Behind Closed Doors - Portrane Photographer Jack Niewoadomski gained access to the now largely derelict St Ita’s Portrane Sat 9 Jul 2016 Hidden stories of abandoned mental hospital revealed Photography student Jack Niewoadomski gained access to the now largely derelict St Ita’s Portrane. The Mental Hospital or asylum as it was known in it's earlier days, opened in 1901. All photographs are by Jack Niewoadomski. The photographs by Jack Niewoadomski at Portrane remind us of an almost forgotten past, when mental illness was stigmatised by society and patients spent many years, often their entire lives, locked away in an institution. Reporter Rosita Boland has sourced a memoir by a staff member of their time in St Ita's. Written in 1981 it gives a flavour of life inside the mental hospital - ‘AS A CLINICAL CLERK, YOU WERE TAUGHT TO OBSERVE BUT TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT’ The unknown staff member worked at the hospital from 1951. Here are some excerpts from his account - "Portrane is a peninsula situated in the northeast aspect of Dublin Bay – looking out on Lambay Island and Howth with Ireland’s Eye, as it were, on the southeast and towards the northeast Rogerstown Quay and its inlet waters, separating Portrane from the renowned horticultural areas of Rush and Lusk, and in the distance Skerries and the Rockabill landmark, further north." "It was on this peninsula a few hundred yards from Tower Bay, at the tip of the peninsula itself, that the government of the day decided to build Portrane Mental Hospital – isolated as far as possible from the mainstream of things, as was the policy throughout the 19th century in the building of mental hospitals in the various towns throughout the country, including England." "Up to 30 years ago, or even 20 years ago, the local “asylum” or “mental home” was seen to be well outside the town or perhaps on the edge of the urban area. But the enormous urbanisation, which began in the late 1950s and reached a high point throughout the 1970s, saw the traditional mental hospital being caught up in a slipstream of housing schemes and supermarkets and all the other social and commercial demands of the present day." "In former years people went out of town to go see the patients at the local asylum. Nowadays they go into town to see the local psychiatric unit; an unavoidable social change or reversal." "Portrane mental hospital was commenced in 1896. Artisans, masons, labourers and carters were employed. The cost was half a million pounds; yes that is what it cost to build this huge extensive “sea” of magnificent brick at the time. The brick came partly from Portmarnock, the then Portmanock brickyard being located near the present railway station of the renowned golfing town; this area is now known as the “clob-lands”. Another supply of brick came from Downshire in Northern Ireland." "As I have said, Portrane cost £½ million to build; wages were a few bob a day, ranging from two pence an hour and overtime for labourers to twice or three times that for masons, carpenters and their helpers, and extra bonuses for overtime. One old-timer a few years ago recalled to me that a load of horse-drawn bricks to the site was rewarded with one shilling and sixpence per horseload from Portmarnock. In short, therefore, the whole complex was planned or programmed in three stages, when laid down in 1896." "As I have said, Portrane cost £½ million to build; wages were a few bob a day, ranging from two pence an hour and overtime for labourers to twice or three times that for masons, carpenters and their helpers, and extra bonuses for overtime. One old-timer a few years ago recalled to me that a load of horse-drawn bricks to the site was rewarded with one shilling and sixpence per horseload from Portmarnock. In short, therefore, the whole complex was planned or programmed in three stages, when laid down in 1896." "The first stage was the acquisition of the Evans estate, which had a big manor house, known as Portrane House, and several hundred acres of land. The manor house was destined to become what I would call the first ever to host the mental health services. For into this edifice was put 28 patients; farm workers mostly, but also some patients with special skills. They came on transfer from Richmond District Lunatic Asylum, and were all well-ordered, trusted types; four attendants were also specially selected to stewart them, as there were kitchen facilities, cooking, washing and also cleaning to be done, and each one of the 28 persons had a job assigned to him: indoor and outdoor, just as in a modern hostel today." This picture was taken by Jack Niewoadomski at Portrane Asylum PORTRANE - SEE ROSITA BOLAND FOLLOW-UP STORY... FEATURES.... "The next stage was the actual building of the temporary buildings: eight, nine and 11, and excellent structures they were to last for so long and still are. As the tide of patients rose, those temporary buildings were gradually filled by the patients dislodged from Grangegorman, mostly patients of agricultural background and more than likely were from Wicklow and rural Co Dublin and Ardee. The buildings were never demolished for some reason, and those buildings were to become the centre of parochial politics, bureaucratic somersaulting and fiscal blundering in the meantime, and