Sullivan, Lucinda (1831–1881), philanthropist, writer and promoter of children's welfare, was born in 1831, probably in Castleconnell, Co. Limerick, to Captain William Edward Brady , formerly a lieutenant in the 2nd West India Regiment, and subsequently chief constable of police in Castleconnell, and his second wife, Lucinda Catherine (née Forester). Lucinda was the younger of two girls from her father's second marriage, and she also had three half-siblings from his first. There are no records of her early life but the organisational skills, religious devotion and written eloquence she demonstrated later in life suggest that she was well educated both academically and scripturally.
On 22 December 1865 Lucinda married Robert Sullivan (qv), a barrister, educationist and textbook writer, in Monkstown parish church, and for two years they appear to have lived at Clarinda Park West, Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin. In 1867 Robert suffered a stroke and he died on 11 July 1868, having been tended to by his wife in his final year. His death left Sullivan wealthy – Robert's will, published in September 1868, listed his effects as £45,000 – and, as a widow, free to act independently of any male relatives. There is no record of what she did in the immediate aftermath of her husband's death, but Victorian mourning etiquette would have precluded Sullivan from most social occasions, with the exception of church-related activities, for a period of at least two years.
In the summer of 1872 Sullivan travelled to Mannedorf on Lake Zurich in Switzerland to stay in one of three houses established by the faith healer Dorothea Trudel (d. 1862). Trudel believed prayer and laying on of hands could cure both mental and physical illness, and her followers continued her work after her death. In her published memoir, Diary of a month in Männedorf (1873), Sullivan wrote of the traumatic event that transformed her life while she was there. On 29 August 1872 she took a steamboat to visit a school on the other side of Lake Zurich. On the return journey that evening there were 450 children and fifty adults aboard the St Gotthard when it was struck by another steamboat, the Concordia. Sullivan was one of the last to leave the ferry and, according to her account, while she waited to be rescued her mind fixed on a man she had met ten years previously, who had been badly deformed by tetanus. In that moment, she says, her 'deepest interest [was] awakened on the subject of female workers among the sick, the ignorant and the poor' and, as thanksgiving for her life, she resolved to dedicate her life to their care (A month in Männedorf, 69–70).
In order to fulfil her resolution, Sullivan travelled from Mannedorf to Kaiserwerth, north of Dusseldorf in Germany, where she underwent training at the Kaiserwerth Deaconess Hospital established by Pastor Theodore Fliedner in 1836. Deaconesses were women who learnt both theology and nursing skills so that they could 'relieve the wants of the suffering body and minister to the wants of the perishing soul' (A month in Männedorf, 69–70). Florence Nightingale, the hospital's most famous graduate, had brought the practice back to England when she established the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas's Hospital, London. Having received instruction in Kaiserwerth, Sullivan travelled to England where she worked at the Mildmay Deaconess Hospital near Shoreditch in London for several weeks, attending to sick children there. In late 1872 she returned to Ireland and was appointed the first lady superintendent of the Adelaide Hospital in Dublin, bringing to the role the rigorous nursing practices she had learnt in Kaiserwerth and Mildmay.
During her tenure as lady superintendent, Sullivan witnessed the hardship of the 'sick poor' – children suffering from spinal and joint diseases who were released into damp and impoverished circumstances, only to return 'thinner and more suffering … with feebler prospects of recovery than before' (An address by Mrs. Lucinda Sullivan (1878), 3–8). To address such a miserable cycle, she resolved to provide a home where hospital care, school training and industrial occupation would be combined. She laid out her proposal to the pubic in a letter published by the Daily Express on 26 October 1874 and, by the end of the week, had received more than £300 – enough to begin putting her plans in place.
In late 1874 Sullivan took ownership of the vacant Bray Auxiliary Hospital for Incurables, previously a Workmen's Hall, located on Lower Dargle Road, Bray. The newly named 'Home for Crippled Children' opened in December and consisted of fourteen beds in the Crompton Ward (named for Judge Philip Crompton, previous owner of the building) and a school room. The inscription on the plaque at the front door read '… as a thanksgiving to Almighty God for deliverance from peril of shipwreck'. The home was the first institution of its kind in Ireland, and it relied exclusively on charitable donations and fundraising efforts. Sullivan excelled at forging links with wealthy patrons and attracting philanthropic funds to further her aims. One of the first such patrons, Lady Louisa Abercorn, wife of the lord lieutenant of Ireland, James Hamilton (qv), helped to raise almost £2,000 by February 1875, and in 1877 the Abercorn wing of the home was opened. So well regarded was the home by that date that Sullivan set up a book in the entrance hall for visitors to sign – William Gladstone and his wife were among the list of signatories that included Elizabeth, queen of Romania, and Lady Baden-Powell.
Sullivan maintained her links with the Adelaide Hospital until early 1875 when she retired as lady superintendent, citing poor health as well as her commitment to the Home for Crippled Children. In 1880 she was diagnosed with cancer and, to ensure the continued running of the home, she established an endowment fund, naming her sister Louise as her successor.
Lucinda Sullivan died the following year, on 23 August 1881, at the home in Bray and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. As executor of her will, Louise oversaw the enactment of Sullivan's last requests which represented her dedication to nursing and the continued welfare of the children in her care: she left £4,000 to the home in Bray and £100 to the Mildmay and Kaiserwerth institutions respectively, as well as contributions to the Church Missionary Society, the Church of Ireland Representative Body and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dublin. The Dublin Daily Express, carrying her obituary on 29 August 1881, described her life as one filled with 'Christian sympathy and benevolence … [she made] the profession of nurse more respectable and respected … not only in the Adelaide Hospital, where she laboured zealously for the sick poor until her health broke down, but in other Dublin hospitals, and throughout Ireland.'
Despite her early death, Sullivan's legacy has continued. In the mid-1920s, when exposure to sunlight and fresh air became popular treatments, the Home for Crippled Children developed a sunlight balcony and changed its name to Sunbeam House. Throughout the twentieth century it continued to adapt to changing circumstances, becoming a children's convalescent home and then, in 1958, a home for those with intellectual disability. In 1970 Sunbeam House Special National School (later New Court School) was opened for children with intellectual disabilities and in 1976 it became the first multi-denominational and co-educational special needs national school to be recognised by the Department of Education. At time of writing, Sunbeam House Services continue to provide training and support to adults with intellectual needs enabling them to live and work within their communities.