150 years of Stewarts Care - The history of a caring institution

By Tiana Binns

Since its foundation in 1869, Stewarts Care has been committed to supporting, educating and preparing people with an intellectual disability to reach their full potential in life. In fact, Stewarts was the first and only such institution for the first 60 years of its existence to do so.

After 150 years a full history of the work, support, influence and challenges of Stewarts Care has been written and published in the book, ‘150 Years of Stewarts Care – The Pathway to the Present’.

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Stewarts Care

Author and Day Services Manager at Stewarts Care, Pat O’Donohoe, has been working steadily over the past two years to bring the rich history of Stewarts Care to life.

Through archives of pictures and decades of maps, Pat’s book creates a visually stimulating retelling of history with everything from the founders of this facility to monumental fundraising events, such as the visit of Muhammad Ali in 1972.

In an interview with The Echo, Pat gives an overview of his book, the challenges of the writing process and the fascinating history and impact of Stewarts Care on the people of Dublin.

Where are you from and what led up to your career at Stewarts Care?

Originally, I grew up outside of Tullow, Co. Carlow on a farm, but since the mid 1970s, I have lived in many different parts of Dublin. Currently, my home is in Harold’s Cross, but I have lived in Glasnevin, Rathmines and Inchicore over the years.

Before I came to work at Stewarts Care, I was a student at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.

I also travelled around Europe for a period of time before coming to the Palmerstown location of Stewarts Care in 1980.

While I was working there, I returned to education and received a Post Graduate Diploma in Adult and Community Education in 1989 from NUI Maynooth.

I continued my education further at the National College of Ireland and completed a Diploma in Management in 1999. So, my career at Stewarts Care and my education overlapped quite a bit.

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Pat O’Donohoe, author of ‘150 Years of Stewarts Care – The Pathway to the Present’

What has been your role at Stewarts Care?

Following my return to Ireland in 1979 I joined the staff of Mill Lane Training Centre in 1980 as an instructor in vocational and life skills. At that time, I was involved in different programmes of training, including Special Olympics.

As Stewarts Care developed and the Day Services followed, I worked in several of the outside units from the new Training Centres at Balgaddy, Chapelizod and Kilcloon, Co. Meath. Currently, my role is the manager for Day Services at Stewarts Care, Palmerstown.

What can readers expect from your book ‘150 Years of Stewarts Care’?

The book documents the main developments, happenings and events that occurred in the early years of Stewarts Care.

In the following decades it focuses on the development of the school and the curriculum taught there. While the organisation is named in recognition of Dr Stewart, the book acknowledges the other individuals who were instrumental in bringing about its foundation.

The primary driving force behind the campaign to establish an institution for the education and training of persons with an intellectual disability was Dr George Kidd, Master of the Coombe Hospital.

He motivated like-minded individuals who saw the need for the establishment of such a service in Ireland, as Stewarts was the first and only such institution for the first 60 years of its existence.

As the book goes through the changes and developments for Stewarts Care, it also talks about the trials and tribulations faced throughout its history.

Notably, in the beginning  the first committee of management faced many challenges, primarily financial, as they were almost totally reliant on voluntary subscriptions from the public.

It also survived through other turbulent times, including two world wars, all of which had an impact, and brought deprivations.

However, through their determination, many obstacles were overcome in the early years at Lucan, where the service remained for the first ten years.

The years since the 1960s have seen many innovations and improvements, and in more recent times Stewarts has been to the forefront of new developments in education, day services and community residential care.

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Champion boxer Muhammad Ali visiting Stewarts Care for their first Annual Sports and Garden Fête in 1972

What inspired you to write the book and what was the writing process like?

The background research for this book began about three years ago, but the more serious research earlier, when I began reading through the records of Stewarts in our archive.

Following extensive reading and notetaking, a chronological structure emerged for the book, which I found would be the easiest way for me to write it and for the reader to understand it. I finished the first draft in May 2019 and after several rounds of edits, the final draft was completed in August.

The book also has visually pleasing pictures and maps, which took another few weeks to collect.

In terms of what inspired me – history. History has always been a strong interest and hobby of mine.

Having worked at Stewarts for most of my working life, I considered it to be a very worthwhile project. A full history had never been written and as we were approaching our 150th year, it seemed the most appropriate time.

What are some of the most interesting events that took place at Stewarts Care that the book talks about?

One notable event would probably be when champion boxer Muhammad Ali came to Stewarts as a part of our first Annual Sports and Garden Fête in 1972.

He was in Ireland for a boxing match against Al ‘Blue’ Lewis in Croke Park. Thousands of people turned up to that event and to this day the amount of money raised that day has never been matched.

Personally, I don’t have a favourite part of the book. As I researched more and more about the history, everything was so interesting.

There are many human stories, with profiles and biographies of the main founders. Included are the financial struggles and religious controversy that arose during the early years and accounts of the commitment to the project by all concerned, service users and staff, which is also quite fascinating to read about.

‘150 Years of Stewarts Care – The Pathway to the Present’ by Pat O’Donohoe can be purchased at a variety of stores around Dublin including, The Coach House in Palmerstown, Dubray Books in Liffey Valley, Alan Hanna’s Bookshop in Rathmines and the Irish Georgian Society Bookshop on South William Street.

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