'I got my eyes opened to the real world which existed outside the world of convent and education.'

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'I got my eyes opened to the real world which existed outside the world of convent and education.'


Rosemary remembers the death of her mother which marked a transition in her life. After her mother's death she took up work in the area of elder care and she began a course in social care.


Rosemary McCloskey


Trinity College Dublin




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Rosemary McCloskey

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Work and Employment


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

Craigdarragh Road, Helen's Bay, Belfast

Temporal Coverage


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I had some very happy years in Mercy Primary and became a bit complacent, thinking that perhaps this was going to be my niche, for the rest of my life. How wrong I was! My mother became very ill with colon cancer and for five years she suffered with this, and had three major operations in the Mater Hospital. The first was to give her a colostomy which she hated, and then later it was reversed with almost lethal results. The join leaked, the poison seeped into her system and she was at death's door. Another operation had to be performed giving her a colostomy again on the other side, and this she had until she died on 11th June 1988. After the death of my mother my life changed a lot. I had been sent home in March 1988 after resigning my teaching post in Mercy Primary, to help my sister, Cecilia, who had taken unpaid leave to look after her. My job was gone then, and so when I returned to the Convent after the funeral, I had no idea where I would be sent and what I might be doing. Sr Emilian, the superior, asked me to go to St Columbanus' Home for old people, 57 Craigdarragh Road, in Helen's Bay I was to try to do something to improve the lives of these poor folk. I agreed to go and said I would give it one year, and if it did not work out for me, I would let her know and she could offer me something else. It was a very tough year. The sister in charge was Sr. M Benedict Monan who was about 85 years old and the place was very much out of date, as was the care provided to the men there. Anything I tried to innovate was met with the answer that they had already tried that and it had not worked. Philippa Gunn (McVeigh) who had been in primary school with me was the nurse in charge and I believe she found it better just to go along with things and not rock the boat. Sr. Benedict had a girl employed as secretary and almost everything else. This lady was Mary Burns who had been reared in St John's Nursing Home in Belfast, where her parents, who were friends of Sr. M. Benedict had worked. She had full control of everything with her husband Pat, who was supposed to be caretaker. This was an unfortunate set up. I was sent to Belfast Technical College to do a course in social care, at the behest of Mr Pat Kinder who was very high up in the local health and social services board. He was another close friend of Sr. M. Benedict's. I found the course very enlightening, and got a great insight into all kinds of social care, from care for the elderly, to care for rehabilitated prisoners. I got my eyes opened to the real world which existed outside the world of convent and education. I enjoyed the course, and decided to try to put into practice some of the ideas I had gained from talking to others and from visiting other residential care establishments. I was thwarted at every turn. To save my sanity, I then undertook a project where I raised funds to take nine of the residents to Lourdes. This was quite an undertaking and I guess no one believed that I would actually manage to do it. I worked, I begged and I put on shows with the help of clubs in the city and eventually I got the money together and took them. That was a very hard job. I did not realise, that since these people had been in care for a long time, they had become institutionalised and forgotten what the outside world and current prices were like. We had so many problems with them. We reached the hospital in Lourdes where they were to be accommodated, and they refused to allow any of the staff do anything for them, and insisted that I be called to shave and wash them etc. When they were taken to the ceremonies, they really did not have much of a clue as to what was going on, and one man refused to leave his bed again, after being dipped in the baths, for he was convinced that we were out to drown him! The young people who worked with the sick were brilliant, and did their best for them, but were often accused of stealing their money when they got back no change after shopping. Again they had no idea of the cost of things. I managed to get them back to Belfast International airport with the help of the pilgrims, but was then left to await the advent of an ambulance to transport them back to Helen's Bay. Needless to say, I was relieved to deliver them all safely. It was a major learning experience for me. Perhaps it is better not to be too prudent, because I might never have undertaken things if I had envisaged even half of the difficulties.


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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