Working as a healthcare assistant in a Maternity Ward in Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, Galway reminded me of a time when women only birthed their babies at home. I did a little research and discovered that not much had been written about these midwives, both with and without formal midwifery training.
They pushed through the barriers that faced them to get educated, work and continue working after they were married during a time when women didn’t even have a vote.
During this project I will be introducing you to some of the wonderful women during the early part of the 20th century also known as An Bhean Ghluíne – Woman of the Knee - Midwife – Handywoman. They bravely entered into the birthing mother’s homes not knowing what was to face them. Birthing during these times came with tremendous risks and very little medical intervention. The reality of losing a mother, baby or both played a very large part with this role. They worked in the big houses of landlords, the simple homes of rural and urban mothers and the roadside dwellings of the travelling community. All of this was done with great compassion and empathy for all birthing women regardless of their status.
Here on the website you will find a ebook with the midwives stories and photographs, a short film about the life of Mary Kate Jennings who was a midwife serving the Ballinasloe area, some voice recordings from local people and families chatting about their experience with their local midwife, including Kathleen Ward who tells us all about the travelling community and their experience with pregnancy and eventual birth and the old traditions surrounding them. I would like to thank every family member and the public for their assistance and permissions with the project.
I would also like to thank The Heritage Council for the funding to research and deliver this production, GKMedia for the film & ebook, Lorna Elms & Hassan Dabbagh at the Irish Community Archive Network for their technical support with website uploading and and my colleagues at the Skehana & District Heritage Group for their continued support.
I hope ye enjoy the project and that other local heritage groups will get on board to record their local midwives for future generations.
Skehana & District Heritage Group