The legacy of a Liberties hospital

The old Meath Hospital before it was incoporated into Talaght  Hospital-Photo flikr-mollydot

The old Meath Hospital before it was incoporated into Tallaght Hospital-Photo Flikr-Mollydot

Stepping back in time, Darragh Mowld discovers how a past Liberties hospital marked a revolutionary shift in medicine.

The Meath Hospital, first founded in 1753, was the centre of some of the most important medical discoveries in Irish history.

Renowned for providing healthcare to the sick and poor of the Liberties, it was the oldest voluntary hospital in continuous existence in the country along with the oldest University teaching hospital.

The name comes from the fact that it was located in the “liberty” of the Earl of Meath. It wasn’t until 1770 that the hospital had its own site in the Coombe and prior to that, its location moved around the Liberties area, in a number of different houses. The foundation stone was laid that year but it wasn’t until 1773 that the hospital finally opened its doors.

The hospital was built using the money from a lottery prize of £1,000 and £650 from a wealthy benefactor called Mrs Lockwood and in 1774 it was given the title of the county Dublin infirmary. The hospital moved to Heytesbury Street in 1822 and stayed there until the move to Tallaght in 1998.

Long before the days of a public healthcare system, the hospital was entirely funded by voluntary donations and generous benefactors. In the early stages, it would have 11,000 outpatients annually. The number of patients had to be very low initially due to budgetary constraints.

Throughout the hospital’s history, it became renowned for its medical advancements and superior level of care for patients. Advancements included the first hypodermic injection being administered by a surgeon in the hospital, Francis Rynd, in 1844.

Two of the hospital’s most notable alumni include Robert Graves and William Stokes, two physicians who introduced bedside teaching to the western world. They went on to be two of the most respected doctors in America through the introduction of their new teaching methods. The hospital has also been linked to massive advancements in the areas of cardiology, radiology and urology throughout the course of its history.

During the 1980s, there was a rationalisation of the National Health Service and this led to a reduction of funding for voluntary hospitals. Under the Hospital Federation and Amalgamation Act the Meath hospital became one of the seven hospitals combined into one large teaching hospital in Tallaght. The three main hospitals that it comprised were The Meath, The Adelaide and the National Children’s Hospital.

The building of this new hospital began in 1993 and it officially opened on 21 June 1998.  Even today, the legacy of the original Meath Hospital remains through the setting up of the Meath Hospital Foundation. The Foundation elects six directors to the Board AMNCH (Adelaide, Meath and National Children’s Hospital) and the chairperson of the foundation is Mairead Shields.

Their aim is to “carry on the best traditions of the Meath Hospital by providing a focus for voluntary input into the Adelaide & Meath Hospital”. Another aim of the foundation is to continue the great tradition of medical research and advancement that always existed in the original hospital. As part of this aim, the foundation offers a number of research grants in the field of medical studies.

Image: By Mollydot

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