Merrion Road’s Mothers, Daughters and Sisters

Maura Masterson at St Mary’s Centre

School reunions are usually decennial and even then numbers attending are scarce, but on the Merrion Road every year, past pupils of the all-girl Merrion School for the visually impaired, get together on the grounds of St. Mary’s Centre nursing home and say mass, eat dinner and have a hooley.

In order for the Sisters of Charity to give the proper facilities of learning that pupils needed to get the best start in life, a school was built on the grounds in 1966 by the Department of Education. It has since closed its doors in 2003 due to the integration of disabled students into mainstream schools.

The nursing home now has 80 residents and cares for any female who wishes to be in the care of the staff of St. Mary’s, whether they are visually impaired or not, although the centre still gives preference to applicants with a visual impairment. Amongst these residents are retired nuns of the Sisters of Charity and past pupils from the school.

The nursing unit caters for low, medium, high and maximum dependency levels and has approximately 100 members of staff and 20 volunteers, and according to former CEO Maura Masterson a large number of these staff members and volunteers come from Ringsend, with some having worked there while putting themselves through college and returning there when finished and working their way up to management roles.

Masterson, originally from Achill, Co Mayo, retired from St. Marys in January of this year after nearly 12 years working for the Sisters of Charity and has applied to return as a volunteer. She had time to give NewsFour the chance to step into the history of the place, its remarkable layout and its current ethos. Notably, the halls are adorned with gifts and paintings brought back from staff while abroad, or back home in some cases, are at the same time uncluttered to allow for the visually impaired to walk through trouble free. A lot of the rooms are painted in vibrant colours such as bright pink, which Maura explains is chosen by a particular resident and a challenging task for the staff at St. Mary’s is choosing the right activities for each resident.

“You have to have a programme of activities from morning to night and you can’t just do stuff like, ‘we will have bingo today’, the person has to be assessed and you have to have a care plan and this is particularly important for people with dementia,” said Masterson. She recalls a time when one of the blind ladies wanted to go to the ballet: “You’d think why? She is blind. But she went to the ballet and I suppose the care staff describe whatever is going on. They go to the theatre a lot because they can hear and it works, and music concerts, and they do watch Coronation Street and know what’s going on so it’s not like they are entirely different to the rest of us. When you meet them they say, ‘oh god I didn’t see you for a long time,’ and they can’t see you and they know it’s you, it’s amazing the sense these people have,” said Masterson.

The Sisters of Charity still own the centre, which is now an incorporated company called St. Mary’s Centre (Telford) Ltd, but have only one Sister left on the board of directors. In the mid-nineties the Sisters sold off their headquarters in Milltown to developers and put the money into St. Mary’s.

“Despite what you hear in the news of them being ‘money grabbers’ they put all the money into here to build new nursing home units, refurbished the whole place and renovated everywhere,” said Masterson. “And they built houses and apartments for the blind ladies and they hired occupational therapists to train them and house them to move out into houses and apartments. Most of the women moved out that were living in the dormitories here but then there were some women that would be too old and frail and they went to the nursing home,” she added.

For the visually impaired women that wish to be more independent and mobile, the first road they encounter out of St. Mary’s is the busy Merrion road, and Masterson stated that there have been so many near misses with cars going through red lights and especially white vans under pressure with deliveries. St Mary’s have been in consultation with Dublin City Council regarding road signs to be put up in the area reminding drivers to be extra careful on Merrion Road because of the blind people in the area. One of these signs is up on Whitworth Road at the National Council For The Blind. St. Mary’s is hoping to put up more signs in locations where drivers will take heed to.

by Paul Carton