Nursing the Troubles

The September launch of Kate O’Hanlon’s autobiography passed me by but I’ve just learned about her from an interview in Radio 4 ‘s Midweek. A rare Catholic nurse in the Royal before the Troubles, she served most of her a time as a sister in A&E.

The famous consultant William Rutherford once remarked that running casualty was simple: “You have to love everybody; you have to listen to everybody; and, when in doubt, you just do what Sister O’Hanlon tells you.”

Susan McKay’s piece in the Irish Times brings tears to the eyes. Kate is a natural writer and brings some of the sharpest edges of the Troubles right back to life. What was just as evocative was Kate on the radio today, recalling that the early 60s when she started out “the regulations said there should be no more than two Catholics in every group in case they contaminated the others.” She said this wryly without bitterness. Listening to Kate brings it home how much those days were the vivid, endless present. As they slide into history their impact on people has begun to be forgotten. The tendency to use them as mere ammunition in ideological arguments will be checked by vivid accounts like Kate’s. She tells it was it was to the younger generation. Buy her book for Christmas.

  • Essentialist

    I was a colleague of Kate O’Hanlon at the Royal and worked in Theatres. The impact of countless caring people like her will never be forgotten so long as her stories in the book are read and shared and will live on in a grateful generation of lives mercifully uncontaminated by the dirty daily detritus of a unique casualty department in Belfast.

    The perfect Christmas present.

  • Ann

    I’ve just bought the book – it looks like a great read, but haven’t started it yet. If I listen to the radio interview, will it be a spoiler..?

  • Bemused

    But I’m confused – I thought Catholics in the 1960’s were happy, respected souls who loved lining out to watch Orange parades and had no complaints about their lucky lot in sunny Ulster? This O’Hanlon woman is obviously a dupe of Sinn Feinn/IRA and other malign fenian elements determined to sully the name of our benighted province….

  • Dubin voter

    “the regulations said there should be no more than two Catholics in every group in case they contaminated the others.”

    The regulations didn’t really say that, did they? Surely, surely not as blatant as that? I would guess that what that reflects is Ms O’Hanlon’s perception.
    Could somebody do a bit of digging up there to find out what the factual position was. I would not be surprised if the factual position led to a situation whereby there were limits on the numbers of Catholics (e.g. by drawing from certain schools or somesuch). But I’d like it to be a bit more facts based that Ms O’Hanlon’s (or Ms McKay’s?) take above.
    In the south, several big hospitals were run by either the Mercy or Charity orders of nuns. If it was Mercy, girls from schools run by that order got jobs there as nurses and the same with Charity. In all cases, the nuns were in charge and the staff knew it! And before we get too shocked at the suggested discrimination in the Royal, down south we still have many of the major hospitals controlled in effect (or at least strongly influenced) by the RC Church and at least one likewise by the C of I.

  • Greenflag

    I know of at least one southern medical specialist (I’ll not mention the specialty area0 who worked in Victoria hospital during the ‘troubles ‘ . Although he sported a ‘papist ‘ name the man was in fact a protestant . What he went through broke up his marriage .

    We should be grateful to Susan McKay for highlighting this aspect of NI’s past and to Kate O’Hanlon for her memoirs.
    It’s already on the book list for the Mid Winter Festival 😉

  • OC

    “The following day, an IRA bomb killed Mamie Thompson, a member of the Salvation Army, at the organisation’s Belfast headquarters.”

    Was this a sectarian attack? Explain.

  • Harry Flashman

    “If I listen to the radio interview, will it be a spoiler..?”

    Short answer, no. I happened to be listening to the programme on the internet and Ms O’Hanlon’s interview came after some bloke who played a French Horn and an old queen who designed frocks, her five minutes of inane questions would actually have put you off buying the book to be honest.

  • Brian

    If I ever get around to writing that best seller, remind me to ask you to write a forward, You have done Kate O’Hanlon proud, I have placed her book on my must read list. cheers.

