Kay's Arctic adventure
"Minus 10 is warm when
you're used to minus 50"
KAY MATTHEWS isn't exactly running around
hugging trees in Inishowen but she certainly likes being
That's because the 69-year old lives in the Arctic
Circle where there are no trees.
Nursing and midwifery pioneer Kay, whose late mother was
from Buncrana, has been living and working among the
Inuit (Eskimo) people since 2006.
She was persuaded out of retirement to co-ordinate a
mother and baby programme in Canada's Arctic territories
because of her vast experience running similar
programmes in Newfoundland, Africa and Indonesia.
She's been on holiday in Buncrana for nearly a month,
visiting her cousin Kathleen Joyce and other relatives.
She says she's enjoying the daylight hours as much as
the trees. "We get 18 hours of darkness in Winter which
lasts from November to May. June is still cold by
Buncrana standards but when you're used to -50 degrees,
-10 is relatively warm," she laughs.
Kay, better known locally
as Kathleen Kielty, is the daughter of the late May
McDaid of the Cottage Bar in Buncrana and her late
husband Henry Kielty from Belfast. Kay grew up in
Cranagh near Strabane before the family moved to
Dartford in Kent where she trained in her teens as a
nurse. After meeting and marrying Keith Matthews, the
couple moved to Newfoundland, Canada in 1967 for Keith
to take up a job as Professor of History at Memorial
University in the capital St. John's. Sadly Keith died
in 1983 at just 46 and Kay, who had continued studying
for a degree in Nursing, was left to support two
daughters and two sons on her own. She had been working
as a midwife in a local hospital but her husband's death
coincided with an offer of full-time teaching at
Memorial University. First she had to get her Master's
Degree. As part of her Master’s she developed the Infant
Breastfeeding Assessment Tool which is still used
internationally to determine how well breastfeeding is
progressing for mothers and their babies.
Meanwhile, having retired in 2002 after nearly 50 years
as a distinguished practitioner and international
teacher of midwifery, the indefatigable Kay accepted yet
another challenge at the age of 67.
"I thought it would be very interesting to go from a
very hot climate like Africa or Indonesia to the other
extreme. She is the co-ordinator of the Maternity Care
Workers' Programme in Nunavut Territory and has already
kick-started the programme in two regions, Rankin Island
and Iqualuit. "The project trains Inuit women to become
maternity care workers and midwives. I currently have
six students, all women aged from 22 to 40. They are
really lovely people although I did have to get used to
pronouncing their names correctly.
One is called Olepeeka but
there are some easier names to remember such as Sula and
While the students sometimes wear their traditional
dress of caribou coats and shoes, Kay’s students and Kay
herself, are more often seen in big, heavy parka coats
with fur-lined hoods. “One of the shopkeepers said to me
recently, ‘I don’t recognise people in Spring, when they
take their parkas off’,” she said, laughing.
Next college term, Kay moves even further north to teach
the same programme in Cambridge Bay. It will be her
final year of Arctic life and she will then go home to
Newfoundland and “really retire”. "Hopefully, I will
have helped the Inuit women to get good careers.
Ultimately though, I hope the programme will help
improve the health and lives of Inuit mothers and