Matron Emily MacManus
An Irish Retirement
Matron of Guy’s from 1927 to 1946 Emily Elvira Primrose MacManus was born in London in 1886 to a distinguished County Mayo family. Never forgetting her Irish heritage, love of Mayo and the family home Killeaden (Killedan) it’s no surprise that Miss MacManus chose the place of childhood memories for her retirement.
Much is known of Emily MacManus’ illustrious career, her dedication to patients in war and peacetime, at home and abroad, her bravery to be exactly where she was most needed. She made animmense contribution to Guy’s Hospital and the field of Nursing. Her commitment lasted long after retirement and included ongoing involvement in the Guy’s Nurses’ League, culminating in President.
Matron MacManus led by example. She was noted for her fairness, understanding, compassion and unbeatable spirit. Following one night of wartime bombing, when the east wing was destroyed, she wrote that it was “sad butnot overwhelming, for the spirit of the hospital cannot be destroyed”.
Understandably, far less is known of Miss MacManus’ life after retirement. Her beloved Killeaden House now closed up,in 1933 she began building a lakeside lodge on the shores of Lough Conn about seventeen miles away, in the beautiful Lake District of North-East Mayo. As a child she had spent many happy days by the lough on picnic trips from Killeaden House. Carrickbarrett Lodge became a place“to refresh my spirit among mountains and trout lakes” while she was Matron at Guy’s and later, her home in retirement.
In the summer of 1946 “when that difficult heart-searching moment, the moment of my retirement came” “and the last good-byes said-the last one of all I reserved for Thomas Guy”. “As I drove out of the front square, I felt his hands reach out to me in farewell”.
A plain speaking, modest person, Emily MacManus never sought recognition. It was known locally that she had been an eminent Matron at Guy’s, but less was known of her war service. She certainly had a presence. Recollections mention her being very straightforward, kind, knowledgeable and unique. She has been described as at times using her “formidable persuasive charm” **
Well known for her tweed outfits, small green Morris Minor and abundance of energy, further acquaintance revealed a love of poetry, the countryside, birds, fishing and keeping goats. In 1947 she competed in the Castlebar and District Trout Anglers Annual Fishing Competition on Lough Conn. Miss MacManus was as at home in the country as she was at the opera. As a child “I Iearnt to draw turf” “manage a farm horse and cart, and all the day I loved to run barefoot” Her friends had asked “what will you do when you retire? You’ve been so active .....” “but I thought of all the books I had not yet had time to read; of the garden in the heathery wild that I meant to cultivate” “my two islands, the boat and my friends who would visit me” “I should not be lonely”
Emily MacManus was still to some extent in the public eye. She gave radio and newspaper interviews. Local groups enjoyed talks on her many travel experiences, as in her journey to the West Indies in 1947 to assist an investigation by the Colonial Office of nursing practice in the British Colonies. She also spoke about her later trips to Turkey in 1949 and the Netherlands in 1952 with the British Council. Publication of her autobiography‘ Matron of Guy’s’ in1956 gave a much greater insight into her career for people within and outside the local community. She continued with her local talks , the subject now more serious, the challenges of nursing roles at home and abroad in wartime. The Irish were no strangers to war. In the first world war almost ten per cent of the British army made up of Irish born soldiers. In the second world war when Southern Ireland was no longer part of the United Kingdom, approximately seventy thousand Southern Irishmen served in British uniform.
Admiration for Emily MacManus’ achievements was nowhere stronger than from the people of Ireland. Her brother Dermot (Army Captain/Writer/Nationalist/Last surviving friend of Yeats) writing to his friend JJ in 1965 “If and when you go to North Mayo, you must meet my elder sister, the retired Guy’s Hospital Matron. She lives near Pontoon and is the Queen of the County from Ballina to Tuam” Not at all how Emily MacManus would want to be described but demonstrating a brother’s pride and a community’s respect.
Tom Rowley/RTE radio/Women’s Museum of Ireland.
** Tom Rowley quote.
Guy’s Hospital Nurses’ League by Andie Howard.
Museum of Ireland.
Dermot MacManus in the Sixties by Dr Roy Johnston 1999
( Dermot MacManus’l letter to JJ dated 9th June 1965)
The Irish Times.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
Dail Eireann (lower house) debate 20th April 1967.
Matron of Guy’s Emily E P MacManus CBE