Recognition of Irish Nursing History

Professional recognition of the nursing work of 19th century Irish nurses appears to have begun in the mid-20th century.

'Crimean Diary of Mother M. Francis Bridgeman War Companion of Florence Nightingale 1854-1856' 

This Masters dissertation was completed in the USA In 1948 by Marie Jeanne d'Arc Hughes. Its purpose is to enrich nursing history by telling the story of the sisters' nursing experiences at the war. It is based on, and largely replicates, a copy of the diary which had apparently been taken from Kinsale to the USA by Mary Joseph Lynch following their return from the war. Hughes verified with the archivist at Kinsale that it matched the copy held there. She observes that at the Koulali and Crimean hospitals the doctors permitted the sisters to introduce their own system of nursing. She identifies the specific activities of their nursing system and compares it with Nightingale's nursing system. She recommends that further research on the diary be undertaken by nurse historians because much of the meaning on the nurses' work is lost when studied by non-nurses.

'A Way of Mercy: Catherine McAuley's Contribution to Nursing'

In 1958 Mary Beata Bauman, at the time Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Nursing, published this wide-ranging study describing the nursing work of Catherine McAuley and her successors. Her successors comprise the 19th century nursing sisters in Ireland, including those who served at the Crimean war, as well as those who took their principles and system of nursing to the USA. Bauman identifies a pattern of nursing administration and practice originating with Catherine McAuley, developed further by her companions and successors in Ireland, and carried by many of them to the USA. In the USA this pattern, or system, of nursing became evident in the many hospitals and schools of nursing they founded, owned and operated. This same pattern is evident in the mission of the many faith-based hospitals and health systems that succeed them today.

'The Sisters of Mercy as Crimean War Nurses'

In 1962 Mary McAuley Gillgannon completed this doctoral study at the Department of History, University of Notre Dame. It includes a detailed examination and analysis of the work of Mary Clare Moore and Mary Francis Bridgeman and her group, and their relationships with Florence Nightingale. Her insightful 'Postlude' (pp. 337-377) provides an easy-to-read summary of the complexities of the nursing activities and relationships, and eight appendices provide important contextual information.

'Sister Mary Joseph Croke: another voice from the Crimean war, 1854-1856'

More recently, Mary Ellen Doona, formerly a Professor at the Boston College School of Nursing, picked up the thread of the nursing work of the Irish Sisters of Mercy at the Crimean war, particularly with publication of this historical study. In this study she uses the Crimean war journal of Mary Joseph Croke to examine and analyse the nursing practice of the group lead by Mary Francis Bridgeman at the Koulali and Crimean hospitals.

In 2000, Mary Ellen was invited to give the Annual Public Lecture at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, University College Dublin. She titled her lecture 'Careful Nursing: Ireland's Legacy to Nursing'. In it she linked the term 'careful nursing', which the 19th century Irish nurses used in a general sense to describe their practice in their letter written for the British War Office in 1854, with the system of nursing that they formulated over the early to middle years of the 19th century. Mary Ellen proposed that contemporary Irish nurses use this term as a proper noun to identify their forebears system of nursing.

Thus, the contemporary interpretation of the Irish nursing sisters' system of nursing described in this website is called Careful Nursing.


Bauman MB (1958) A Way of Mercy: Catherine McAuley's Contribution to Nursing. Vantage Press, New York.

Doona ME (1995) Sister Mary Joseph Croke: another voice from the Crimean war, 1854-1856. Nursing History Review 3, 3-41.

Gillgannon MM (1962) The Sisters of Mercy as Crimean War Nurses. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

Hughes MJ (1948) Crimean Diary of Mother M. Francis Bridgeman War Companion of Florence Nightingale 1854-1856. Masters Dissertation, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.


Therese C. Meehan ¬© March 2017