Project and ebook highlights work of midwives during 1900s

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galway daily news midwives project at portiuncula hospital
Left to Right; Aisling Dixon, Midwife, Sean Conneely Chairperson Skehana Heritage Group, Bernie Doherty, Galway Community Archaeologist, Emma Laffey Project Author & Co-ordinator, Deidre Naughton, Director Of Midwifery, Portiuncula University Hospital, James Keane, General Manager, Portiuncula University Hospital. Pic Gerry Stronge Photography.

The launch of An Bhean Ghlúine ebook and project has taken place at Portiuncula University Hospital as part of National Heritage Week.

An Bhean Ghlúine – woman of the knee (midwife, handywoman) – was researched and developed by Emma Laffey, a volunteer with the Skehana & District Heritage Group and healthcare assistant in Portiuncula Maternity Unit. 

Emma Laffey said that she was inspired by her lived experience and seeing first-hand the work, compassion, empathy and medical intervention required for modern maternity services.

“My project introduces the amazing work and lives of our local community midwives during the 20th century through photographs, stories, recorded interviews and film,” she said.

“These remarkable women supported our local women through one of the biggest life-changing events for any woman, from being pregnant to giving birth.

“Although a birth is generally a very happy occasion, it can also be tainted by poverty, sickness, miscarriage, mental health issues, life-changing disabilities and even death.” 

All the project material is available to view on the Skehana & District Heritage website including an ebook with the midwives’ stories and photographs.

There is also a short film about the life of Mary Kate Jennings, who was a district midwife serving the Ballinasloe area in the 1940 and 50s, as well as some voice recordings from local people and families chatting about their experience with their local midwife, including Kathleen Ward who talks about the traveller community and traditions around pregnancy and birth.

“I am so grateful to all the families that gave so generously of their time with interviews and sharing family memorabilia that made this project possible. The real heroes of this project are ‘an bhean ghlúine’ or woman of the knee,” added Emma.

Deirdre Naughton, Director of Midwifery, at Portiuncula University Hospital said, “In the Maternity Unit we are delighted to support this fascinating historical project by launching it here today.

“Emma’s project will contribute significantly to the wealth of existing knowledge regarding the role of the midwife through the ages and I am very proud of her work.

“It is fascinating to see how the role of the midwife has evolved; the ancient art and science of midwifery that always has had quality and safety as its central tenant.”

Marie Mannion, Heritage Officer, Galway County Council commended Emma Laffey, Skehana and District Heritage Group for undertaking the project.

“Emma’s work allows us to gain a greater awareness, knowledge and understanding of the vital role played the ‘Bhean Ghlúine’ or local midwife in her local community.

“It also gives us a greater insight into the lives of these women and our communities in the past.”