  • Pat

    I have heard in the past that nursing staff in the Royal are mostly from the Protestant community, not sure why.

    But as someone who has witnessed the total committment and dedication of the Nurses in the Royal, i don’t really give a hoot who or what religion they are.

  • Was in the royal a while back and was amused/concerned to see a doctor danderin around the wards in jeans that were, as me da would say “trailin the road”

    by that i mean the bottoms of each leg were worn and trailing on the ground – how nice! basically any dog pee etc on the street is attached to the end of his ‘begs’ and then associated germs are distributed around the ward floors….

    this is simple germ control stuff that isn’t being grasped….

  • dub

    Quel surprise, flash in the pan man, that a transparently decent and honest woman does not peddle the same boys’ own fantasy of grateful forelock tugging taigs so beloved of your own content free contributions to slugger.

  • Harry Flashman

    Dub, you are a prat aren’t you?

    You don’t realise that I was criticising the idiotic programmers who had such a fascinating subject as Sister O’Hanlon to interview and which meant I sat listening for half an hour to hear her story but found her stuck in for five minutes as an afterthought after some inane anecdotes from a dress maker and a trumpet blower.

    Speaking of content free contributions please do point me to your weighty and well thought out debating points that you have added to debates here in the past, I clearly must have missed them and I would really like to see them.


  • Harry

    Your right about people like Sister O’Hanlon, many have an interesting tale and they are more thick on the ground than many people might think, yet mainly all we get in the media is empty headed celebs strutting their foolish selves..

  • Brian Walker

    Ann, you ask: If I listen to the radio interview, will it be a spoiler..?”

    No, the interview was a taster for me to read the book.

  • Sore Toe McCo

    Can anyone offer the slightest piece of evidence that an N.H.S. hospital issued professional guidance that insisted that Catholic nurses be restricted in this fashion ?

    And although you cant expect any better from Blackstaff or that tear jerker (house what ?) McKay, wouldn’t it be pertinent to point out the existence of sectarian hospitals in Ireland for those of the Roman faith, (where they could get their sore forelocks treated for instances of over pulling ), as having a direct bearing on the number of Catholic nurses in the National Health system in the north of Ireland ? Catholic nurses were and tosome degree still are recruited, trained and deployed by, er…, Catholic concerns.
    One would have thought that the absence of this information, given the common Nationalist narrative of discrimination, and the classing of a Catholic nurse as a “rarity” in a British hospital, was an attempt at insinuation.

  • simple simon

    I’ve read this book.
    It will be interesting to hear honest reviews from those who are eager to buy it. Susan MacKay is no guide. This is the woman who thinks Gary Mitchell is a great playwright.

    And BTW, there never was any such restriction on people of certain religious denominations in any part of nursing.
    Ms O’Hanlon talks of a job she admits not having the proper qualifications for but maintains she was denied it on religious grounds.

  • simple simon

    I meant to add that Brian obviously hasn’t read the book, or if he has it must be the first book he has ever read. A “natural writer” Ms O’Hanlon certainly isn’t.

  • Sam Graham

    The number of Catholics at the Royal was probably in line with the percentage of Protestants at the Mater Hospital. Kate probably forgot to mention that along with the crucifixes on the wall!

    Be interested in seeing the statistics rather than taking good ole Kate’s word for it.

  • simple simon

    Brian, would you by any chance be “reviewing” a book by this “natural writer” that you haven’t even read?

  • S. T. McCo

    it says “may” have been discriminated against.

    I wonder how the question was phrased? (I may have been the victim of anti-heterosexual discrimination, I have certainly been the victim of anti-white discrimination and I suspect I have been the victim of bad haircut discrimination.) I may be being discriminated against somewhere, somehow, right now……..

    the interviewee is, I think, a victim of the demented, defamatory agenda of the interviewer….

    did you notice the reference to untidy flats ? the problem with this self referencing and repetitive negative stereotyping against prods is that it seems to lead to a converse stereotype for the Roman Catholic Community, that it is more personable is poor compensation for being reduced to something akin to a scruffy mascot.

