Belfast Telegraph

Reunion marks 60 years since nurses started their training at the RVH

By Victoria O'Hara

A generation of nurses have shared their memories at an emotional reunion 60 years after they started their training at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The milestone anniversary brought together 13 of the original 25 student nurses who began their careers in Belfast back in 1955.

The hospital they trained at for three years is now undergoing major changes for the 21st century - but as they reminisced the women said they "felt like it was yesterday".

Some former nurses had travelled from England to attend the event, five years after they last met up. The retired nurses, some who have worked across the world, met up at the Stormont Hotel in east Belfast, where they said that they had a real sense of camaraderie that got them through some tough times in training.

Among them was Sheilah Girgis-Hanna (78), originally from Bangor and who now living in Saffron Walden in Essex. Her work as a nurse took her to Sudan and Cairo where she met her husband, a professor of medicine. She said her parents, who taught her to "give back to the community", inspired her to become a nurse.

"I loved the training," she said.

"I then went to do midwifery in Edinburgh then came back and worked in Bangor Hospital. Then I was called into the church mission society to work in Cairo. I was there for 25 years as I met my husband there who was an Egyptian doctor."

She revealed that her brother Canon Gerry Murphy - an Irish rugby international and later domestic chaplain to the Queen before he died in 2014 - flew over to Cairo with their mother and married them.

Rae Chivers (nee Ferguson) from Coleraine (78) said she lasted longer as a nurse than her mother believed she would.

"My mother thought I wouldn't stay too long," she said.

"She thought that at the first sight of blood I would be home again. But I proved her wrong," she joked. "I left in 1962 when I got married.

"I just missed the Troubles - we were lucky."

Also among the former nurses was Helen Smyth, the mother to businesswoman Alison Clarke and mother-in-law to golfing champ Darren Clarke.

"Things that we learned were just so valuable," she said.

"Even for me when I was bringing up my own family. I trained for three years and did a year at Altnagelvin - it had just opened. It was about 1960. I was one of the first nurses there."

Belfast Telegraph


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