Sunbeam House was originally founded in 1874 as the “Home for Crippled Children” at Bray in County Wicklow, by Lucinda Sullivan who, at the time, was the Lady Superintendent of Dublin’s Adelaide Hospital. Described as a lady “distinguished by superior cultivation of mind”, Lucinda Sullivan was an accomplished Victorian gentlewoman, an artist, writer and philanthropist, who promoted several worthy causes, including temperance, women’s welfare and the welfare of children. Founded in the tradition of Protestant philanthropy, the Cripples Home was the first institution of its kind in Ireland and for over fifty years provided residential care and treatment for children with a range of crippling childhood diseases, including rickets, tuberculosis of the spine and joints and paralysis due to injury.
When exposure to sunlight and fresh air became popular treatment for tuberculosis and diseases like rickets in the interwar years, the Crippled Home developed a sunlight balcony for heliotherapy and became Sunbeam House. However, with the decline in tuberculosis and diseases associated with poor nutrition in the 1950s, Sunbeam House once again adapted to changing patterns of childhood diseases and changed its function to become a children’s convalescent home and a welfare home for orphaned children. Throughout this period, Sunbeam House remained an integral part of a wider Protestant welfare network.
With the Irish state’s historic reliance on voluntary organisations in providing essential health and welfare services, Sunbeam House was ideally placed to respond to new thinking about intellectual disability including the need of schooling for those with a “mild mental handicap” and in 1958, once again changed its function to become a home for the mentally handicapped. The transformation of Sunbeam House into a residential home and school for intellectually disabled children was brought about by the government’s need to respond to societal expectations regarding the care of the intellectually disabled and, in the case of Sunbeam House, by the needs of the Protestant community at that time.
When it becomes apparent to the authorities at Sunbeam House in the mid-1970s that there were few opportunities for intellectually disabled school leavers, the Governors established an adult training service and a range of support and services.