Staigue Fort House and Lady Broderick’s; neighbouring properties built within a few years of one another by the same building contractor. The abandoned ruins of Lady Broderick’s, sitting on a low rise looking emptily out to the sea at Westcove, are incongruous around here where houses with sea views are valuable and coveted. The ruins are a reminder of Lady Albinia Broderick’s pioneering and altruistic dreams for a hospital for the “children haunted by tuberculosis, the women tortured by childbirth and the men struck low before their time”.
An uncompromising activist, she was born Albinia Lucy Brodrick in London on December 17 1861. She was the fifth daughter of Viscount Midleton and his wife Augusta Mary.
The family had an estate in Surrey as well as estates in Co. Cork, The most remarkable years of her life began when she was 42. Prior to that, she had lived a privileged life, visiting Buckingham Palace in 1898, traveling extensively across the continent but also writing articles on political and scientific issues for British journals.
At the age of 42, she trained a nurse in England. She went on to qualify as a midwife in Dublin, and got certificates as a health visitor and health inspector.
Throughout her life she would advocate the training and registration of nurses to ensure high standards of care. The (lack of) treatment of veneral disease was one of her concerns. She was also an ardent campaigner for nurses’ rights and pressed for the formation of a union for nurses.
Poverty in Kerry
Appalled at the poverty she had witnessed in the area on an earlier visit during which she had learnt Irish, she returned to Kerry in 1908 to build a hospital at Westcove. The area was covered by the Congested Districts Board of Ireland which was set up with the aim of promoting development in overpopulated areas where the inhabitants were regarded as permanently close to starving.
With her father’s death in 1907 she had become financially independent and in 1909 bought 13.5 acres of land on the Burns-Hartopp estate from the Board for £40, the price it had paid for the land. The Burns-Hartopp estate had sold 15,000 of its 24,000 acres of land in Co. Kerry alone to the Board the same year.
She reclaimed 4 acres from the bog, planted 5000 trees, laid a road and dug a 6m deep well. The hospital had a farm and a co-operative shop and co-operative agricultural society as well as a workshop and a storehouse. She sunk all her money into its construction. By 1912, she did not have the funds to finish and open the hospital. She went to the U.S. to fund-raise. By Summer 1913, the co-op shop was generating £3,000 a year.
That year she offered the British government the use of the hospital for treating the wounded of WWI. However, he British war office informed her in 1915 that it wouldn’t be needed.
By this time, the venture had cost £11,000. That must have been a fortune for that time. According to the London 1910 Land Tax Valuation, famous landmark the Bank of England was worth £110,000 in 1910, the Old Bailey just £6,600.
At the age of 54, Broderick, sister of the staunch Southern Unionist Lord Midleton, became an ardent republican, supporting the 1916 Easter Rising (an armed attempt by some Irish nationalists to free Ireland from the rule of the Parliament in London – 15 of its leaders were executed) and visited republican prisoners.
Bertie Scully, who was an officer with the Glencar company of the Republicans, speaking of a reunion of men at an Irish college in Caherdaniel in either 1916 or 1917, said: “Albina Broderick had several of the 1916 men recuperating there and it was a very advanced and enthusiastic gathering as regards language and national sentiment.” There was music too, no doubt. Broderick played the harmonium in her local protestant church…Perhaps music ran in her family. The Sound of Music is based on the story of the children of her niece Agathe, her husband Georg Ludwig von Trapp and his second wife, Maria.
With her rejection of the imperialist views she was raised on, Albinia Brodrick took the name Gobnait Ní Bhruadair. Gobnait, the patron saint of bee keepers, was a 6th century Irish abbess of Ballyvourney, Co. Cork. She joined Cumann na mBan, became a member of the republican party Sinn Fein and went on to become Sinn Fein Councillor for Kerry in 1920.
In 1921, Civil war broke out over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She hid both men and arms during this period. A cyclist, she travelled everywhere wearing her blue nurse’s uniform. Many in the locality still remember the swish swishing of Lady Broderick’s big skirts as she rode her bike. One day in May 1923, she cycled on a republican errand to Sneem. When the sixty-one year old refused to stop her bicycle for the pro-treaty forces, they shot her in the leg.
She was imprisoned in the North Dublin Union where, despite her wounds, she immediately went on hunger strike. 14 days later, and close to death, she was released.
Irish Freedom and Mna na Poblachta
She owned the paper supporting republicanism, Irish Freedom from 1926 to 1937, contributing articles and acting as editor in its later years. At the 1933 convention of Cumann na mBan, Broderick and others split from the group. She formed a new group, Mna na Poblachta with her close friend Mary McSwiney. McSwiney was a sister of Terence McSwiney, playwright and politician who had died in October 1920 after 74 days on huger strike in Brixton prison. Mary herself, founder of a progressive school in Cork, had twice gone on hunger strike when interned during the civil war, and had been elected to the 3rd Dail. The new group, however, attracted only few members. It is believed Lady Broderick was expelled from Sinn Fein in 1935.
No approval for the Hospital
She had ploughed all of her wealth into building the hospital. Perhaps, due to her political views, she paid a far greater price than money. She never did get official approval for her plans for the hospital. After all her efforts, it just lay empty and unused. The removal of the roof from the hospital for the sale of its timber and tiles when she needed funds would have only accelerated its ruin.
The end of her life
She kept the co-op shop going until her death. Business cannot have been too good, as she was hard up for money.
Her frugality was legend, wearing the same boots for decades and clothes until they were worn to a thread. If she was considered eccentric and difficult, she is remembered with appreciation in the area for her nursing skills and as an educator on health matters. She promoted daylight and open windows for sick children instead of the darkened closed rooms which had previously been the norm. Many people would have her to thank for their health and lives.
She died at home in 1955 at the age of 93 leaving an estate worth £17,000. It amused her to think of the news her death would make, due to the ‘wretched little prefix” to her name which she despised. She left the hospital to republicans “as they were in the years 1919 to 1921” – a bequest that was ruled by Justice Sean Garron decades later in 1979 to be “void for remoteness”. It is not known in the locality who now owns the property.
Gobnait Ní Bhruadair; the Honourable Albina Lucy Broderick Pádraig Ó Loingsigh & Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa, (1997)
The Nursing Radicalism of the Honourable Albinia Brodrick, 1861-1955, Ann Wickham, in Nursing Nursing History Review, vol. 15 (2007)
Dictionary of Irish Biography, Brodrick, Albinia Lucy, Frances Clarke