Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 14 March 2019
Tales from 1919: The Work of the North Infirmary
In 1919, the work of the North Infirmary appears regularly in Cork newspapers. One hundred years ago, 14 March 1919, a public meeting of Cork citizens was held at the Council Chamber, City Hall. Hosted by the Lord Mayor Cllr William F O’Connor, the meeting sought to perpetuate the memory of a well-respected young Cork Doctor, John Higgins, who had passed away from influenza. He had gained his MB degree with first class honours at UCC and was awarded first place in Ireland in several of his subjects. At his funeral the Cork Examiner reported that his cortege from the North Infirmary to St Finbarr’s Cemetery was extensive and there was a large public outpouring of grief.
Dr John Higgins was also remembered at the monthly meeting of March 1919 and at an annual meeting on 6 May 1919 of the Committee of Management in the boardroom of the North Infirmary (now the Maldron Hotel in Shandon). At the May meeting it was noted that the wave of influenza, which had spread over the country had fatal results or had left many patients very sick and frail. It was detailed that every effort had being made to preserve John’s life, which was watched over by his professional colleagues and by the Sisters of Charity.
An extensive annual report of the activities of the North Infirmary (est. 1719) appears in the Cork Examiner on 6 May 1919, which provides insights into staff, public demand, hospital space and financial debt. The City High Sheriff Mr W J O’Sullivan and subsequently the Lord Mayor, presided. The Infirmary opened the year’s work of the hospital with 68 beds, occupied by intern patients, consisting of 57 surgical and 11 medical cases. There were 1,054 surgical and 291 medical patients received during the year. Of this large number, 1,033 patients were discharged, cured or relieved, and 252 of the latter were positively treated. During the year, there were deaths of 35 surgical and 30 medical patients. A large number of patients from distant parts of the county were treated by the surgeon. As an addition to the main building (opened in 1836 with its wings opening in 1893) a new dental hospital had been opened. In another portion of the new building patients were treated for diseases of the eye, ear, throat, and nose. This department, under Doctor J H Horgan, was deemed much sought after. Owing to the war and other causes, the Rontgen Ray Department has not yet been formally opened, although it was being used for some infirmary purposes.
Reference in the annual report is made to the resignation of Mother Josephine Murphy due to sickness. For many years, she was the Superioress of the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, who had charge of the patients and the domestic working of the North Infirmary. Superioress Mother Angela McNally was appointed to the role. The Sisters continued their charge they took up over fifty years previously. In the various wards the full complement was fourteen Sisters. Joining them were two staff nurses and a large number of probationers from Cork’s nursing school.
The annual report of the Dental Hospital division for the year 1918 outlined that people feared influenza and were afraid to congregate in buildings. The curtailed train service hindered access to Cork City as well as the increased cost of all dental materials. Despite these issues, 293 patients underwent dental operations under general anaesthesia with 262 operations of a minor nature were performed under local anaesthetics. There were 1,287 ordinary extractions, 233 sets of artificial teeth, 65 repairs, 28 gold inlays, 18 crowns, 25 cases of root treatment, with 1,156 consultations.
Discharged soldiers and sailors continued to be treated in the special ward set aside for them. The larger number reaching Cork were treated at the Military Hospital at Victoria Barracks. Special treatment was given to enable them to take up civil work again.
The sub section of the report on the Eye, Throat, Nose and Ear Department described that with the exception of the period during which the influenza epidemic was prevalent in the city, the Ophthalmic and Laryngological Department of the Hospital continued to be very largely availed of by the poor of the city and county during the previous year. There were many children attending the clinic. This the report reflected that the parents of impoverished children were beginning to realise more and more that the early and expert treatment of defects of the eyes, the ears and the breathing passages was the “best and only safeguard against the permanent injury of the organs”. Over 2,000 new cases visited the extern division of this department during the year, and the total attendances were nearly three times that number. Nearly 300 surgical operations – many of a serious character – were performed under general anaesthesia, and approximately 150 operations were performed under local anaesthesia.
The finances were in a difficult state. The Treasurer’s report showed a debit balance on the year’s work of just over £1,185 and attention was drawn to the increased cost of coal, totalling £117, to a decrease in subscriptions (the total of which only amounted to over £400, which was deemed a very small sum from the city and county). War, influenza, increasing demands of patients wages and the increased cost of maintenance of the buildings also drove costs up. Discussion took place on increasing public subscriptions and asking for state aid with motions taken from those present at the annual meeting to write to Westminster expressing concerns and demands.
Kieran is also showcasing some of the older column series on the River Lee on his heritage facebook page at the moment, Cork Our City, Our Town.
988a. North Infirmary, Cork 1914 (source: Cork City Library)
988b. Maldron Hotel, former site of North Infirmary, Cork, present day (source: Kieran McCarthy)