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Ellen Smyly (née Franks, 1815–1901) was an Irish charity worker.

She was born on 14 November 1815, the daughter of Matthew Franks. She became a prominent philanthropist, fund-raising and setting up homes and schools for the poor. The Smyly Homes and subsequent Smyly Trust are named after her and her family.[1]

At the age of 19 she married the Dublin surgeon Josiah Smyly F.R.C.S.I. (1803-1864). Touched by the poverty and destitution in the city she began her charity work.[2]

In 1852 she set up her first bible school in Dublin, and by the 1870s had set up a number of schools and residential homes. Mrs Smyly or her daughters sat on the boards of most of these institutions. [3] With the assistance of Rev. Alexander Dallas she set up a school in a loft in Townsend St., and children of this home received schooling and food from his Irish Church Mission. A member of the Church of Ireland, her humanitarian mission was influenced by her religious beliefs.

She set up a residential home for boys and one for girls, and then 1859 the Birds Nest in Dun Laoghaire for infants, her homes and organisation known as The Smyly Mission Homes and Ragged Schools of Dublin cared for over 1000 children at this time.[4]

Smyly was involved in the Irish Church Missionaries Ragged School in the Coombe opened initially in 1853 in Weaver's Hall, later moved to Newmarket St. it was opened by Rev. Dallas of the ICM. It closed in 1944 and children were moved to the Smyly home in Monkstown.

Her homes are believed to have inspired the Dublin-born Dr. Thomas John Barnardo in setting up his homes.

In the 1870s, in connection with Annie Macpherson, children were sent to Canada from the Smyly homes in Dublin,[5] similar to arrangements with English and Scottish homes.[2]

Mrs Smyly died aged 86 on 16 May 1901, and the running of her homes was turned over to her daughters Annie Dallas Smyly (1855-1933) and her namesake Ellen Smyly (1846-1912). In 1905 her daughters set up a Smyly home called The Coombe Home in Hespeler in Ontario, Canada.[2] In 1917 the Hespeler Home was transferred to the Christian Aid Mission.[4]

She is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

Her third son Sir William Josiah Smyly (1850-1941), followed in her husband's medical career and was master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin. Her eldest son, Sir Philip Smyly, similar to his father, was a surgeon.

Associated homesEdit

  • Elliot Home for Waifs and Strays - Founded in 1872, first in Abbeyview House in Bray, then in Charlemont Street, Dublin.
  • The Ragged boys home - Founded in 1852 at Grand Canal Street, Dublin.
  • The Home for Big Lads - Founded 1883, Townsend Street, Dublin.
  • Irish Church Missionaries Ragged School in the Coombe - Opened in 1853 closed in 1944 and children moved to Boley House.
  • Boley House, Monkstown, Co. Dublin.
  • The Birds' Nest, Dun Laoghaire - Residential Home for Boys and Girls Founded in 1859, was in York Road, Dún Laoghaire.


  1. ^ Smyly Trust - History Smyly Trust Website
  2. ^ a b c The golden bridge: young immigrants to Canada, 1833-1939 By Marjorie Kohli
  3. ^ Women, philanthropy, and civil society By Kathleen D. McCarthy
  4. ^ a b Pauper Emigration under the New Poor law - The Smyly Homes
  5. ^ Young Immigrants to Canada Smyly Homes of Dublin, Ireland.