Item Type



There has been a considerable body of research into maternal and child welfare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain and western Europe. The emphasis has been predominantly on the role of fertility decline, war and the emergence of social medicine. This article examines Ireland in relation to these demographic, social and medical trends. It concentrates on the development of maternity and child welfare services in Dublin between 1930 and 1954. The Irish demographic profile, and specifically high levels of infant mortality, resulted in a preoccupation on the infant and a campaign to counteract gastro-enteritis. This led to a restructuring of health services both locally and nationally. It is argued here that the relations between the Irish state and the Roman Catholic hierarchy were crucial to the development of maternity and child services. The role of religious competition, and latterly sectarianism, is also revealed as having been a central ingredient in the development of social services for Irish women and children. Tensions concerning religious control, the domain and limits of charity and the spectre of state control all played a role in the shift towards the development of a comprehensive maternity service in modern Ireland.

Original Format

Journal article


Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Social History of Medicine


Lindsey Earner-Byrne


About this item


Social History of Medicine 2006 19(2):261-277


Women, Maternity Care, Health, Dublin

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The Author



Date Added



, Social History of Medicine 2006 19(2):261-277; doi:10.1093/shm/hkl038