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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Margaret Aylward, Founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith

Margaret Louisa Aylward, Roman Catholic nun, philanthropist, and founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, is born to a wealthy merchant family on November 23, 1810 in Thomas Street in Waterford, County Waterford.

Aylward is educated by the Ursuline nuns in Thurles, County Tipperary. After doing some charitable work in Waterford in her early years, she joins her sister in the Sisters of Charity in 1834 as a novice. She leaves the novitiate in 1836 and returns to Waterford to continue her charity work in a secular role. She again attempts to join a religious order in 1846 when she enters the Ursuline novitiate in Waterford, however she leaves after two months.

By 1851, Aylward has moved to Dublin where she is active in re-energising the Ladies’ Association of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Great Famine leads to a large-scale movement of people from rural areas into cities, including Dublin, which leads to increased pressure on the charitable institutions of these areas. Her efforts are part of this wider charitable effort to help the poor, particularly Catholics who are seen to be at risk of coercive religious conversion (known as Souperism). This association is concerned with the “temporal as well as the spiritual relief of the sick poor in Dublin.”

The Ladies’ Association of St. Vincent de Paul opens St. Brigid’s in 1856, an orphanage which has an anti-proselytising mission and claims to rescue Catholic children from Protestant agencies. The Ladies’ Association often comes into dispute with those involved in the Irish Church Missions (ICM) and the ragged schools in Dublin, with members of the Ladies’ Association distributing crucifixes to children attending the Protestant-run ragged schools and visiting the homes of parents who send their children to them. The women involved in St. Brigid’s Orphanage organise themselves into a society called the Daughters of St. Brigid. However, while the establishment of St. Brigid’s brings Aylward closer to religious orders, historian Maria Luddy notes that in the 1850s, she is not concerned with the establishment of a religious community, rather she wants to “live in a community of women who were united by their religious convictions but did not necessarily desire to take formal religious vows.”

There is a growth in religious orders for women in Ireland from the early nineteenth century due to a relaxing of anti-Catholic Penal Laws. These include the Irish Sisters of Charity who are established in 1815 under Mary Aikenhead, the Sisters of Loreto order (1822) under Frances Ball, and Catherine McAuley‘s Sisters of Mercy (1831). Archbishop Paul Cullen of Dublin is an important figure in persuading leaders of religious communities of women, like Catherine McAuley, to formally organise as religious congregations in order to continue their charitable work and be respectable. While Aylward is resistant to this idea for a while, she eventually agrees. In 1857 the Sisters of the Holy Faith are established, and in 1869 the order are approved by Pope Pius IX.

Aylward is arrested in 1860 for “failing to produce a child named Mary Matthews, who had been taken away and concealed from her parents for the purpose of being brought up in the Roman Catholic faith.” Matthews had been placed with a nurse in Saggart, County Dublin, when her father had died and her mother had emigrated to The Bahamas. When her mother returns, Aylward is notified by Matthews’ foster mother that she is missing. Aylward is acquitted of the charge of kidnapping but is found to be in contempt of court and serves six months in jail. She continues her work after her release.

Aylward (now Sister Mary Agatha) dies on October 11, 1889. She had continued wearing her own clothes and travelling after taking her religious vows.

Historian Margaret Helen Preston argues that Aylward is unusual for the time that she lives in because she does not believe that poverty results from sin. Aylward refers to the poor as the “Elect of God” and argues that God sees the poor as special because of their difficult circumstances.

The Sisters of the Holy Faith still work around the world.


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Death of Philanthropist Thomas John Barnardo

Thomas John Barnardo, philanthropist and founder and director of homes for poor children, dies in London on September 19, 1905. From the foundation of the first Barnardo’s home in 1867 to the date of his death, nearly 60,000 children are taken in.

Barnardo is born in Dublin on July 4, 1845. He is the fourth of five children of John Michaelis Barnardo, a furrier who is of Sephardic Jewish descent, and his second wife, Abigail, an Englishwoman and member of the Plymouth Brethren. In the early 1840s, John emigrates from Hamburg to Dublin, where he establishes a business. Barnardo moves to London in 1866. At that time he is interested in becoming a missionary.

Barnardo establishes “Hope Place” ragged school in the East End of London in 1868, his first attempt at aiding the estimated 30,000 ‘destitute’ children in Victorian London. Many of these children are not only impoverished, but orphaned, as the result of a recent cholera outbreak. For those unable to afford private education, the school offers education which, although Christian-based in nature, is not exclusively religion-focused, and works to provide tutelage on various common trades of that time.

In 1870, Barnardo is prompted to form a boys’ orphanage at 18 Stepney Causeway after inspecting the conditions within which London’s orphaned population sleep. This is the first of 122 such establishments, caring for over 8,500 children, founded before his death in 1905. Significant provisions are available to occupants. Infants and younger children are sent to rural districts in attempt to protect them from industrial pollution. Teenagers are trained in skills such as carpentry and metalworking, to provide them a form of basic financial stability.

In June 1873, Barnardo marries Sara Louise Elmslie, known as Syrie, the daughter of an underwriter for Lloyd’s of London. She shares her husband’s interests in evangelism and social work. The couple settles at Mossford Lodge, Essex, where they have seven children, three of whom die in early childhood.

Barnardo’s homes do not just accommodate boys. In 1876 the “Girls’ Village Home” is established and by 1905 accommodates 1,300 girls, who are trained for “domestic occupation.” Another establishment, the “rescue home for girls in serious danger,” aims to protect girls from the growing tide of child prostitution.

Barnardo’s work is carried on by his many supporters under the name Dr. Barnardo’s Homes. Following societal changes in the mid-20th century, the charity changes its focus from the direct care of children to fostering and adoption, renaming itself Dr. Barnardo’s. Following the closure of its last traditional orphanage in 1989, it takes the still simpler name of Barnardo’s.

Barnardo dies of angina pectoris in London on September 19, 1905, and is buried in front of Cairn’s House, Barkingside, Essex. The house is now the head office of the children’s charity he founded, Barnardo’s. A memorial stands outside Cairn’s House.

After Barnardo’s death, a national memorial is instituted to form a fund of £250,000 to relieve the various institutions of all financial liability and to place the entire work on a permanent basis. At the time of his death, his charity is caring for over 8,500 children in 96 homes.

At the time of the Whitechapel murders, due to the supposed medical expertise of the Ripper, various doctors in the area are suspected. Barnardo is named a possible suspect long after his death. Ripperologist Gary Rowlands theorises that due to Barnardo’s lonely childhood he had anger which may have led him to murder prostitutes. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that he committed the murders. Critics have also pointed out that his age and appearance do not match any of the descriptions of the Ripper.