Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article, 14 March 2024

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 14 March 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – Progress at the Victoria Hospital

On 18 March 1924, the 46th annual general meeting report was read at the Victoria Hospital and published in the Cork Examiner. It summarises a period of difficulty in operation during the First World War, War of Independence and Irish Civil War and looks towards the future.

The hospital was originally founded as “The County and City of Cork Hospital for the Diseases of Women and Children” which was opened on Union Quay on 4 September 1874. It moved to 46 Pope’s Quay on 31 October 1876 and to its present site on Infirmary Road on 16 September 1885. In 1901 its name was changed to “The Victoria Hospital for Women and Children”. The first male patients were first admitted in 1914. On 17 August 1914 the Hospital was registered under the Companies Acts, 1908 and 1913 under the name of “The Victoria Hospital, Cork (Incorporated)”.  

On 18 March 1924, when the 46th annual report was read, a reflection was given on the journey travelled since 1914. It was noted: “In our case the period of difficulty was further protracted as at a time when in Great Britain the end of hostilities signalled the prospect of improving conditions, the unsettled of our own country, becoming gradually more acute, left us still facing many of the same troubles that the war had brought to us, and, with the consequent departure of so many of our people, added the unforeseen trial of a seriously depleted subscription list. The difficulties were met, and the gaps filled up by the efforts of the members of our ladies’ committee”.  

The report of the ladies’ committee outlined that every endeavour had been made to keep the housekeeping expenses as low as possible, consistent with giving the patients nourishing food, and so helping their treatment and “restoration to health”; The matron, Miss Hyndman, is noted as always diligent to do all she can for the welfare of the hospital. Mrs Hill continued the working of the Tabitha Guild but with great difficulty, as several members had left Ireland. Only twelve garments had been sent into the hospital compared to 56 in 1921. Quilts for the children’s ward were provided out of the cash raised by the committee. Nods of thanks were given to Mrs Ludlow Beamish, Mrs Babington and Mrs Penrose-Fitzgerald, all of whom had long associations with the hospital. 

The report from the medical and surgical staff was well detailed. The number of admissions to the hospital during 1923 was 428 which was an increase of 96 in the number of admissions since the previous year. The number of outpatients attending the external department increased 2,014 as compared with 1907 during the preceding 12 months. The number of operations performed was 357. This also shows an increase of 66 over the number in 1922. During the year there were 14 deaths occurred in the hospital. Of this number 9 patients at the time of admission were suffering from ailments, which from their nature offered little or no hope of ultimate recovery. 

The medical staff suffered a great loss during the year through the death of their esteemed and valued colleague doctor William Edward Ashley Cummins who for forty years worked in the Victoria Hospital. He died at his home Woodville, Glanmire on 18 October 1923, aged 65. He was also Professor of Medicine University College Cork. Born at Blackrock, Cork in 1858, William was educated in Cork, Belfast and Dublin. His work led him to be President of the Cork Medical and Surgical Society and a member of the British Medical Association; He was also a Senior Surgeon with the County and City of Cork Hospital for Women and Children, a Senior Medical Officer Cork District Hospital, Consulting Physician Lying-in Hospital, Cork, and a Consulting Physician Cork Eye and Ear and Throat Hospital.

In December 1924 in memory of the Professor Ashley Cummins, a cot was endowed in the children’s ward at Victoria Hospital by his friends. The cot bore a brass-plate with the following inscription: “A lasting tribute to the memory of the late Prof. W. E. Ashley Cummins, honorary physician to this hospital for a period of years died 18th Oct. 1923.  This bed was endowed in perpetuity by his many friends and grateful patients”. Mrs Jane Cummins also kindly offered to present a photograph of her husband to be hung on the wall of the children’s ward. 

The doctor with his wife Jane had over ten children. One of the children Iris Ashley Cummins (1894-1968) was born on 6 June 1894 in Woodville, Glanmire. On 22 February 2022, the Iris Ashley Cummins Building (formerly Civil Engineering Building) at UCC was named in her honour. In 1915, she was the first female graduate in Engineering at UCC. In 1924 she began private practice in Cork, continuing until 1927. It is speculated that she was the first woman land surveyor employed by the Irish Land Commission. She was the first female Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (Assoc. M.Inst.CEI). In addition, she an Irish hockey international player.

In March 1928 the annual general meeting report of the Victoria Hospital, as published in the Cork Examiner, showcased figures taken from the annual reports covering a period of ten years. It showed that there has been remarkably little variation in the number of patients.

Most noticeably by the late 1920s are references to philanthropic funding given for new innovative technologies. The 1928 AGM repots highlights a Mr Leycester’s generous help in enabling the hospital to purchase and commence ultra-violet rays treatment. During the early 20th century a violet ray was a medical appliance used to discharge in electrotherapy. In general, their structure had a disruptive discharge coil with an interrupter to apply a high voltage, high frequency, low current to the human body for therapeutic purposes.

On 1 January 1927, a light-therapy department opened with one lamp working. Phototherapy (light therapy) is used in the treatment of skin conditions. Later in the year it was found necessary to purchase and install a second lamp to cope with the steady increase of patients. 136 individual cases were treated, receiving a total of 1,301 exposures.  

The nature of the cases treated was varied, with use upon cases of tuberculosis of the skin, bones, joints, and glands, rickets, debility, anaemia, and a variety of skin affections. The treatment carried out in this department was deemed similar to departments of much larger institutions in the UK.  


1244a. Victoria Hospital, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy).