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PhD study: ‘Irish girls make such good nurses’ - A history of Irish civilian nurses in Britain during the Second World War, 1939-1945

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posted on 2023-07-26, 13:02 authored by Jacinta Kelly
Until now a hidden topic, this study creates a representation of Irish migrant nurses in Britain during the Second World War 1939-1945. Nearing completion, this Ph. D work written by Jacinta Kelly, Senior Lecturer, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK under the supervision of Professor Christine Hallett, Dr Jane Brooks (University of Manchester) and Professor Gerard Fealy (University College Dublin), will bring to light the social, economic, political and cultural currents which, despite nursing opportunities in Ireland and the then on-going perception of Britain as the ‘old enemy’, saw an unprecedented movement of often teenage Irish women, largely from rural and farming backgrounds, into the nursing profession in Britain. With a long history of predominantly untrained female emigration from Ireland, even during economic buoyant periods, to countries such as America, Canada and Australia for employment in domestic service, this study draws on oral history and documentary sources to examine whether intending Irish nurses sought sanctuary in Britain from an aspiring oppressive Catholic theocracy and impoverished male subservient lives in rural Ireland or if this wave of emigration was propelled by Irish Catholic agency as a 59  ‘respectable’ method of regulating population growth and by the Irish government as a means of negotiating economic straits and furtive British co-operation. Whether predominantly pushed or pulled, critical exploration of female migration shows that Irish women left behind their restricted lives for the equally kerbed fate of functional management in a profession steeped in vocational ideals where many in the process succumbed death, often heroically. Although Irish nurses did through the emergencies of war, overcome their sense of powerlessness and come to know self-reliance, self-sufficiency and self and occupational esteem, examination of the image of the return migrant nurse to Ireland, reveals issues surrounding alienation and poor occupational prestige as a foreign trained nurse in their native country.



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Bulletin of the UK Association for the History of Nursing




UK Association for the History of Nursing


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ARCHIVED Faculty of Health, Social Care & Education (until September 2018)

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