This book tells the history of Sunbeam House from the time of its founding as a small home for crippled children in 1874 to its development as one of the leading voluntary disability service providers in Ireland.

Providing intellectual disability services for County Wicklow since the late 1950s, Sunbeam House Services manages residential, educational, training and employment support services for over 350 adults with intellectual disabilities. The range of services provided by Sunbeam House Services reflects the achievement of a high level of community integration for people with an intellectual disability in County Wicklow. The present-day services also reflect the fruits of decades of work in which the organisation developed new and often innovative services and pointed the way for other voluntary and state service providers in the field of intellectual disability.

The sinking of the Concordia ferry on Lake Zurich on 29th August 1872 and her narrow escape from drowning in the ferry accident led a recently-widowed young woman, Lucinda Sullivan, to devote her remaining life to the alleviation of human suffering. Two years later, with voluntary funding form a wide cross section of society, she founded the Home for Crippled Children in Bray in 1874.

The story is worth telling because those Victorians who originally founded an organisation to care for “crippled children” led by example and those that followed in building the organisation that became Sunbeam House provided an exemplar to society of what should be done to care for those among its citizens who are disadvantaged physically or intellectually.

As society has developed over the last hundred and forty years, much has improved for the ordinary citizen, but by reason of disability, many citizens find themselves “unequal citizens” in this process of improvement. This story is about people and an organisation that contributed, in a small part, to making those who were once “unequal”, become Equal Citizens.

The book was made possible through the vision and foresight of John Giles in commissioning the book and, in so doing, ensuring that the history and achievements of Sunbeam House services and its antecedent organizations are recorded.

The narrative of the later chapters of this book is informed by oral testimonies provided by current and former clients of Sunbeam House. The authors very much appreciate their generosity in sharing their experiences of growing up in Sunbeam House.

Much of the book is based on documentary materials available in the archives of Sunbeam House Services. The book was informed by a published history of Sunbeam House Services, entitled Sunbeam House Bray and writes by Francis Loughrey (with additional chapters by Maria Luddy and John Giles); the authors acknowledge the importance of this earlier work when researching and writing the book.

How did a small, voluntary home in Bray, County Wicklow, established for crippled children in 1874 develop into a major public business enterprise providing a countywide multi-faceted disability service? This book endeavors to tell this story. The book provides a historical case study of an organisation in context, a care home providing treatment and care for children in response to changing patterns of childhood illness and disability a voluntary organisation in the Protestant philanthropic tradition and, latterly, an enterprising business organisation.

It offers a case study of the evolving relationship between the state and the small voluntary organizations on which it came to rely when providing health and welfare services. it shows how a voluntary organisation, both independently and in consort with the state, endeavored to meet the needs of those who, by virtue of their disabilities, fell outside mainstream services and could not be marginalised. The book also shows how a professional business model could be developed and applied in a service organisation while remaining true to its original mission and ethos, which was founded by a sense of Christian duty, the Protestant work ethic and the essential ethos of voluntarism and public service.

The book is presented in eleven chapter snide structured in three parts. Part 1 (chapters 1-4) narrate the history of the period 1874 to 1958, when Sunbeam House cared for crippled children, children with tuberculosis and, later, convalescent and orphaned children. Part 2 (chapters 5-9) examines the historical development of Sunbeam House as a major provider of intellectual disability services after the late 1950s up to the early twenty-first century. Part 3 (chapters 10-11) examines the development the development of Sunbeam House Services as an organisation, with a particular focus on its emerging governance and management arrangements as it moved form being a small voluntary home to a large not-for-profit organisation. The two chapters in Part 3 also examine the ways in which the organization strategically positioned itself as both a responsive and a proactive organisation in the face of local needs and emerging challenges in the wider disability landscape.

Based on documentary primary sources contained in the archives of Sunbeam House Services and on the oral testimonies of staff and service users, the book is thoroughly researched and and presented as a chronological narrative of key developments in the organization’s history. Drawing on the history of the wider disability discourses and on developments in health, welfare and disability policies in Ireland, the narrative critical examines how Sunbeam House responded to these wider developments and, at the same time, contributed to the development of policy and practice in disability services.

The book “Equal Citizens” contains a full account.