The Cottage Home History
Although Dun Laoghaire was a fashionable town in the 19th century, it also had numerous labourers living in poor-quality housing in a substantial slum quarter not far from the heart of the town. Amongst the gentry involved in charitable works in Kingstown, as it was then known, was an English woman, Rosa Barrett, who came to realise that there were families where the conditions could be much improved if the mother could go out to work.
In 1879, Rosa Barrett set up a committee of influential inhabitants of the town and established a day nursery, which was among the first crèches to be set up in these islands. It was based initially in a cottage on York Road, moving then to Patrick Street and back again to York Road in an attempt to find accommodation of suitable size and condition
After three years the committee found better accommodation in a house known as Tivoli Cottage at the top of York Road, and began to include some resident children as well as those who came daily to the crèche. The greatest need was the care of younger children, and the Cottage Home became the first children’s home in the United Kingdom to cater for children under six.
For many years the home catered solely for children from a Protestant background. Miss Barrett wished to ensure that the home would never be accused of proselytising and the most effective way to do so was not to accommodate Roman Catholic children. In any case the two sides of the religious divide tended to develop their own institutions to look after their own and there were plenty of Protestant children requiring accommodation.
Within a short time the number of children needing a home exceeded the committee’s ability to provide space in Tivoli Cottage and it was decided to find a site and to erect a purpose-built home. The committee was lucky enough to have amongst its members an up-and-coming architect, W. Kaye Parry, who gave his services free of charge, and when a site was found on the Tivoli Road frontage of Royal Terrace, he designed a large building in the cottage style with its name, “The Cottage Home for Little Children” carved in stone along the front. The name reflected the ethos of the home, aiming to provide accommodation on a homely, cottage scale, for the younger children.
The building was designed to accommodate forty or fifty children in residence, while some of the very young children were boarded out with suitable foster mothers. At the same time, the crèche continued in its daily care of children of working mothers, with about twenty children being looked after for the day.
During all of this time the home continued to be run by voluntary effort, with subscriptions collected annually from those friends of the home who chose to be involved, while fund-raising events provided further income. In addition, many supporters helped in other ways, either through using their time and skills to make or mend clothing or toys, or by offering play space for outings to farms, gardens or the seaside. Some of the income was derived from the parents of the children, as the mothers leaving children in the crèche were expected to pay a small amount towards the service so as to avoid pauperising the families. Parents leaving children in to the home for residential care were also expected to pay a sum, according to their means.
The standards of accommodation, facilities and space improved over the years and the Cottage Home kept up with the new trends. Electricity was installed in 1932, the year in which Dun Laoghaire entered into a contract with the ESB to light its streets, though it was to be some years before the majority of houses in the locality had the benefits of electricity. In 1947 the Cottage Home took the radical step of closing its doors for some months in order to modernise the building, particularly its sanitary arrangements.
From the mid-20th century there were changes in the ways in which children were cared for in Ireland. Adoption became legal in Ireland in 1954, thereby enabling some children to find new homes and families in the state, rather than in the United States or Canada as had previously been the case. Also at this time the numbers accommodated in the home reduced and by the end of the 1970s the numbers in residence in the home had fallen to about twenty. This was not a sign of decline either in the effectiveness of the home, nor of the demand for places, but a swing away from the more institutionalised system of the 19th century which had considered it acceptable to accommodate fifty in the one building.