In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Social Work in the Republic of Ireland

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Archives
  • Manuals and Guides
  • Journals
  • General Histories of Social Work
  • General Social Policy
  • Church-State Relations and Social Policy
  • Child Welfare and Protection
  • Residential and Institutional Child Care
  • Medical Social Work/Almoners
  • Mental Health Social Work

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Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section

  • Rare and Orphan Diseases and Social Work Practice
  • Social Work Practice with Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth
  • Unaccompanied Immigrant and Refugee Children
  • Find more forthcoming articles...


Social Work History of Social Work in the Republic of Ireland
Caroline Skehill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 February 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 February 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0050


While the origins of social work in the Republic of Ireland are generally traced back to the mid-19th century, it is often reported that the first “professional social worker” was employed in a paid professional capacity in 1906 by the Jacobs Factory as a welfare worker (occupational social worker). The first medical social worker (almoner) was employed in 1919 in Adelaide Hospital, and from the 1920s onward, qualified social workers were employed by both statutory and voluntary authorities. The first formal social work course was established in 1912 by Alexandra College (civic and social work) and a diploma in social studies was established at Trinity College in 1934, followed by University College Dublin in 1936. In researching the history of social work in Ireland, the particular history of the jurisdiction is important. Up to 1920, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were governed by Britain. Even before partition, while being influenced by British developments, the history of social work in Ireland was also influenced by the unique social and political context of Ireland, most notably the complex symbiotic relationship between politics and religion. While Irish statutory and voluntary welfare services paved their own unique paths after the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, up until the 1970s there remained a strong connection, especially in relation to training, between social workers in the Republic of Ireland and those in the United Kingdom. Beginning in 1973, social work courses were approved by the United Kingdom Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW), and they remained under this governance until the establishment of an Irish qualification board, the National Social Work Qualifications Board (NSWQB), in 1997. This entry provides two types of references: those written in the present about the history of social work, and a discreet selection of articles written at key moments in the past that reflect aspects of this history.

Introductory Works

For a general understanding of the development of social work from its origins in philanthropy, Skehill 1999 provides the most comprehensive account of the main phases of development in social work. Kearney 1987 and Darling 1971 are most commonly cited as introductions to the history of social work training, including reference to developments within Northern Ireland. O’Connor and Parkes 1984, a history of Alexandra College, gives insight into the development of the first certificate in “civic and social work” in 1912. The history of philanthropy, generally recognized as the forerunner to professional social work, provides important introductory reading on the origins of social work within Ireland. As these histories refer mostly to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they pertain to the history of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The work of Maria Luddy (Luddy 1995a, Luddy 1995b, Cullen and Luddy 1995, Luddy and Murphy 1989) is particularly important as an introduction to philanthropy. Preston 2004 gives another dimension to this history.

  • Cullen, Mary, and Maria Luddy, eds. 1995. Women, power, and consciousness in 19th-century Ireland. Dublin: Attic.

    Provides a biographical analysis of eight key women who influenced Irish social policy and welfare in the 19th century, giving insight into the nature of philanthropy and social action during this time.

  • Darling, V. 1971. Social work in the Republic of Ireland. Social Studies: The Irish Journal of Sociology 1.1: 24–37.

    This is one of the few accounts of social work training available and is commonly cited in histories of social work in Ireland. It maps the developments of education in each of the universities in Ireland.

  • Kearney, Noreen. 1987. The historical background. In Social work and social work training in Ireland: Yesterday and tomorrow. By Noreen Kearney. Occasional Papers Series no. 1. Dublin: Department of Social Studies, Trinity College.

    A well-cited account of social work training in Ireland that provides the most comprehensive chronology of the core developments. It is a useful accompaniment to Darling 1971.

  • Luddy, Maria. 1995a. Women and philanthropy in nineteenth-century Ireland. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Provides a comprehensive overview of the role of women in philanthropy in 19th-century Ireland, and in so doing gives an insight into the origins of what became professional social work.

  • Luddy, Maria, ed. 1995b. Women in Ireland, 1800–1918: A documentary history. Cork, Ireland: Cork Univ. Press.

    An engaging read that is particularly useful for understanding some of the earlier histories of women and philanthropy. More than one hundred sources and documents are used to map a range of women’s activities.

  • Luddy, Maria, and Cliona Murphy, eds. 1989. Women surviving: Studies in Irish women’s history in the 19th and 20th centuries. Swords, Dublin, Ireland: Poolbeg.

    An in-depth study of the role of women in various aspects of social life in Ireland, including philanthropy during the 19th and 20th centuries. It should be used as a companion to Luddy 1995a and Luddy 1995b as together they offer a comprehensive and detailed overview of philanthropy.

  • O’Connor, Anne V., and Susan M. Parkes. 1984. Gladly learn and gladly teach: Alexandra College and School 1899–1966. Tallaght, Dublin, Ireland: Blackwater.

    Provides insight into social work training in Alexandra College, where the first civic and social work course was established in 1912. This was one of the first formal training courses available at the time.

  • Preston, Margaret H. 2004. Charitable words: Women, philanthropy, and the language of charity in nineteenth-century Dublin. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    This is one of the more recent histories of women and philanthropy and the practice of charity in the 19th century. Focuses on important themes, such as race, class, and religion, and addresses the question of philanthropy as a career, which has a strong link with understanding the development of professional social work.

  • Skehill, Caroline. 1999. The nature of social work in Ireland: A historical perspective. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.

    This is the most comprehensive history of social work in Ireland available to date and is based on archival research into a range of social work departments and organizations in Ireland. The book maps four major phases of transition in social work and is a useful introduction to the subject.

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