this has lasted even quite close to recent times." "The third stage marked the opening of the main block, which is a huge area and symmetrically formed into a male side and a female side, with a huge administrative block and supplies and catering centre occupying the middle of this hospital building." "Most of the patient population “chronically” resident in St Ita’s came from Grangegorman – now known as St Brendan’s Hospital, Rathdown Road. Up until 1960 or a little later, there was what I describe as a pernicious practice. Namely, twice yearly a full busload of patients, male and female, arrived to fill vacancies at Portrane from Grangegorman. The reason entered on the patients record was clear and straightforward, but there was no clinical reason, and I quote: “This patient is suitable for Portrane”. I was later to query this in a petulant way. I should never have asked. It was an immature blunder." "When I first saw Portrane as a clinical clerk, in the mid 1950s, there were 1,800 patients in it, male and female of all categories and classifications, ranging from profoundly mentally handicapped children to patients well over 80 years old. As a clinical clerk you were a doctor at the bottom of the ladder (or the pile), taught to observe but to keep your mouth shut. Today that figure is down to 1,000 or a little over, and includes 80 beds for acute psychiatry to serve a catchment area of 200,000 people." "At the writing of this meagre historical account of Portrane – St Ita’s – the mental handicap service is almost separate from the psychiatric service. There is a modern, up-to-date psychiatric unit for severe cases backed up by 10 outdoor clinics with indoor and outdoor hostels and day centres; all servicing postal area No 5 of Dublin suburbs and north county. It is a lively team with well-trained consultants, experienced and tried, with a small team of community nurses of excellent material, who are the backbone of our follow-up services, with two experienced social workers on hand to help and advise. The mentally handicapped service is developing firmly and gaining excellent confidence, and when the working party report on the division of services is examined, there will be better days ahead." "In the winter of 1964-65 our present admission unit was set up. It was a flat-roofed building opened in 1950, built with Irish Hospital Trust money." "The catchment areas for the various psychiatric teams in the Dublin Health Authority were “struck” and defined by Prof Ivor Browne shortly after he became the chief psychiatrist to the authority and Dublin postal area 5 with rural area north Co Dublin as the catchement area totally served by St Ita’s psychiatric team." This picture was taken by Jack Niewoadomski at Portrane Asylum PORTRANE - SEE ROSITA BOLAND FOLLOW-UP STORY... FEATURES.... " As we are aware, the Dublin Health Authority became known as the Eastern Health Board shortly afterwards. A new Nurses’ Home was built and opened in 1971." "Our own catchment area and admission unit was set up in 1964, a separate unit built in 1950 by the hospital’s trust for elderly people. This was converted and made suitable for admission unit purposes. In 1981 it was reorganised into an acute admission unit and treatment unit, and an assessment unit to rehabilitate patients, male and female and prepare them, successfully, for domestic rehabilitation." "This is the final outcome of a huge programme started in 1965 by Dr Allman, Dr Whitty and Dr Conway. Social rehabilitation, secondly, work rehabilitation and finally domestic or “hostel” rehabilitation." "Dr Tom Bergin was the first clinical director of the mentally handicapped services and automatically set up his office in Portrane and was medical superintendent up until his untimely death in August 1974. I worked on his team, and when the clinical director Dr Michael McGuinness arrived as head of community psychiatry to St Ita’s, we all three managed to start a structural programme, the most dramatic being the beautiful 72 bedded unit on the Howth side of the hospital, housing 72 elderly females. Dr McGuinness continued to encourage capital programmes with upgrading of the old 1896 buildings to meet modern needs." "It was with this same object in mind that the present assessment unit was planned. Their assessment unit is a gem, it is well-staffed, it is innovative and one of the real achievements of the first half of 1981, and certainly a contribution to the year of the disabled and disadvantaged." "In 1980 the Local Appointments Commission recommended the appointment of Dr M Conway to fill the vacancy at St Ita’s Hospital." "The hospital after 80 years had remained steadfast with little fatiguing signs of its sea of bricks. However, a full scale onslaught has been made and an architectural survey is being aimed at. With the appropriate cash flow properly applied and priorities observed should make our hospital liveable and comfortable for the residents, who will have to live out the remainder of their lives therein." "The grounds likewise are very well maintained by our garden staff, but the numbers of helpers by way of patients have dwindled to just a few energetic patients led by Joe Brady, principal gardener." "As I have mentioned, patients came from Grangegorman by the busload twice a year. They