| 13.7°C Dublin

Priceless landmark the HSE is letting rot

The Royal City of Dublin Hospital was built in 1832 and was once world-class, but it is now going to ruin

Close

Activist and writer Siobhán Cuffe says the Royal City of Dublin Hospital building could be renovated to house Ukrainian refugees. Picture by Frank McGrath

Activist and writer Siobhán Cuffe says the Royal City of Dublin Hospital building could be renovated to house Ukrainian refugees. Picture by Frank McGrath

An aerial photograph of Baggot St Hospital. Picture courtesy: van Dijk Architects

An aerial photograph of Baggot St Hospital. Picture courtesy: van Dijk Architects

The interior of the old Royal City of Dublin Hospital building in Baggot Street is in disrepair

The interior of the old Royal City of Dublin Hospital building in Baggot Street is in disrepair

Pictures of the interior of the building show disrepair and reveal water has been dripping through ceilings onto the lower floors

Pictures of the interior of the building show disrepair and reveal water has been dripping through ceilings onto the lower floors

Some of the larger rooms on the upper floors are in relatively good condition

Some of the larger rooms on the upper floors are in relatively good condition

/

Activist and writer Siobhán Cuffe says the Royal City of Dublin Hospital building could be renovated to house Ukrainian refugees. Picture by Frank McGrath

Like a Victorian folly it now stands, majestic but unloved, dominating one side of Baggot Street in the heart of Dublin 4. Its windows boarded up and cracked, its red and yellow brickwork absorbing the grime of the busy city and the paint curling on the ornate iron railings.

The impressive stone entrance steps, where once the city’s grandees ascended to have their medical needs tended to, is now a haven for resting delivery drivers and the unfortunate homeless seeking a quiet seat for a smoke and contemplation. As it gradually sinks into stagnation, the comedown for the once grand, cutting-edge medical facility, the Royal City of Dublin Hospital, is a sad reflection on the city. It has lain idle and forlorn for so many years that passers-by no longer give this great landmark a second glance.

“It’s a bit like Pompeii. There are coats hanging on the backs of doors, filing-cabinets full of medical files, chairs and desks in empty offices. It’s quite bizarre,” local activist and writer Siobhán Cuffe says. Along with publican Frank Quinn and other interested observes, she toured the ghost-like former hospital on March 16 in a bid to have it converted to house Ukrainian refugees.

Their plea, and an offer by a well-meaning builder to take 100 employees from other sites and effectively do the work for nothing, did not find favour with HSE mandarins, who have presided over the gradual deterioration of this once great building since it closed as a hospital in 1987 — 35 years ago.

“It is not suitable for a hotel or apartments because of the size of the wards,” Ms Cuffe, an architect by training, says, “but it would be suitable to house refugees from the war — it has to be better than being sent to stay in tents or soul-less hotels in the middle of nowhere.”

Raising the matter in the Dáil last May, Dublin Bay South TD Chris Andrews said: “It is very hard to understand how a building of this magnitude has been allowed to lie idle and become derelict.”

Despite the building’s “down at heel” appearance, Ms Cuffe and others believe that with some vision and goodwill the old hospital could be made habitable in a reasonably short time.

The campaign by the Pembroke Road Residents’ Association and the Baggot Street Traders Association, who say they can raise a donation of €1m to carry out remedial works, has so far led only to a damning “feasibility study” reluctantly commissioned by the HSE.

The study found that “the building has deteriorated over time, with large cracks forming, water egress (leaks) and collapsed ceilings”.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

This, local people and traders say, is in itself a condemnation by the HSE’s own consultants of its mismanagement of the building.

In response to a Dáil question from Róisín Shortall TD, the HSE said the “feasibility study” carried out by its own experts, van Dijk Architects, noted “it would take extensive works, particularly in relation to upgrades to electrical, plumbing and fire protection, to meet basic health and safety requirements”, especially as it is a protected structure.

“It is clear that the building in its current state is not habitable,” the study said. “Of course, this work could be done, but would take a substantial period of time to complete. It is unfortunate that, in our opinion, the building is not suitable for the purpose of housing refugees from the crisis in Ukraine.”

Local resident Mary McGrath, who has taken an interest in the building, says: “Unfortunately, as with so many other buildings in Dublin, it looks like Baggot Street hospital is regulated into stagnation.”

For Ms Cuffe, it is also a symptom of bureaucrats having to do everything “so that it will last 100 years” instead of reacting to the accommodation emergency that now seems to be engulfing the Government with the influx of refugees from eastern Europe.

Addressing the issue of a clause in the charter that the building must have a health function, she says: “Refugees are a health issue and in the long terms it could have a health element.”

The City of Dublin Hospital was built around 1832 with money donated by the 11th Earl of Pembroke, who had his own wealth and had inherited the vast Fitzwilliam estates here. He had already endowed the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street with £30,000 in memory of his first wife.

His second wife, Catherine Verontsova, a Russian countess, linguist and musician, took a particular interest in the City of Dublin Hospital. In 1893, decorative terracotta scallops and swags from the earl’s quarries in Wales were added to the ornate brick facade from the Mount Argus Tile & Brick Works in Dublin.

It earned the additional title “Royal” — which is still spelled out, like City of Dublin, in tarnished bronze above the decrepit entrance — with the visit in 1900 of Princess Alexandra, who became the British queen and empress of India the following year when her husband, Edward VII, became king.

In the years that followed, it became a centre of medical excellence, and some of its once well-equipped operating theatres can be seen from Baggot Lane.

But the amalgamation of Protestant (of which it was a leading light) and Catholic hospitals led to its closure on December 4, 1987. For years, parts of it, particularly an annexe on the Haddington Road side, were used as a drug treatment and community facility. That closed in 2019.

Campaigners believe that, as this part was built in the 1970s and does not carry planning restrictions, it would be suitable for immediate remedial works to make it habitable.

The hospital was put up for sale some years before, with a price tag of €15m. Unlike the nurses’ home nearby, which is now the Dylan Hotel, there were no takers. With its closure, the HSE “basically abandoned the building to its fate”, say local civic and business leaders, who have been campaigning without success since before the refugee crisis to have something meaningful done with it.

“It is in the city centre, where there are many employment opportunities,” Sinn Féin TD Mr Andrews told the Dáil. “It has schools and it is a perfect location to house Ukrainian refugees. I am asking the minister of state to intervene and get the HSE to show some vision in this matter. It is a shame that the HSE seems to be totally uninterested in furthering the project. To be brutally honest, the HSE is being negligent and must be reined in. The hospital must be taken from its dead man’s grip.”

Mr Andrews described the building’s state as “a monument to the failure to address the homelessness crisis”, and said if steps had been taken earlier it would not be in its current state.

In reply, minister of state Mary Butler said she understood that everybody should be working together on the housing project and she would refer the matter back to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

According to Ms Cuffe, planning restrictions could be overcome in the short term by a ministerial order.

Whether the building is used to house refugees or not, it is tragic that a building which was given by the Pembroke Estates for the public good has been allowed to sink to its present state. If the HSE doesn’t want to do anything about it, it should hand over the building to somebody who does and who can restore it to community use.



Most Watched





Privacy