In 1884, over five thousand “neglected, orphaned and abandoned children” were living in industrial schools in Ireland. In addition to this, many more were living on the streets. During this period, there were a number of philanthropic women who responded to the needs of these destitute children. Miss Lizzie Hawthorne Carr was one of those women.
She was born into a Protestant family in Wexford. Her grandfather, the Rev. George W Carr, was reputed to have founded the first temperance society in Ireland. Her sister Mary was founder of Kingstown Mission, a service to destitute adults. Religion played a major role at this time in directing women in their charitable work. They established services on a religious basis, and many only dealt with the destitute of their own persuasion.
“The Lord had laid very much upon my heart a few distressing cases of little children who, though utterly destitute, could not, for one cause of another, be received into any of the Protestant “Homes” for Poor Children which already existed in Ireland, and I felt that He wanted me to care for these neglected little ones-and what could I do but obey Him? (Lizzie Hawthorne Carr 1888)
The first home was established in 1887 on Nelson Street. By 1898 there were two hundred and seventy-five children being cared for in five houses. Many of the children admitted in these early years were very ill and in some cases dying. The children came from all over Ireland following a letter of from the local rector and/or others to Miss Carr. The running of the homes was completely reliant on voluntary contributions. Funds were a continuing concern, and eventually, admissions had to be curtailed. In 1901, all those seeking admission were requested to apply in the first instance elsewhere. Lizzie only took very destitute children who had been turned away from other services.
The positive relationship between Lizzie and the children is very evident from the letters they wrote to her. One gets the sense that she was by all accounts a surrogate mother to many children who held her in very high regard. The homes were run as close to a family home as possible, and the children received an education. Family was very important to her, and where possible she reunited children with their families.
“It is hardly necessary to remind you that the object of the Homes it to rescue children of tender years from moral danger, neglect and destitution, and to educate and train them so that they can fill, as they grow older, respectable positions”. (Annual Report 1913)
The 1900s saw the “adoption” of a small number of orphaned children from the home to families in Ireland, England, America, Canada, and Australia. From 1914, the number of children entering the home decreased, partly because of the dwindling Protestant population. Houses were disposed of and in 1920 No. 5 Northbrook Road became the headquarters.
By the time of her death in 1932, there were twenty-four children in the home. Her cousin, Miss Eunice Carr, was appointed to take over the role of running Miss Carr’s Children’s Home. Eunice had worked tirelessly alongside her cousin for a number of years, and in essence, it is Miss Eunice who is viewed by many as the founder of Miss Carr’s Home. She was a woman ahead of her time. She recognised the importance of family and worked on the principle that a child’s needs were always better served within their own family. Where possible she brought not only the children but also their parents into the home. She operated an open door policy and parents were always welcome to visit their children. She encouraged the children to partake in scouting, sports and music in the community. She knew all the children intimately and never lost touch with them when they left the home. Their success and failures were her constant concern. The children who return to the home on a regular basis now as adults remember her very fondly.
Throughout the 30s and 40s, the home continued to provide care for approximately 35 to 40 children and still relied heavily on donations from the Protestant communities. Throughout the 50s and 60s, the emphasis moved more and more to helping families over difficult periods, with children being offered day care to allow parents work. Eunice Carr’s death in 1970 brought great sadness to the many children who passed through her care. As with her cousin Lizzie, we have many letters written by the children, which give us some picture of what life was like for the children growing up in her care.
“She was a wonderful little lady and what she gave in terms of love can never be repaid by any of us” (One of her children). Miss Nan Dwyer, who worked closely with Miss Eunice Carr took over the role of running Miss Carr’s and continued to do so up to her retirement in 2000.
The 1970’s saw a shift in the admissions to the home; we were now allowed to admit Catholic children and admissions came mainly through the Health Board. Applications for Protestant children practically disappeared. It was at this time that Miss Carr’s received its first State grant.
In 1972, a friend of the home Miss Leonie Eccles became acutely aware of the problems facing young single mothers in Ireland.
“An urgent need has come to the notice of Miss Carr’s Home committee- the provision of accommodation for the children of one-parent families in circumstances where they will be cared for by their own mother, rather than being of necessity parted from her by means of adoption or being placed in care. Until a mother has had an opportunity of caring for her own child, she should not be expected to take a decision on a long-term basis”.
With assistance from the Eastern Health Board Miss Carr’s “mother and baby” home was set up. This was in addition to its children’s home, which continued to provide shelter for vulnerable children. The needs of these single mothers were met in the form of eight flatlets and a nursery under the care of Miss Leonie Eccles.
In the late nineties, through the radio and press, we learned that not all was what it should have been in children’s homes across Ireland in previous decades. This forced us to take a long hard look at our own service and listen to what former children had to say about their experience growing up in care. The Home set about training its staff and put in place policies and procedures that ensured children’s rights to be cared for in a loving home free from all forms of abuse was enshrined in our ethos.
Children coming into the home in the early 2000’s brought with them complex problems that we were no longer able to support them with. At times, this led to a breakdown in the young person’s placement in Miss Carr’s. Difficulties in accessing resources and the necessary therapeutic input into the lives of these children led to a decision to close the children’s home in 2007.
The focus of our work today is early intervention work with families.