were specially picked for their abrasiveness and behavioural propensities. They came from all walks of life, all parts of the county, among them some broken-down and “drop-out” professionals, such as priests, nuns, doctors, medical students, a barrister or two, publicans, layabouts and so on." "Three such patients found themselves here after being transferred who were by background “knight of the road”. They very quickly took themselves off. At that time it was an unforgivable thing to allow anyone to escape. The three lads were missing for several weeks but eventually located in Haulbowline. They had joined the Irish navy." "Another somewhat amusing story, and absolutely true, emanates from a valid source about the male nurse who in the quiet hours of a winter’s night, when all his 100 elderly male patients were tucked away, decided to have a look at his motorbike, which was out in a corridor. He did a superficial dismantlement, reassembled it and decided to rev it up and down the day room in low gear to test it out." "An elderly patient in his 70s emerged from the dormitory heading for the jacks, colliding gingerly with the nurse, now a motorcyclist. There was a stumble and next day a limp was noticed when the doctor was on her rounds." "She inquired, took a cursory look, made a few medical noises, [and] then the patient boldly told her “that he had been run over by a motorbike during the night”. On the front of his chart, dated March 1923, the reason for admission: “Deluded; says he is being run over by cars and bikes night and day.” And the outcome? “Still harbours delusions. Says he is being run over by motorbikes during the night.”" " And there was the time when on Sunday afternoons at least one darling old Dubliner would arrive in with a sweetcan with bacon and cabbage for her inmate son to share with him the family dinner; what a lovely thought and an awareness. And again I remember one old bachelor brother coming in with biscuits, oranges, and wait for it, a fried mackerel for his elderly sister." "And I recall many years ago an escort going out to bring in a gentleman who was giving himself and family a very rough time with drink escapades. The escort was made up of one doctor, who was anxious to see what happened on escort duty, and an experienced nurse. Whatever happened they were gone for over three hours, when finally at 2am the prospective patient arrived in his car, reasonably sober, for the appropriate treatment, with the doctor and the nurse, mouldy, maggoty, twisted drunk, langers in the back seat." "Not least the funniest of all was a simple, middle-aged chap from the heart of the city visiting his brother, got taken away by time, he apparently could not read the clock; he was then taken back to the ward by insinuating himself into the mainstream of patients without being identified and passed the night away as a lodger. He caused a small chaos in the 24 hourly returns to the head male nurse’s office." "The arrival of the powerful chemotherapeutic drugs in the early 1950s created a “breakthrough” in the treatment and management of mental health patients. The whole traditional custodial and authoritarian approach left us, and this fact, together with the liberalisation introduced by the 1945 Mental Treatment Act, created an integral platform, which changed doctor-nurse-patient relationships." "Relatives increased their letters of inquiry, visits, etc, the “open doors” method to encourage breakdown of “locked-up” wards and an ever-increasing effort to create a therapeutic atmosphere became common to all institutions." "St Ita’s had a huge population of mixed categories, and every county in Ireland was represented among its inmates – from the Old Richmond Lunatic Asylum, the old Grangegorman and the South Dublin Union etc – the various hostels for layabouts and down-and-outs together with several hundred broken-down unfortunates from all walks of life were accommodated. There was no admission area or catchment area, no autonomy whatever, but a huge cageful of tired, worn-out persons – because Portrane was the only annex to Grangegorman District Mental Hospital and it was obliged to take any overflow." "On its own beautiful grounds – several lawns, forecourts and sports fields with cricket, hockey, soccer and GAA – Portrane became the ideal mental hospital setting, It was self-sufficient; its own farm produce, dairy produce, beef, vegetables, fruit and flowers, the whole year round." "In contrast to the other provincial hospitals, its staff were recruited from all counties. In places such as Ennis, Castlebar or Ballinasloe, the staff were recruited locally; that is, around the rural areas. Young, strong, able-bodied boys and girls made up the staff of those hospitals and to this day to a large extent." The photographer Jack Niewiadomski, a twin, was born in 1982 to Polish parents in the city of Gorzow Wielkopolski, Poland and migrated to Ireland in 2005 where he bought his first camera and fell in love with photography. In order to further his passion Jack quit his job to return to college at St Kevin’s College in Crumlin. These photographs were taken his final year project where he returned on a few occasions throughout the year and compiled an impressive record of the abandoned buildings, and captured the property left behind.