019




Cork Folklore Project Audio Archive


Cork Folklore Project






2 .wav files




126 Minutes 10 Seconds


St Mary’s Primary Health Care Centre Gurranabraher

Original Format


Bit Rate/Frequency

24bit / 48kHz

Time Summary

0.00.00 - 0.00.28


0.00.28 - 0.02.41

Growing Up in County Dublin

Grew up in Balbriggan County Dublin, seaside town between Dublin and Drogheda. When growing up she was allowed to Drogheda to shop by herself but not to Dublin because Drogheda was considered a safer town. [Jane mentions that Drogheda is not considered safe at present this is an allusion to drug gang related violence in Drogheda which was in the news around the time of the interview.]

Also mentions Skerries as a seaside town in County Dublin. Went to school in Loreto Convent in Balbriggan at 4 and finished when 17 and refused the nuns’ offer to stay another year. Stayed in the same school for primary and secondary school, the benefit of which is having the same people with you.

Had a school reunion about a year previously. Some of her classmates she didn’t recognise, but some of their names she also didn’t recognise.

Says she loves Balbriggan.

0.02.41 - 0.04.28

Moving House as Child

Balbriggan and Skerries were just 4 miles apart, moved to Skerries when a teenager but considers herself to be from Balbriggan. Rivalry between the two towns and Skerries is considered to be nicer.

Balbriggan was more “Wavin pipes”, more industry, Skerries was more for tourists. There was a holiday camp called Red Island that people in Dublin used to go to in Skerries. It was like the holiday camp in Dirty Dancing. [3:27-3:33 Aoife O’Brien who had been interviewed for the Grattan Street Project previously walks into the room at this point.]

Skerries would have considered itself snobby as it has a rugby and sailing club.

Even though she moved to Skerries she still went to school in Ballbriggan which was “not the done thing”. Her brothers went to school in Skerries and are married and live in Skerries.

Bracken Court Hotel in Balbriggan which has been there forever and she remembers going there for her Holy Communion breakfast.

0.04.28 - 0.07.13

Holy Communion Day

It was a small group making their holy communion in the convent church rather than the town church. It was special in the sense that there were few children making their communion. Kathleen Gavin was given the wrong time for the communion and turned up an hour late and “the nuns ate her” and the nuns wouldn’t admit that they gave her the wrong time and she had to bring it in the next day to prove it to them. Kathleen still tells that story and is traumatised by it. She had to make her first holy communion by herself.

It was a lovely sunny day and they all stood on the steps of the convent for a photograph. Confirmation was made in town.

Now people will have a meal out after a communion or confirmation but in Jane’s time that was not always the case. But her aunt who lived next door brought her to the Grand Hotel (now the Bracken Court Hotel Balbriggan) for a lunch/brunch after the ceremony. And this was “a huge deal” because it was not a common occurrence at the time.

For confirmation there were a few schools being confirmed at once. And there was a line of boys and a line of girls being confirmed at the same time in the church. All the girls wanted to be kneeling beside John Conway a boy who everyone fancied.

0.07.13 - 0.10.15

Games when growing up

She wasn’t big into sport. Lived in a big old haunted house which her grandmother left to her mother. It was near the sea. As children they were allowed onto the rocks by themselves.

She played basketball in school but was not very good at it. Didn’t like that kind of confrontation.

Played by the sea, it wasn’t a beach but rocks. Picnics and playing. Her dad built a ship in the garden, with a deck and sails. She was a big fan of Enid Blyton books as a child, especially the Secret Seven and the ‘Famous Five’ books. Her dad build them a Secret Seven type hut in the garden. As children they “went on mysteries”. They followed one man in imitation of the Enid Blyton books and decided that he was a smuggler. And they followed him up to a Martello Tower where he happened to be going to urinate.

They had more freedom then, allowed to leave in the morning and return in the evening. That was the norm and there wasn’t the supervision that is present today.

