Irish nurses and the 60s ‘ballrooms of romance’

By Shelley Marsden

AS part of the Irish Britain History Month, London Irish Women’s/Feminist Network (LIFN) is hosting a talk on April 15 by Ethel Corduff, ex-nurse and author of an upcoming book about Irish nurses.

Entitled Irish Nurses in Britain during the Swinging Sixties, the talk will explore Ethel’s personal experiences as a young Irish nurse in the London of The Beatles, mods and mini-skirts. She and her Irish colleagues weren’t ‘swinging’ in that sense though, points out Tralee native Ethel, who retired from nursing seven years ago– rather, they went dancing any free time they had.

“We weren’t enjoying the ‘swinging sixties’ of drink and drugs, not at all”, she told the Irish World. “But we had a lot of fun, and we were certainly swinging in the dancing sense!  Us nurses went dancing so much in those days, even after long shifts, it’s hard to believe we had the energy, thinking about it now. We were very clean living, most of us were quite religious and we stuck together… It was all about friendship, fun and hard work.”

Ethel and her colleagues would frequent dancehalls like The Bamba and The Galtymore in Cricklewood, and others closer in New Cross and in Balham, near where we lived and worked. Naturally, going to Irish dances you would normally meet Irish men and Ethel, a mother-of-two, says most nurses she knew met their future husbands at these dances, including her.

“I met my husband at the Sunday night dance they used to have at the junior school St Mary’s, in West Croydon”, she said. “Of course everything’s changed now, even the way nurses socialise and the people they’d meet. We were our own little community back then.”

Ethel was one of the legions of Irish women that were hired by the NHS (later to become known as the ‘Irish Angels’) during the 50s and 60s. She arrived in 1964 aged 22, and was based in Staffordshire before moving a few years later to London, where she worked at the MayDay Hospital (now Croydon University Hospital).

Recalling the nurses’ accommodation she lived in, she says she met the best friends she ever made there, some of who she is still in touch with, but it wasn’t all plain sailing.

For the full article, see this week’s Irish World (issue 2 April 2014).

Ethel (centre, front) and her colleagues in Stoke

Ethel’s talk is on Tuesday 15 April 2014, 7pm at West Hampstead Women’s Centre, 26-30 Cotleigh Road, NW6 29P (nearest tube West Hampstead). See for more.







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