The in­sti­tu­tion most Dublin­ers hoped to avoid

Glimpses into life at a Dublin ‘Lock’ hospi­tal were rare. But it was best avoided, that much was well known

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health History - Louise Ní Chríodáin

The West­more­land Lock Hospi­tal was an in­sti­tu­tion that Dublin­ers hoped never to en­ter. Re­lo­cated to Townsend Street in 1792 to treat wide­spread vene­real dis­ease, it stood un­til the 1950s on the site.

Only fe­males were ad­mit­ted from 1819. Some were pros­ti­tutes. Syphilis and gon­or­rhoea were rife in the 19th cen­tury, par­tic­u­larly among sol­diers. How­ever, un­like Cork, Cobh and the Cur­ragh, Dublin never came un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Con­ta­gious Dis­eases Acts, which al­lowed any woman sus­pected of be­ing a pros­ti­tute in the vicin­ity of a gar­ri­son to be checked for dis­ease and kept with­out con­sent at a “Lock Hospi­tal”.

Preg­nant women gave birth here and many in­fected in­fants died. Treat­ments were lengthy and, un­til the in­tro­duc­tion of peni­cillin in the 1940s, in­cluded mer­cury or ar­senic-based cures. Funded by a State grant, and oc­ca­sion­ally by the War Of­fice, the hospi­tal con­tin­ued to op­er­ate for al­most the first cen­tury of this pa­per’s life­time, with thou­sands of women and children pass­ing through its doors.

Read­ers, how­ever, re­ceived very lit­tle in­sight into its work­ings, or its pa­tients.

Here are just a few glimpses into life at “The Lock”.

Apr, 1863: The Board of Su­per­in­ten­dence of the Dublin Hospi­tals re­ports: “The laun­dry por­tion of the es­tab­lish­ment acts as a pen­i­ten­tiary.”

Apr, 1873: The board’s an­nual re­port: “The walls and ceil­ings . . . could not be white-washed, co­coa-nut mat­tresses could not be sup­plied in place of straw for bed­ding, and the di­lap­i­dated roof could not be re­paired owing to the want of means.”

Jan, 1878: A re­port from the Army Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer notes: “Vene­real dis­ease is very preva­lent, es­pe­cially in the Dublin gar­ri­son . . . it is to be re­gret­ted that the funds of the Lock Hospi­tal are only ad­e­quate for the main­te­nance of a por­tion of this in­valu­able in­sti­tu­tion in work­ing or­der.”

Mar, 1878: A re­port of the board re­marks: “One fea­ture of the West­more­land Lock Hospi­tal which we par­tic­u­larly ad­mire is the util­i­sa­tion of the labour of the pa­tients, com­bin­ing as it does the ad­van­tages of a re­for­ma­tory sys­tem with those of a well-reg­u­lated strictly man­aged hospi­tal.”

Nov, 1885: The Hospi­tals Com­mis­sion hears ev­i­dence from vis­it­ing physi­cian Dr Fitzgib­bon that, many pa­tients “fre­quently left while they were very bad” be­cause of the re­stric­tions un­der which they were placed. “One of these was that all let­ters were opened and read . . . ”

The doc­tor told the com­mis­sion he was in favour of the sep­a­rate ac­com­mo­da­tion for Ro­man Catholics and Protes­tants be­ing done away with. “At pre­sent, num­bers of the Ro­man Catholic women of the bet­ter so­cial po­si­tion, so to speak, said they were Protes­tants in or­der to get into the Protes­tant ward. This they did in or­der to be sep­a­rated from the lower class women and also for the pur­pose of avoid­ing the priest.”

Jul, 1887: A young in­mate of the hospi­tal, Anne Evans, is charged with at­tempted sui­cide. Res­i­dent physi­cian Dr Don­nelly told the court he had given the pa­tient a bot­tle con­tain­ing opium to cure a toothache, “but in­stead of ap­ply­ing it to that pur­pose the pris­oner had drunk the con­tents”.

Apr, 1912: A lo­cal gov­ern­ment in­quiry is held into a com­plaint from Joseph Hol­land that his se­ri­ously ill wife had been trans­ferred by am­bu­lance to the Lock Hospi­tal in­stead of the Mater. “Here in spite of her protests, she had to sub­mit to the usual rou­tine im­posed on the or­di­nary pa­tients of that in­sti­tu­tion, which in­cluded a forced and un­nec­es­sary cold bath.”

Jun, 1913: Home­less woman Mar­garet Reilly is charged with mur­der­ing her twom­onth-old child. “Nurse Wood­house, of the West­more­land Lock Hospi­tal, gave ev­i­dence the clothes the child was wear­ing were given to it at the hospi­tal. Con­sta­ble Crow­ley stated that when the pris­oner was ar­rested she stated that her hus­band gave her no money, and she threw the child into the Lif­fey af­ter leav­ing the Lock . . . ”

Dublin’s West­more­land Lock Hospi­tal.

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