0.10.15 - 0.16.01

Old Family House

Fancourt: big Georgian house. She hated leaving the house as a child. It was very expensive to keep the house and there were also rates to pay. In addition there were fees to pay for the convent school and there was five children going to school.

So they moved to a smaller house in Skerries.

Fancourt: Three storey, basement and land attached to it but there was more but it was sold to try to keep the house. Discusses the house and its jointly owned green area with the neighbouring houses.

Haunted house: where priests were staying which was her sister’s bedroom- she saw a ghost of a monk. Other stories of ghosts including knocking on doors and foxhunters.

Regrets the old furniture was sold, including servants bells. Jane is interested in auctions.

0.16.01- 0.17.08

House in Skerries

Small, terrace house. Skerries nice place to live by sea. Brother lived in Brambles estate and bought new house on the skerries terrace.

0.17.08 - 0.23.13

Secondary School

Loved school. Regrets being too good and not being bold.

Wore green uniform. No street lights and was too far from town to meet friends after school at Loreto Convent. Loved the nuns though they were tough. Grateful to her parents for her education.

Loved her friends, the school and its old building. Felt safe. Describes herself as average student not into sports.

Few jobs for women when they finished school.

English was her favourite subject. Would love to be librarian. Prefers physical books to E-books/Kindle.

Pressure on students today at exam time. Criticises the Leaving Certificate points system where students opt for high points courses rather than one they are interested in.

Importance of working at something you like: “Hard work won’t kill you but work you hate will”

0.23.13- 0.26.36

Nursing Training & Hunger Strike Incident

Jane’s mother had been a nurse. When she finished school there was a shortage of nurses. The applied directly to hospitals for nursing. But hospitals wanted trained staff rather than students.

Trained in Jervis Street Hospital where the shopping centre is in Dublin now was a general hospital.

Saying about nurses and Dublin hospitals: “Vincent’s snobs, Mater ladies and Jervis Nurses”

Recalls riots due to Hunger Strikes. A man pulled a gun on her on O’Connell Street. Night duty on ward on her own, 20-25 beds. 24 rioters and 1 Garda were in the same ward.

0.26.36 - 0.31.48

Wanting to be a Nurse & Early Nursing Experience

Played hospital as a child. Always wanted to work in nursing. Has enjoyed much of it. Would not advise anyone to do nursing.

Recalls seeing a confused naked man on her first day.

Worried crying about giving the wrong medication to patient.

Nurse students were also staff.

Loved Irish nurses in America when she was their because their training was very practical.

Enjoyed her time in St Mary’s Hospital New Jersey USA.

Film “FX Murder by Illusion” features the hospital she worked in.

0.31.48 - 0.34.50

Hospital in USA and Differences in Immigrants’ Intention

AIDS was a big issue in the hospital in USA

Observes that most immigrant groups in USA wanted to stay there but Irish people wanted to return to Ireland.

Impact of Irish on the world St Patrick’s Day Parade. Thinks Irish people are patriotic abroad and keen to return home.

0.34.50 - 0.37.43

Discipline in Hospital

Difficult senior nurses. The sense of hierarchy. Demeaning and mocking way junior nurses were spoken to was accepted.  Jane was referred to as an “anencephalic”, a baby born without part of its head which will soon die.

When you knelt down your uniform had to touch the ground. Ward sister demanded to see under Jane’s uniform to see she was wearing a slip under her uniform.

Nurses were allowed to wear a cardigan at night but had to take it off in the morning.

A nurse went to Saudi Arabia where she was murdered.

Thinks they were strict about stupid things. Discipline was important. No one thought to question it.

0.37.43 - 0.40.58

Story of nurses boycotting nursing event

Did midwifery in Rotunda. The Scottish matron didn’t hire any of the students but hired Scottish nurses.

Jane & fellow midwifery students boycotted the graduation event in protest at this. Matron spoke to them individually. A brave nurse refused to answer any questions unless her union representative. Jane’s class is the only one not to have a group photo because of the boycott.

People didn’t defy superiors at the time.

