THOUSANDS of records from St Joseph’s Hospital spanning almost 200 years will provide “a fascinating insight into Limerick’s social history”, Minister for the Arts Jimmy Deenihan has said.
Speaking at City Hall to mark the transfer of the files - on a long-term loan - from the HSE to the Limerick City Archives, Minister Deenihan paid tribute to the vision of hospital staff in keeping such a comprehensive collection largely in tact.
“St Joseph’s Hospital was founded as Limerick District Lunatic Asylum in 1827 and although records of the institution were moved many times throughout the hospital to facilitate various upgrades, it is a testament to the great insight of key staff at the facility that they have survived and have been transferred to Limerick City Archives. In many other hospitals these records were destroyed so it was really foresight and vision of people in administration of the hospital that they have been preserved,” said Minister Deenihan.
Originally built to accommodate 150 patients –or “lunatics”, “imbeciles” and “idiots” as they would have been described by the authorities of the day – the asylum had 337 patients by 1848 and its population in time exploded to over 1,000.
Minutes of governors meetings are extant from 1827, while committal forms and admission registers from the 19th century show people having been admitted for reasons ranging from monomania, melancholia, sunstroke and epilepsy.
There are around 10,000 committal forms alone and city archivist Jacqui Hayes said the entire collection took up 20 shelves at the archives in the Granary.
Given the sensitive nature of the files, various levels of access to the records would be granted with the prior consent of the HSE.
The head of the history department at Mary Immaculate College, Dr Liam Chambers, said historians were salivating at the thought of what treasures the records could contain.
“It is impossible to overstate how important these records are and they are undoubtedly of national significance.
“It is only in recent decades that Irish historians have begun to seriously examine this phenomenon of institutionalisation. And it is during the 19th and 20th centuries that a whole host of institutions were established – hospitals, prisons, workhouses, reformatory schools, industrial schools, Magdalene asylums, lock hospitals, orphanages - and Limerick’s asylum, as it was initially, was one of the very first of these institutions in the 19th century and the fact that these records run from the 1820s the whole way through contributes a remarkable record.”
Tributes were paid to Jacqui Hayes, to Grainne Higgins and Alan Dukes, interns with Limerick City Council, and to the HSE’s Teresa Bulfin, Anne O’Sullivan and Bernard Gloster for their work in making the transfer of the archives possible.
Staff of St Joseph’s past and present were also praised for contributing to a booklet which has been produced on the history of the hospital.