History of Dublin's hospitals


Madam, – In Tuesday’s Irishman’s Diary (April 14th) Hugh Oram repeats some of the more outrageous myths about the Westmoreland Lock Hospital which haunted that institution’s unhappy history.

Firstly, the hospital had no power to hold women against their will and, unlike the hospitals in Cork and the Curragh, was not used for that purpose under the Contagious Diseases Acts.

Secondly, women were not “often . . . put out of their misery”.

In 1945, with levels of venereal disease rising to worrying levels, the hospital was given special responsibilities for co-ordinating the treatment of women and infants in Dublin but was given no additional funding to do so. Renamed the Hospital of St Margaret of Cortona, the hospital soon exhausted its savings and was spending double its annual grant of £2,600 in an attempt to fulfil this brief. Unlike the other Dublin hospitals, it had no voluntary subscribers and no friends to supply comforts to patients. In 1949, the crumbling hospital building was declared unsafe and approximately 30 adult and infant in-patients were evacuated.

Most of the women were young unmarried mothers, referred by county homes which had neither the ability nor the will to treat them. The hospital’s two visiting medical officers, George Pugin Meldon and Percy Kirkpatrick, and the matron, a Miss White, were in their seventies and had spent their working lives in the service of the hospital. The Department of Health determined that to give them pension entitlements would set a dangerous precedent for other part-time health workers.

The staff, and more particularly the patients, of the Westmoreland Lock Hospital were treated sufficiently shabbily without Hugh Oram’s allegation that the former routinely murdered the latter.

– Yours, etc,

SUSANNAH RIORDAN, School of History and Archives, University College Dublin.

Madam, – Readers of Hugh Oram’s evocative history of change in the Dublin hospitals will be interested to know that Mercer’s Hospital continues to live on through the Mary Mercer Health Centre in Jobstown, west Tallaght, which was opened in 2002. The Mercer’s Hospital Foundation continues its commitment to the sick poor of Dublin and its long association with Trinity College medical school by funding some clinical services in primary care. Some of the families attending the “Mary Mercer” as it is known locally had relatives who attended the old Mercer’s Hospital.

– Yours, etc,

TOM O’DOWD, Prof of General Practice GP in Mary Mercer Health Centre, TCD, Dublin 2.

A chara, – Hugh Oram gave an interesting overview of hospitals which have left their mark on Dublin. He might also have included reference to another very early establishment, the Leper Hospital of St Stephen. This was founded in the 12th century, and occupied a site close to that occupied later by Mercer’s Hospital. I read somewhere that some of its buildings have been located in excavations. The troubled times after the Reformation affected its religious administration and led to its decline.

The hospital gave its name to St Stephen’s Street; perhaps the curve of that street, continuing into Whitefriars Street to the west, may result from the circular enclosure of an early religious foundation, as is seen in other locations. The hospital also gave its name to St Stephen’s Green where we fed the ducks as children. In addition it gave rise to Baile an Lobhair – the Dwelling Place of the Leper – in the countryside south of the city, where it was given land. The name is now gentrified to Leopardstown, although no leopards have been spotted in the neighbourhood.

– Is mise,

PÁDRAIG McCARTHY, Sandyford, Dublin 16.