History of Barnardos

The Barnardos tradition was founded by an Irish man, Dr Thomas Barnardo, born on Dublin’s Dame Street. He was educated in St Patrick’s Cathedral School and, at the age of 16, set out for London to train as a doctor.

The London in which Thomas Barnardo arrived in 1866 was a city struggling to cope with the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Overcrowding, bad housing, unemployment, poverty and disease were rife. An outbreak of cholera killed more than 3,000 people, leaving families destitute. Thousands of children slept on the streets and many others were forced to beg after being maimed in factories.

Abandoning his plans to travel to China as a missionary, Thomas Barnardo set up a ragged school in the East End of London in 1867, where vulnerable children could get a basic education. In 1870, Barnardo opened his first home for boys in Stepney Causeway, which carried a sign over the door 'No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission'.

By the time of his death in 1905, Dr Barnardo had established a large network of homes in the UK caring for about 8,000 children. During the twentieth century, Barnardos adapted to the changing needs of children and families. The emphasis changed from caring for children in residential homes to services that support children to stay within their families and communities.

Barnardos Timeline

  • 1845 – Dr Thomas Barnardo born in Dublin.
  • 1870 – Dr Barnardo opens his first home for homeless boys in London.
  • 1962 – The Barnardos tradition continues to grow and set roots in Ireland, initially in Dublin and the border counties.
  • 1974 – The Barnardos bus makes its first appearance on the streets of Dublin, providing pre-school education to children in areas with inadequate local resources.
  • 1977 – Barnardos establishes an Adoption Support Service working with birth parents, adopted adults and supporting families who have adopted children.
  • 1980 – Barnardos opens the doors of its first Early Years centre working with children in Tallaght, Dublin.
  • 1989 – Barnardos Ireland becomes a wholly independent organisation.
  • 1990 – Barnardos national office moves to its current home in Christchurch Square, Dublin.
  • 1995 – Barnardos opens its first centres outside of Dublin in Limerick city and Edenderry, County Offaly.
  • 1996 – Barnardos opens a national Bereavement Counselling service for children.
  • 1998 – 2001 – Barnardos opens Family Support Centres in Waterford city, Tullamore, Athlone, Thurles, Carlow, Cork city and Cherry Orchard, Dublin 10.  
  • 2004 – Barnardos works with 4,803 children and families.
  • 2008 – Barnardos opens a purpose built Early Years centre for children living in Cork city.
  • 2009 – Barnardos launches its twentieth Family Support Centre in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
  • 2010 – Barnardos launches its fifth Teen Parent Support Service providing support to expectant teenagers and young parents living in north Wexford.
  • 2011 – Barnardos supports 6,300 children and families in 42 project centres. 
  • 2012 – Barnardos marks 50 years working to support children and families in Ireland.
  • 2017 – Barnardos supports 15,300 children in 40 centres across Ireland, more than any year previous.