The third in our Children of the Poor House Series is Helena Kelly- no relation to last week’s Barney Kelly as far as we can tell!

Helena Kelly was born around 1805 and lived in Belfast with her family until the age of eight. The Kelly family’s circumstances must have changed as Helena was admitted to the Poor House in August 1813. Unfortunately, the admission book does not provide an insight in to why she was admitted.

It would appear from our archive that Helena was a well-behaved child, as she had no transgressions recorded against her name. Helena’s case was one in which Mary Ann McCracken and the Ladies Committee took an active interest as Helena was described as lame. It was felt that if she was not apprenticed she would remain in the Poor House for the rest of her life.

So, in 1822, Helena secured an apprenticeship at the rather late age of 16. She went to Jane Dickson to learn the trade of dress making for a term of three years. This was one of the shortest apprenticeship periods recorded for any child in our care and it likely reflects the fact that she was five years older than the average apprentice was.

Helena completed her apprentice but her condition continued to impact on her ability to get meaningful employment. In August 1827 the Ladies Committee were granted permission for Helena to remain in the Poor House to teach the children needlework. By September 1828 Helena had returned to the Poor House after having her leg amputated at the Fever Hospital in Belfast. The Ladies Committee realised by this stage that any form of career in dressmaking was now out of reach for Helena, so they proposed that she would be instructed by the Mistress of the Lancastrian School with a view to preparing her to teach the Lancastrian system of sewing to girls in the Poor House.

Helena continued to live and teach in the Poor House until 8 April 1830 when, at the age of 25 she went on to find her own path.