'Irish Nurses in the NHS: an oral history' project receives a grant from the Irish Government

The funding will enable research leads Professor Louise Ryan and filmmaker Grainne McPolin to significantly expand the focus of their research.

Date: 7 July 2022

A project led by Professor Louise Ryan, Director of the Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre, and independent documentary maker Grainne McPolin, has received significant new funding that will enable the research to expand beyond its initial focus on London.

Initially funded by the London Irish Centre, and with a small pot of seed-money from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the study aimed to interview 20 women who left Ireland in the second half of the twentieth century, to train and work as nurses in London.

In June of this year, the project received additional funding from the Irish Government, Department of Foreign Affairs, Irish Abroad Unit. The new grant will enable the project to expand and include the experiences of women who trained and worked in hospitals across Britain.  This funding further underlines the importance of this project in capturing the hitherto untold stories of the tens of thousands of Irish women who worked in the NHS.

Professor Christos Kalantaridis, Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor Research & Knowledge Exchange, said, "I am delighted that this important and impactful project has received prestigious funding from the Irish Government, Irish Abroad Unit."

As the NHS approaches its 75th anniversary (2023), this oral history project will include the stories of women who migrated from Ireland to work as nurses from the inception of the health service in the last 1940s, through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. During the 1960s 11% of all nurses recruited to hospitals in the southeast of England were born in the Irish republic (Walter, 1989). By 1971 there were 31,000 Irish-born nurses in Britain constituting 12% of all nursing staff (Daniels, 1993: 5-6).   As many of these women now enter older age, several of those already interviewed are aged over 80 years, there is an urgency to collect and archive their stories.

Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professions, Kelly Cooper, noted her delight "that Professor Louise Ryan is undertaking such an important project. The project aligns with the work of our Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre and with the Archive of the Irish in Britain housed at the University. I very much look forward to hearing more about the experiences and contribution of Irish Nurses in the NHS."

In addition to the grant from the Irish Government, this project has also recently benefitted from two other funding awards. A grant from the Burdett Trust for Nurses is supporting the development of a portraiture dimension to the research. Working with well-known photographer Fiona Freund, Louise and Grainne will curate an exhibition of photographs of these Irish nurses to be launched in Spring 2023.  Alongside the exhibition, workshops bringing together current nursing students/ newly qualified nurses with these older, retired nurses will be facilitated with the support of Dr Olive McKeown. 

Furthermore, the recent award of a grant by the Liverpool Institute of Irish Studies will enable Louise and Grainne to include the experiences of Irish women who trained and worked in hospitals in that city.

Grainne McPolin said, "This is a wonderful opportunity to raise public awareness of the important contribution of Irish nurses to the NHS; some of these women having given over 50 years of their lives to nursing."

The large number of interviews conducted across the various regions of Britain, will result in a series of podcasts, a number of exhibitions and generate a new archive of materials as well as a book to be published in 2024.

Professor Louise Ryan said, "I am very excited and honoured to be undertaking this research at London Metropolitan University which has such a wonderful history of research with Irish communities and which hosts the Irish in Britain Archive."