Calling all 1960s Altnagelvin nurses

Mary Power (ne� Morrow) pictured with her nurse colleagues at the graduation in Altnagelvin hospital in 1966. (1503MM10)

Mary Power (ne� Morrow) pictured with her nurse colleagues at the graduation in Altnagelvin hospital in 1966. (1503MM10)

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A retired nurse who left Derry 45 years ago is hoping to organise a reunion for nurses who trained and worked with her in Altnagelvin Hospital in the 1960s.

Mary Power (neé Morrow) has lived in England since the late 1960s but is still a regular visitor to Derry and wants to meet up with her former colleagues to reminisce about old times.

Mrs Power, who retired three years ago, said the time she spent training in Altnagelvin hospital rank among the happiest years of her life.

“I did my training at Altnagelvin from May 1963 to May 1966 and then I was staff there for a year before moving to the Royal in Belfast to train as a midwife in 1968. I got married in Derry that year and then moved to London and then to Essex. In September I will be 45 years out of Derry,” she said.

“I worked as a midwife in St Thomas’ Hospital in London for five years and then re-trained and spent the rest of my career as a health visitor until my retirement. I may have only spent the first four years at Altnagelvin but nurses always say that you never forget your training hospital and it certainly made a big impact on me,” she added.

She said she came up with the idea of a reunion during a recent visit to Derry. “I come back to Derry once or twice a year and on a visit a few weeks ago I met with my old friend, Lorraine Nicholl, who trained as a nurse with me, and we were reminiscing and thought it would be a good idea if we could organise some sort of reunion,” she said.

Looking back at the period, Mrs Power said the hours were long and the discipline was tough but said she still enjoyed every minute of it.

“It was an entirely different world back then. Betty Boyce was the matron and her deputies were Miss Patterson and Miss Davidson and Miss Molly McDaid was the tutor. Everyone who trained at Altnagelvin will remember them. It was very strict in those days and it was actually run more like a convent than a hospital.

“As trainee nurses we lived in and you could get a late pass once a week which allowed you to stay out to 10.30pm and once a month you could get a pass to allow you to stay out to 2am. When you got a late pass you could go to Borderland in Donegal.

“From time to time people would come home late but you ran the risk of getting caught by the home sister so we came up with a system where a nurse who had a room on the ground floor would leave a window open and you could climb in unnoticed. Sometimes people got caught but it didn’t stop us,” she remembered.

However, it wasn’t all fun and nights out for the trainee nurses as Mrs Power recalls. “All of our time was spent on the ward, patrolling the ward as it was called. We fed the patients, made the beds, gave full care and it was all done to perfection.

“We needed to know every patient’s name and condition because when the matron came around you were expected to know it all. Betty Boyce had a great memory for names and if you tried to take a chance and make something up she’s always caught you out.

“When you were on nights you still had to patrol the wards. The night sister would appear to make sure you were walking up and down the wards, We were only allowed to sit in the office at breaks.

“It was very tough work but I loved it. The most enjoyable days of my life were spent at Altnagelvin. All of the nurses bonded together because it was so demanding and I made some great friends there.

“Nursing really was a vocation. The pay wasn’t much but I never heard anyone complaining. In my second year I got £10 a month but you would always be tired after your shift that you wouldn’t have been able to spend money. We would have gone to Borderland once a month and you could get your hair set for 7s 6d,” she explained.

Mrs Power said she would love to see all the nurses she trained with more than four decades ago.

“I haven’t seen many of them since 1968. I know some of them are still in Derry but others could have moved away. I remember their maiden names but I don’t know if they got married over the years. Some of the people I remember best are Cathy Lynch, Anne Marie Kelly, Deirdre Keogh, Mary Fulton and Sylvia McKeen. I’d love to catch up with all of the nurses again and see what everyone has been up to. I’m hoping that if I get a good response we can organise a reunion in the summer. I know people may have moved away but I thought this year with the City of Culture, people may be returning home and it would be great to catch up,” she said.

Mrs Power can be contacted at marym.power@yahoo.co.uk