  • Brian Walker

    simon, you obviously think you’re making an ace point. I’ve made it clear I’d never heard of her before today’s radio int. I was moved by Susan MacKay’s piece – it’s unnecessary to agree with everything Susan’s written to like her piece.
    I’m judging Kate as a natural writer from her powers of observation, story-telling and reflection in the interview, something I was paid to do for many years. Interesting discussion on the “rules” about Catholics. I don’t know the answer, I doubt if there was a formal rule; I never heard of it. Perhaps if we read the book we’ll find out and suspend judgement until then?

  • I think it’s quite clear the regulations remark was a somewhat tongue in cheek description of how Catholic workers viewed the hospital’s employment policy. What is clear tha Catholics were under-represented in senior jobs not just there but the higher levels of the civil service, and in many councils. Any one who doubts this should take themselves off to CAIN and read the Campaign for Social Justice pamphlets that are available there.

    As for the Mater. I’m not in favour of religiously provided education or health care or any other public services myself. I’d like to see them all banned. But I find Sam’s comment about the number of protestant nurses in the Mater to be beside the point. One, we don’t know the proportion there. And two, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • simple simon

    “I’m judging Kate as a natural writer from her powers of observation, story-telling and reflection in the interview, something I was paid to do for many years.”

    Absolute tripe, if I may be so bold to say so. Your Bel Tel years cut no ice on this one, if anything you of all people should know that there is no way of judging a writer expect by reading what they have written.

    So, as I suspected, it turns out you haven’t even read this book that you so freely recommend, by someone you describe as a “natural writer”. You also assured another poster that their enjoyment of the book would not be affected by listening to the interview, again giving the clear impression that you had read the book.

    Agendas I don’t mind, everyone has at least one – it’s the attempted concealment of them that gets me.

  • simple simon

    I repeat: I have read this book. It is of fifth form essay standard, at best.

    MacKay loves it because she can use it to further her own-tribe hating agenda. Same with Gary Mitchell who she promoted to no more despite him being a woeful writer.
    For her, and I suspect Brian, it what is being said or inferred that matters, not how it is written.

  • Ann

    I repeat: I have read this book. It is of fifth form essay standard, at best.

    Have you seen the standard of books out there? The book shops are full of misery memoirs that tell stories of bad childhoods and kids being sold off into slavery. At least this one looks to be better than that.

    Besides I love books about norn iron, I bought this one and gunsmoke and mirrors along with andy mcnabbs seven troop……

    Can’t wait to get some free time to just settle down and read them.

    Brian you ought to do a regular book review.

  • Glencoppagagh

    I have to say McKay’s piece is surprisingly objective.

  • say no more

    “Brian you ought to do a regular book review.”

    Watch it Brian she obviously wants to get in your pants.

  • simple simon

    “Brian you ought to do a regular book review.”

    If you are, I suggest you read the books first.

    Though if propping up a bar every day in Westminster and then writing up the tittle-tattle for the Bel Tel is supposed to make you an expert on who can write and who can’t, without ever having read anything they’ve written, then I suppose book reviews on books you’ve never read is just as plausible.

  • dub

    Harry Flashman,

    Boy, you can dish it but it seems you can’t take it.

    Your stooping to personal abuse indicates perhaps some issues you might take a look at.

    I regret if i misinterpreted your comments, but judging from your tone, i doubt if that was the case. If it is, however, i stand corrected.

    I feel no need to point to other posts of mine to prove myself to you.

  • indeed

    Some of you people bring me back. Many years ago I worked in the Mater Hospital and was gobsmacked when some of my colleagues pointed out to me that this was their hospital and the Royal was themmuns. I should point out that this was entirely the reverse of the pre troubles era that Ms O’Hanlon speaks of. I thought then and still think now that such thoughts were the imagainings of feeble sectarian minds.