Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 15 February 2024

1240a. Bons Secours Complex, College Road, 1975 (picture: Bons Secours Hospital archive).
1240a. Bons Secours Complex, College Road, 1975 (picture: Bons Secours Hospital archive).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 15 February 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – The Bons Secours Legacy

On 2 February 1924, the centenary of the foundation of the Sisters of the Bon Secours was observed in their Cork Convent on College Road (bicentenary in 2024). The inside portion of the institution was decorated for the occasion. The attendance included a large number of clergy and friends of the convent.

High Mass was celebrated by Bishop Daniel Cohalan. During the mass it was recalled during the sermon by Canon O’Leary of SS Peter and Paul’s of the origins of the Bons Secours. The congregation had very small and very modest origins. In the year 1821 in Paris, a well-meaning lady named Madame de Montale formed a small purely lay association for the purpose of nursing the sick, especially the poor, in their own homes. Both she and the young women, whom she assembled around her, were steadfast in their work.

The initial outreach project was not without its challenges. Disappointed and disheartened Madame de Montale ended her effort. However, the small group of twelve in number, whom she brought together continued their efforts. They took up quarters in a poor humble house in Rue Cassette and here they studied the rules of the religious life. Josephine Potel trained them well. It was a new idea, a vocation up till then was unheard of, to take care of the sick by day and night in their own homes, and without merit of class or religious belief. They found themselves at the bedside of the sick in the poorest quarters of Paris.

The Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur de Quélen, took a deep interest in the new religious congregation. He claimed the title of their founder, and appointed a day, 24 January 1824, for their first profession. The Archbishop gave them the appropriate name of Bons Secours or Good Help. To the Superior he gave the name of Mary Joseph – named after the Holy Family. The Monseigneur also drew up a number of foundation statutes, which were added to in time. The congregation rapidly grew in strength. In due course the Pope was approached by the Archbishop of Paris Monseigneur Darby and a ‘commendatory brief’ was founded.

The congregation established convents across France at Lille, Abbeyville, Orleans, Boulogne, Roulaix, Roxoy and Quimper. In Paris the work rapidly grew. Generous support from friends of the sisters enable them to attain a large building known as the Hotel de Pons. The work of the sisters was much needed during France’s revolutions of 1830 and 1846 and during a horrific cholera epidemic in 1832 and during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871 and the Siege of Paris, 1870-1871.

In 1861 the Sisters were introduced into Dublin by Cardinal Paul Cullen and 1867 to Cork by Bishop William Delany. Dr Denis O’Connor was instrumental in getting the Sisters of Bon Secours established in Cork. It happened that his brother Fr O’Connor was stricken down by cholera. The doctor sent an urgent message to the convent in Dublin asking to have a Sister sent at once to nurse him. Sister Sainte Bertille arrived and made such an impression on Dr O’Connor that he lobbied Bishop Delany to bring a group of the Sisters to Cork.

In April 1867 Mother Bertille and four sisters arrived in Cork. Their first convent was a very uncomfortable unhealthy old house in no.7 Dyke Parade. Their first patient was Archdeacon Murphy who was involved in the creation and raising finance for SS Peter and Paul’s Church. After five years in Cork, some generous friends including the Murphy family, the Lyons and the Goulds procured for them a more suitable residence on the Mardyke (now part of the Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald’s Park). This was their home until a new convent was opened in 1879 on College Road on lands purchased by Francis Jennings. They also opened several other convents in Ireland including those in Dublin, Belfast, Tralee and Cove.

The Bons Secours Nursing Sisters decided around 1913 to erect a novitiate house in Cork beside their convent on College Road. A suitable building was planned, but the estimated cost was so great that the Sisters could not undertake to build and furnish more than half of it. This they pursued, with the help of their friends. In 1915 it opened as a novitiate and as a nursing home with sixteen patients. In 1925, a second unit and chapel was added.

In 1927, the complex was recognised as a training school. In 1940, a 100 bed wing was added with accommodation for sisters.

On 2 June 1958, the Bons Secours Maternity Hospital opened with 59 private and semi-private beds. The Cork Examiner describes that the new unit had 59 beds in private semi-private four-bed, five-bed and one eight-bed rooms; “With a frontage of 165 feet, including the wings at either end, It has four storeys over ground and a basement, and is constructed of reconstructed stone facings on a reinforced concrete framework. The two entrance porches are of cut limestone. The entrance on the College Road side is surmounted by a Portland stone statue of the Blessed Virgin and Child Jesus, sculptured by Mr. Seamus Murphy RHA. and it is flanked by two mosaics designed by the architect for the entire unit, Mr J R Boyd-Barrett”.

The hospital incorporated three delivery rooms, an isolation unit, operating theatre, a neo-natal unit in which each separate cubicle has its own temperature and air control, an admission unit; ante-natal and postnatal departments; the finest available incubators and sterilisers and waiting rooms. The main contractors for the building were Messrs. John Sisk and Son Ltd. The hospital was renovated in the 1990s when a new labour war was included.

The Bons Secours Maternity Hospital, which had more than 100,000 deliveries since it opened in 1958, transferred its obstetrics service from early March 2007 to the new Cork University Maternity Hospital.

In 2017, a major extension project commenced. In October 2019, the opening of the new Bon Secours Cork Cancer Centre was officially opened by Minister of State Jim Daly and marked the completion of the wider €77m expansion of the hospital.

The hospital offers the most technologically advanced radiotherapy services in the south of Ireland, through a collaboration between the hospital and UPMC Hillman Cancer Centre – part of US-based academic medical centre UPMC, which is associated with the University of Pittsburgh. The centre holds medical, surgical and radiation oncology all under one roof.


1240a. Bons Secours Complex, College Road, 1975 (picture: Bons Secours Hospital archive).