0.40.58 - 0.42.32

Effect of the Strict Discipline

Some staff were panicky and nervous about making a mistake. May have incentivised people to cover up mistakes to avoid the repercussions instead of working something out.

Matron could make personal remarks about nurses without repercussions: telling a nurse to fix her crooked teeth.

0.42.32 - 0.44.22

Religion in Hospitals

No MRSA in those days. Nuns ran a very clean and efficient hospital. Jervis was a Catholic hospital. Rotunda was a Protestant hospital, most of the staff were Catholic and they went to mass, then the Protestants went to service and were given tea and biscuits.

0.44.22 - 0.50.00

Working as a Nurse in USA: differences to Irish system

Had to sit an exam before working as a nurse in USA.

VISA dependant on passing the exam. Irish nurses were not used to multiple choice exams at the time. They were also required to sit an English language examination to work as a nurse in the USA.

Rented houses were arranged for the nurses. Jane had a car and dated a man in Washington at the time. An exciting time.

Maximum was 2 patients to a room in USA vs larger wards in Ireland. In USA their reports were taken on a tape recorder rather than written.

Patient’s doctor would still be their doctor once they went to hospital.

DRG Diagnostic Related Grouping which was related to how many days insurance would be paid per patient per illness.

Good life and money in USA which allowed Jane to do the Public Health course in UCD.

0.50.00 - 0.56.20

Public Health Nursing

Desire to come home.

Discusses her relationship with a reporter/journalist in USA which ended when she returned to Ireland.

Began work in Ballyfermot - highlight in public health career.

Started a needle exchange for drug addiction. Dynamic and progressive area. Rough area but felt you were making a difference. Didn’t feel the same way when she moved to Cork.

Public Health vs Hospital:

In hospital you pass the patient to the next shift, but in Public Health you are responsible for all of your cases.

Once her camera was stolen from her car when visiting a patient.

0.56.20 - 1.00.49

Coming to Cork

Came to Cork because husband was working there.

Had to do an Irish oral exam to get the Public Health job in Cork.

November 1992 got job in Grattan Street Health Centre. Got married January 1993.

Staff had a lunch and cake in before her wedding, and a present even though she was only there for a month.

Admires architecture of Queens University Belfast, where she could have gone to work in the 1980s.

Remarks on the small decisions than influence one’s life and career.

1.00.49 - 1.06.59

Impressions of Grattan Street Health Centre Work as Public Health Nurse

Parking problems in Grattan Street.

Met director in base Abbey Court House. “The one thing you learn in Grattan Street is how to park!” There was more space before the school [Educate Together]

Grattan Street was a welcoming place.

Public Health Nurse in Blackpool flats now demolished.

There was a brothel in one. Fantastic people.

Once left handbag behind in Blackpool.

Mixed work in Ballyfermot but all child welfare in Cork- visiting houses.

Discusses one case of child with broken leg where mother hadn’t done anything about it. So a social worker and Garda were needed to get the child to hospital. Jane had to go to court. The child was returned to the mother. Jane then had to still work with that mother subsequently.

1.06.59 - 1.09.02

Impression of Danger in Some Areas

Worked with St Vincent de Paul in Knocknaheeny. Never felt threatened.

Privileged to get into flats that people would let no one else into.

If she saw suspected stolen goods she and they knew that she was not interested in anything other than child welfare.

1.09.02 - 1.11.35

Story of very Difficult Patient

Hospitals can discharge patients but as PHN the patient can live in your area for decades.

Nurses shared a rota to look after this man because the heavy workload.

Digression to story about writing wrong date in calligraphy on a colleague’s wedding album.

1.11.35 - 1.15.30

What makes a Good Public Health Nurse

Get on with people. Make people relaxed. People need to trust you. Have to be honest. Not trying to be someone’s friend.

Assessment of patient is important.

Patients can become dependent on a particular PHN.

