Emily McManus

Matron O.B.E. C.B.E.

Matron E. McManus
Wiston House, Sussex, England.
Guy's Hospital by John Stow 1755.
1948 Guy's Hospital, London
Bridge in London.

Matron O.B.E. C.B.E.

Miss Mc Manus’s work in War-time Britain has been appreciated by families of those she nursed. Her workload has also been a testament to her caring nature during both World Wars. She was a dedicated nurse who treated her patients equally with concern and care.  She was the longest running Head of Nursing also the 14th Matron of Guy’s Hospital, London.  The O.B.E. plus the C.B.E. was awarded to Matron Emily Mc Manus for services rendered by the British Government.  [i]

Emily Elvira Primrose was born during 1886 in London.  Her mother was Charlotte and father was James Mc Manus of Killedan, Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo who emigrated to Sussex, England during the Land Agitation.  Her father instilled in her that “Killedan would always be her home no matter where she lived.”   [ii]


James Mc Manus had an uncle who managed a Sugar Plantation in British Guinea where he possibly met the Reverend Leonard Strong, a Church Missionary who held an Estate of 926 acres in the Parishes of Bohola and Killedan during the mid-19th century.  He bequeathed the Killedan Property to his son-in-law, James Mac Manus during 1853. This James (Emily’s Grandfather) married his daughter Charlotte Strong. The family home Killedan had originally been the in the property of the Taffe Family.

Nursing Career

Emily Mc Manus began her training at Guy’s Hospital aged 22 years during 1908. At the beginning of WW1 during the Spring months of 1915 she travelled to France as a Nursing Reserve Sister at Etaples where she spent three years.  Following her return from duty she worked at Guy’s Hospital. She was later appointed Matron of Bristol Royal Infirmary prior to returning to Guy’s Hospital as Matron with a staff of 800 during 1927 until her retirement during 1946.  She was elected to the Nursing Council of London for five years. She travelled to many meetings while retired.


Emily McManus built a Lakeside dwelling at Terrybaun, Pontoon as her beloved Killedan was closed when she retired to Ireland.  She was a regular figure in her Morris Minor around the narrow roads also a friendly person with her upper class accent and tweed outfits she enchanted all whom she encountered!  She loved birds; or to fish on nearby Pontoon Lake, she competed in the Castlebar and District Trout Anglers Annual Fishing Competition on Lough Conn during June 1947.  She delivered a talk on her “Caribbean Journey” plus her celebration of the Persian New Year at Tehran to members of the Mayo Historical Society at the Vocational School Castlebar during 1960. On May 23rd 1966 Emily Mc Manus appeared as a “castaway” on the BBC Programme Desert Island Discs!   In 1967 Emily McManus recounted her war-time experiences; also she appealed for more financial assistance at the Annual General Meeting of the Mayo branch of the National Council for the Blind in the Welcome Inn Hotel, Castlebar.  She loved to read especially the War Poets.  Unusually she had a passion for the goats she reared at her home!


In her memoirs entitled “Fifty Years of Nursing – Matron of Guy’s” (published during 1956 with a preface by her cousin L. A. G. Strong) Emily Mc Manus discussed various anecdotes of the war years plus events in France; The Blitz in London in 1940 plus the evacuation of Guy’s Hospital. She mentioned the responsibility of nurses to create homeliness in the” midst of the mud and blood, dust and death, in which they spend most of their days”  plus the troops who marched to the battle front and returned as invalids, the Australian Band members who perished when their hut got a direct hit.  The book included many photographs of France in W.W.1. plus the Red Cross Ambulances wading through mud, a makeshift operating table with surgeons also rows of invalided soldiers.

Emily Mc Manus had one request prior to her demise; “that locks of her hair be cut off and entwined through the branches of shrubs and trees around Killedan. So, come Spring birds would use the wisps to build and upholster their nests.”  She died aged 92 years in 1978 at the Sacred Heart Hospital Castlebar.  She is buried at St. Michael’s Church Ardnaree, Ballina, Co. Mayo.  [iii]


Emily McManus’s authorship is discussed favourably in an article in ‘The Tablet‘ by Letitia Fairfield on October 20th 1956.  [iv]

A permanent Mini Museum for Guy’s Hospital, London celebrating the institution’s colourful and innovative past with exhibits, photos and paintings has been established with the help of £50,000 funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.  A recent press release from the museum includes the following: “Eminent women are represented by Sarah Swift, Matron from 1900 until she became Matron-In-Chief for the British Red Cross Society in the Great War and Emily McManus, Matron from 1927 who brought her experience of World War I to bear throughout the photographed underground surgery and casualties of World War II.   [v]

Guy’s Hospital has immortalized Emily Mc Manus with a Dining Room plus Lounge dedicated to her.  These can be seen in their Hospitality Brochure, (if unable to visit the Hospital!)  [vi]

These lines from Cill Aodain Poet Terry Mc Donagh’s (Terry is Great – Grand Son of Bard Thady Conlon) “Killedan and Nowhere Else” remembers Emily plus family. (Page  50 / No 21) This enjoyable publication has the most amazing artwork throughout its leaves by the wonderful Sally Mc Kenna.

The Big House poked its head through stately trees,

 Lotty, Emily and Dermot MacManus stoked an old piano,

 gave voice to a fairy kingdom and

 placed whitethorn under protection in deserted drawing rooms.


Emily is mentioned in an article  ‘Putting Her in Her Place’: Writing Nurse Emily McManus into the Factual Irish Great War Record’ by Alice McDermott in the Cathair na Mart Historical Journal 2000 No. 37, pages 95 -109 with detailed references to Emily’s heroic work within Europe plus her childhood holidays at Killeden from her memoirs.

A description of the deserted Killeden House plus image may be seen on this site with a reference to The ancestral home plus family members.

Killeden House (https://www.property.ie/property-for-sale/Killedan-House-Killedan-Kiltimagh-Co-Mayo/2242536/ ) [assessed 21st March 2020]




[i] Kilkelly, Sheila. Interview. April 2013.

[ii] Kilkelly, Sheila. Interview. April 2013.

[iii] www.womensmuseumofireland.ie

[iv] www.archive.thetablet.co.uk

[v] www.castlebar.ie

[vi] www.guysandthomas.nhs.uk

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