I was sentenced to three months in hospital in 1957 for contracting TB
Family Fortunes: I remember the terror I felt each time my parents left after a visit
My release came on a bright Easter Sunday morning in 1958. Photograph: iStock
I can still see it in my mind’s eye. It was a blue serge, tweedy-type pinafore dress and I hated it with a vengeance. There seemed to be an endless supply of this dress because, although I was given a fresh one each morning, it looked exactly the same as the one the day before and the day before that again. Every morning I waited with bated breath as the nurse handed out the clothes for the day, hoping against hope that I would be issued with a different dress, but inevitably I was disappointed.
I was six years old and serving a three-month sentence in St Anthony’s Hospital, Monkstown, for having the misfortune to contract tuberculosis. It was Christmas 1957 when I first became unwell. Soon after Christmas, I was admitted to Temple Street Children’s Hospital for tests. My only memory of the week I spent there was the sheer terror in my heart each time my parents were forced to leave me after the rigidly regulated one-hour evening visit. The picture of their white, worried faces disappearing down the glass corridor as I screamed the building down is still vivid in my mind.
Following a diagnosis of tuberculosis I was transferred at the end of that week to the hospital in Monkstown, which, to a family like mine from Glasnevin, seemed to be at the other end of the country, particularly in an era when cars were few and far between.
My father, however, was the proud owner of an NSU scooter on which he travelled to visit me most evenings after work. These visits were all illegal, as visiting was strictly confined to Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. He would come laden with goodies – sweets sent by friends and relatives, and cakes baked by my mother. After he had gone I would try to hide the treasure trove but invariably it was all confiscated. This was allegedly to share out any goodies received among all the children thereby ensuring that those from the country areas, who rarely had visitors, did not feel left out.
While this was very laudable, I never set eyes on any of my own booty again. The only exception to this was a magnificent Easter egg in a basket that my ballet teacher sent in to me.
Although we were in hospital, most of us for lengthy periods, we did not escape the rigours of school. Each morning after breakfast, we were wheeled down in our beds to an enormous ward, which served as the schoolroom. The beds were lined up along each wall of the ward, and the teacher would march up and down the centre like a sergeant major. There were French windows at either end of the outer wall of this room, and on most days these doors were opened wide to admit God’s bracing fresh air to invigorate us. All it succeeded in doing was to send us scurrying under the covers for a bit of warmth.
At the end of the room, in an alcove, there were some desks for the lucky few who were allowed out of bed. The desk was the goal we all strived to attain, as once a boy or girl graduated from the bed to the desk, it meant they were getting better, and home and freedom was not far off. Full recovery followed quickly after I achieved that milestone.
My release came on a bright Easter Sunday morning in 1958 when I walked out the door, into the sunlight and freedom, clutching my precious Easter egg.