Privilege to enter other people’s homes, especially when they won’t let other people into their homes eg social workers or Gardaí

1.15.30 - 1.19.30

Training and Meaning from Job

Training didn’t prepare her for PHN. Compares it to jumping off a chair to train for parachute jump.

End of career now. Disappointed at choices she made. She is now doing more management and less hands-on.

Recalls times she felt she made a difference: making a joke with a terminal patient, assisting a family who had brought their father home to die to care for him when they were overwhelmed.

Doesn’t feel like she is making a difference any more.

1.19.30 - 1.21.20

Regrets the Management side of the Job

As she was promoted she was had to do more management which she regrets.

Is considering retiring or changing career.

Would love to be a librarian or work with antiques or books. Discounts it as silly at this stage of her life.

Is unhappy with her current work. Her staff say she makes a difference but she is not sure. She took a career break and her staff missed her.

Feels too far away from where she started.

1.21.20 - 1.26.40

Promotion to Vaccine and Management Role

1999 nursing strike.

Jane was on strike committee. Picketed Abbey Court House on Sulllivan’s Quay.  Meeting with management to decide whether the strikers could use the toilets and canteen.

Outcome of the strike was that new job for a specialist in immunisation, vaccine. Jane was stabbed by a syringe by accident one day.

Overnight Jane became Assistant Director, and colleagues at same grade insisted on calling her Senior Public Health Nurse which was the previous title.

Recalls an Assistant Director who was victimised in a more severe way to Jane which went to mediation.

It went away but it was nasty at the time Jane says.

Jane was never invited to the Assistant Director Christmas lunch for years

1.26.40 - 1.29.26

Change from Clinical to Managerial Role

Her role was a clinical role with no staff, vaccines following up on defaulters. Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements changed her role.

Swine Flu vaccinating 1000 people a day in Neptune Stadium.

School public health nurses were backbone of system. And the management system was at cross purposes. These nurses eventually came under her remit. Realised that she didn’t like management- doesn’t like taking responsibility for the mistake of others.

Describes her management style as “Do it, do it, do it!” and she shouldn’t have to give a reason.

1.29.26 - 1.33.20

Building in Grattan Street compared to Gurranabraher

Loves the building. Old Quaker Meeting House.

Graffiti of penis and scrotum that her elderly aunt was trying to figure out.

Would have preferred to stay in Grattan Street.

Recalls the old ventilation holes where pigeon droppings would land on your desk.

Location of Grattan Street is good for the public and services.

Grattan Street building requires work to maintain it.

Unsure if it’s a positive move for services to Gurranabraher.

Useful to be near Edel House [women’s shelter] and the Share Houses.

She has 7 staff but the new office is for 4 people which she thinks is insulting. Doesn’t believe hot desking works.

They are on a “room allocation review list”

1.33.20 - 1.35.09

Benefits of Grattan Street Health Centre

Close to town- shops and the bank.

Part of the community in Grattan Street. Close to Mercy Hospital. Building has a good feel. Felt at home there. Lots of history.

The only thing people don’t miss in Grattan Street is the parking. Everyone went to the Grattan Street Christmas party.

1.35.09 - 1.40.06

Relationship with community in Grattan Street

Animosity is with neighbours regarding parking.

Story about getting kitchen done by a man from Grattan Street and being concerned about parking.

School next door- issue with parking- children don’t live in the area. Tricky relationship with the school.

Story of previous principal of the school trying to get clampers to clamp all the cars belonging Grattan Street staff.

Other stories about the difficulties caused by parking and the uneasy relationship with the school.

1.40.06 - 1.40.55

Other Stories

Mentions that there are stories about affairs in Grattan Street but doesn’t want to tell them.

Says Grattan Street was a good place to work.

1.40.55 - 1.44.55

Vaccine Storage Fridges Temperature Control

Vaccines have to be kept in fridges between 2 degrees and 8 degrees. The Cold Chain- ensures that the vaccines are at the right temperature including when transported.

Vaccines have to be monitored and recorded twice a day.

