Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 7 March 2024

1243a. Former and now demolished Cork Maternity Hospital, Erinville, Western Road (source: Buildings of Ireland Resource).
1243a. Former and now demolished Cork Maternity Hospital, Erinville, Western Road (source: Buildings of Ireland Resource).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 7 March 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – Cork Child Welfare League

Set up in February 1918 through the brain child of Lord Mayor Thomas C Butterfield, the Cork Child Welfare League was an impressive voluntary charity group comprising prominent male and female Cork citizens ranging from the Lord Mayor to councillors to prominent businessmen to clergy to legal support to representatives of at least sixteen charitable organisations. Several philanthropic women and female doctors were also key players in maternity and child welfare in Cork.

The League was established to “reduce and as far as possible to prevent infant mortality in Cork and to promote a healthy race”. Its committee members were the general public but with the Lord Mayor as chair. The League was funded by public charitable finance.

From the beginning, the League’s work was well structured every year and all the way through the decades of the 1920s, they produced monthly reports and a detailed annual report at their annual general meeting on the poverty conditions affecting mothers and children in the city. The reports were published in the Cork Examiner and some early minute books of the League also survive in Cork City and County Archives.

Practical action included committee members and public health advocates funding specially trained nurses to visit mothers and their children in their home and hospitals to offer support and knowledge and also gain data on the health of children being attended to.

On 11 March 1924, the report of the work pursued for 1923 by specially trained nurses of the Cork Child Welfare League was brought forward for consideration and approval. A total of 1,303 new babies and 255 anti-natal cases had been added to the books of the league. An impressive 13,385 mothers and babies were visited by the nurses, an increase of 3,600 over the attendance the previous year.

The nurses at Cork Maternity Hospital on Batchelors Quay and Lying-in Hospital (became known as the Erinville on Western Road) were inspected at regular intervals by the visiting sub committees. The work of the medical and nursing staff was highly commended. A larger room had been created for a waiting-room at Cork Maternity Hospital, which made the experience more comfortable for those attending from the outside.

The report noted the hospitals as being crowded with mothers seeking advice;“Their popularity may be gauged by the fact that twice a week the extern rooms of these institutions are crowded with mothers who have brought their infants for the valuable advice they receive from the doctors or nurses. The extern hours have had to be extended from the two stipulated for originally to three and a half to four and a half hours each session”.

A total 259 cases of sickness were dealt with during 1923. In March a mild form of influenza was prevalent amongst the children, followed in some cases by pneumonia. Infantile diarrhoea was much in evidence during the summer months, and several deaths occurred from this disease. 58 deaths occurred during the year of babies under 12 months old attended by the league nurses; 10 died of convulsions. 13 of pneumonia and bronchia pneumonia. 3 of bronchitis, 9 of babies delicate from birth, and 1 premature baby, 10 of diarrhoea, 1 of influenza, 2 of gastritis, I of kidney trouble, and 10 of causes unknown.

In spite of the great poverty in the city during the year there was less anaemia amongst the children attended by the health visitors of the league. Large quantities of milk were supplied in needy cases and the amount of virol made available by the league for the children was also quite high. Nearly one third of the cases visited received help. An impressive 50,703 quarts of milk and 5054 pairs of bread were distributed in 1923.

Over 96% of the babies visited by the League were breast fed. The nurses, in their advice to mothers, insisted on the importance of breastfeeding. The reports notes the advice; “It is proved that infants fed thus thrive better than those who are artificially fed and mothers are realising that this natural feeling is all that a baby requires”.

Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán French at the 1924 AGM looked on the League as the real foundation of public health. He deemed that it should receive more wholehearted approval than was apparent from the voluntary subscription list and even more press coverage in calling for public funds; “The necessity for financial aid to carry on a work of vital importance should be emphasised by the Press in order to wake the people up to a sense of their duty in the matter”.

In the few schools Seán had visited, his reflections afterward were that the League was making an impact on the public health of children. He highlighted: “Some years ago it was their absolute ill-health which was evident, and there was no organisation more responsible for the great Improvement than the Child Welfare League”.

Fast forward to the 1930 AGM report, which reflected on the work by the League in 1929, and it is clear that the group had had a large impact in a few short years on the public health of mothers and children. The improved conditions of employment in the city were reflected in the annual report, which outlined that there had been a decrease of 5,465 in the number of visitors to mothers in their homes. Seven hundred and fifty needy babies and mothers had still received help, which was a vast drop from the high figures of over 13,000 visits in 1924. This decrease in numbers is also due to the official appointment by central government of specially trained nurses to local authorities, which included Cork Corporation.

With the expansion of Ford’s Works and the general revival in trade, the report pointed out, had been a great boon, and had absorbed the majority of the unemployed. However, the effects of the lean years did unfortunately, he felt would for some years to come appear in children’s health statistics. This is evident in the AGM reports of the League published in the 1930s in the Cork Examiner.

The Cork Child Welfare League remained in operation into the late 1960s and annually published their AGM reports on the health of mothers and children in the city. The history of League for the most part remains unresearched and has an important story on municipal public health provision to bring to public fruition.


1243a. Former and now demolished Cork Maternity Hospital, Erinville, Western Road (source: Buildings of Ireland Resource).