Josephine Bartley obituary: A driving force in the elevation of nursing in Ireland

Beaumont Hospital’s first nursing director was ‘a wonderful nurse leader and role model who always put the sick person first, not the system’

Josephine Bartley was deeply inspired by the work of English social reformer Florence Nightingale

Born August 29, 1933

Died May 13, 2024

Josephine Bartley, who served as the first director of nursing at Beaumont Hospital from its opening in 1987 to her retirement in 1998 has died aged 90.

Bartley, who was also a founder member and former dean of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery in the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (RCSI), was a driving force in the development of education and specialist training for nurses in Ireland during the time when the nursing profession began to have a higher status within the healthcare system.

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Early in her career, she oversaw training for all registered nurses in regional centres throughout Ireland. During her time as dean of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at the RCSI from 1990-1995, the first four year Bachelor of Nursing degree courses were offered at the college. She also conferred the first honorary fellowship of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery on St Teresa of Calcutta in Rome in 1992.

The current dean of the Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery at RCSI, Mary Boyd, said Bartley’s care, compassion and commitment to nursing were second to none.

“She was a wonderful nurse leader and role model who always put the sick person first, not the system, and she trained nurses to high standards of care,” Boyd said.

Josephine, the second of five children of John and Nora Bartley (nee Lee), grew up on a farm in Brittas, Co Limerick. She was educated first as a boarder in the Sisters of Mercy Girls School in Doon, Co Limerick and then at the Presentation Secondary School [now Coláiste Nano Nagle] in Limerick city.

She trained as a registered general nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital – then on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. She completed her midwifery training in the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast. Later studies included a course in clinical teaching at the Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a higher diploma course in hospital and health services administration at the College of Commerce in Rathmines, Dublin.

Following her training in midwifery, she worked at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, St Patrick’s Hospital, Cork and Bedford Row Lying-In Hospital [now University Maternity Hospital] Limerick. Keen to travel and gain experience abroad, she joined the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps and worked as a ward sister in military hospitals in England and Germany. She also spent a year working as a ward sister at the Central Hospital in Kitwe, Zambia.

She was deeply inspired by the work of English social reformer Florence Nightingale, who set up the first military nursing service for the British army during the Crimea War in 1854 and is often see to have been the founder of modern nursing. Soon after returning to Ireland, Bartley was appointed assistant matron at St Vincent’s Hospital where she was actively involved in the transfer of services from the old hospital on St Stephen’s Green to the new hospital at Elm Park which opened in November 1970.

She was a wonderful sister and aunt and almost like a third parent to many of us, as she was there for our every achievement and celebration

—  Niece Joanne Kelleher

In 1977 she was appointed matron of the Richmond Hospital and immediately became involved in planning for and commissioning of the new hospital in Beaumont, which amalgamated services from Jervis Street and Richmond hospitals in Dublin city centre. When Beaumont Hospital opened in 1987, she became its first director of nursing, remaining in that position until her retirement in 1998.

Following her retirement, she served on the board of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin [now Children’s Hospital Ireland at Crumlin]. Student nurses who trained with her remembered as a fair, kind and dignified presence in their working lives. A woman of strong faith, Bartley acted as matron of the volunteers for the Dublin Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes each year. She was also an active member of the Guild of Irish Catholic Nurses and represented the International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland.

During her spare time, she was a regular bridge player and volunteer in her local parish in the Dublin suburb of Knocklyon. Her niece Joanne Kelleher said that she was also very involved with family.

“She was a wonderful sister and aunt and almost like a third parent to many of us, as she was there for our every achievement and celebration,” Kelleher said. In recognition of her legacy, Beaumont Hospital awards one graduating student nurse the Ms Bartley Prize for Excellence in Nursing Care each year.

Josephine Bartley is survived by her sisters Amy (Duggan) and Mary (Rice), nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. She was predeceased by her sister Anna (Kelleher) and her brother, Seamus.