Some people think Jane is over the top with her care of vaccines. She doesn’t think so. Vaccines are very expensive and important when going to school.

Found it hard being responsible for the vaccines even when not at work. Story that she called about the vaccines from a Gondola in Venice is not true!

Hundreds and thousands of euro worth of vaccines at a time when

Order through United Drug. She sees the price every time that she orders which is stressful to see the cost.

1.44.55 - 1.44.55

Difficulties Moving Vaccines to Gurranbraher

Dreaded moving the vaccine in Grattan Street because there’s no lift.

Complications of moving vaccine fridges and the required procedure.

1.44.55 - 1.44.55

Funny story about Monitoring Electricity for Vaccine Fridges during Storm

Electricity was to be cut off due to replacing telegraph poles.

Needed generator to keep electricity on for the vaccine fridges.

Jane had asked many times for a back-up generator but never received one.

Was asked by superior to protect the vaccine fridges from a storm, which had never been asked before.

Generator set up in Grattan Street yard. Jane inquired how the back-up would be physically changed if the power goes out? The solution was that the toilet light was to be left on and the electricity workers would see driving past if the power failed.

1.49.55 - 1.51.51

Moving Vaccines during Floods

Older man told Jane that Grattan Street is in a depression and so there are never any power cuts.

One problem during big floods in Grattan Street when wall near Mercy broke. Jane was doing vaccines for Swine Flu in Neptune at the time.

With steps up to Grattan Street Health Centre and vaccines on top floor Jane thought they were safe.

She was informed an amphibious craft was to come to move the vaccines. A Ford Fiesta arrived. They were put in St. Finbarr’s Hospital for the night.

1.51.51 - 1.54.25

Future of Vaccines

Takes the vaccine care very seriously so that it’s both safe and effective.

In third world vaccine storage is more complicated.

Tyndall Institute is developing a patch that will deliver vaccines rather than needles.

Makes comparison to Star Trek.

1.54.25 - 2.01.07

Vaccine Take Up and vaccination policies

Is very pro-vaccine

Mentions problem with social media spreading misinformation about vaccines. And the damage that can cause.

Doesn’t argue with vaccines with friends and family.

Following up with child who had only received some of the required vaccine, the mother brought the child to an area with a measles epidemic.

Thinks more education is needed and PHNs need to be very positive about vaccines.

Thinks the HPV vaccine is a no-brainer.

Need to dispel vaccine myths.

Approximately 1500 euro to vaccinate a child fully. Wonders whether the fact the vaccination schemes are free of charge makes some people take it for granted and not value it.

Some countries have a no vaccination no school policy. Minister for Health at the time Simon Harris had been discussing a similar policy in Ireland.

In some countries there are penalties for not getting vaccinations eg withdrawal of Child Benefit.

In Ireland the decision is left to the individual.

Some parents think that because all other children are vaccinated that their child will be safe.

Story of an unvaccinated child whose mother with only let the child play with vaccinated children!

“Every vaccine is a little victory”

2.01.07 - 2.01.54

Opportunity for Interviewee to say anything not yet mentioned

Describes the interview as better than a counselling session.

Reiterates that she has gone far away from where she started out in her career and it may be time to step back.

2.01.54 - 2.05.57

Hopes for Future of Grattan Street

Doesn’t believe Grattan Street can be sold.

There was lots of pressure on them to move, which Jane felt was unnecessary.

Jane’s preference was to move in the summer when the schools are closed because there would be no need to do vaccinations, but they were forced to move during term time.

Is not sure what services are remaining in Grattan Street.

Mentions a piece of furniture that she would love to have from Grattan Street.

Hopes the future of Grattan Street will benefit the community.

Discussion about Grattan Street being opened for heritage week or an open day but it never happened.

2.05.57 - 2.06.10


Interview Ends.


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Cork Folklore Project, “Jane Ward: Grattan Street, Healthcare, Working Life,” accessed May 25, 2024, https://corkfolklore.org/archivecatalolgue/document/247.