Ancestry UK

Smyly Homes, Co. Dublin, Ireland

Ellen Smyly (née Franks) was born in Dublin in about 1815. In her late teens she became involved in visiting poor sick children in hospital or in their homes. She was married in 1834 to Josiah Smyly, a surgeon at Dublin's Meath Hospital, with whom she had twelve children. When her own family's demands had begun to recede, she returned to her charitable endeavours and in 1852 set up a daytime Ragged School in a stable loft on Townsend Street. Here, up to 200 children were provided with breakfast (bread and cocoa) and dinner and given a basic education together with Bible lessons and hymn singing. A Sunday School at the premises eventually attracted weekly attendance of around 400 adults. Further schools were subsequently established on Luke Street, Grand Canal Street, Hawkins Street, Lurgan Street and The Coombe. A sewing class for women was also held at the Grand Canal Street school.

In her work, Smyly was supported by her friend Alexander Dallas, who in 1849 founded the Society of Irish Church Missions to the Roman Catholics, a Protestant organisation which aimed to bring the its view of the Gospel to Roman Catholics in Ireland. Perhaps not surprisingly, her activities met with some resistance from the Catholic community.

Smyly's work soon progressed to establishing residential children's homes. Those she founded included:

Smyly's activities influenced other child care workers, notably Thomas Barnardo who became a close friend.

In the early 1900s, the Smyly organisation moved to what became its long-standing base at 21-22 Grattan Street. After Smyly's death on May 16th, 1901, her work was continued by her daughters Ellen, Annie, and Harriet.

Like many similar organisations, Smyly's emigrated some of its older children to Canada. From the 1870s onwards, it used the services of Annie Macpherson who operated several receiving homes in Canada, such as the Marchmont Home in Ontario. In 1905, Smyly established her own reception and distribution home, The Coombe, at Hespeler, Ontario.

The organisation founded by Ellen Smyly continues to this day, now known as the Smyly Trust. It provides therapeutic residential care for children and young people at several homes in the area such as Racefield House at Dun Laoghaire.

Racefield House, Dun Laoghaire, 2014. © Peter Higginbotham


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Records for Smyly's homes (including emigration records) are physically held at the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin. However, access is restricted to staff of the Smyly Trust to whom initial enquiries should be directed at 15 Rock Hill, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland (+353 1 283 2071,


  • Smyly, Vivienne The Early History of Mrs Smyly's Homes and Schools (c.1976, privately published)