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Long history of care at old Dingle hospital finally draws to a close


Credit: Photo by Ted Creedon

Credit: Photo by Ted Creedon

Credit: Photo by Ted Creedon

Credit: Photo by Ted Creedon


Credit: Photo by Ted Creedon

IF all goes according to plan, the residents of St Elizabeth's Hospital in Dingle will move to the new community hospital today, October 27.

Built as a workhouse in 1852, St Elizabeth's began operating as a hospital in the second half of the 19th century.

"There were up to 4,000 people registered in the old workhouse before this building was opened in 1852. While we might shudder at the idea of having to move to a workhouse, a lot of people in those days saw it as security for their families because they were fed and were buried in a coffin. By the 1860s the numbers had decreased and then it began to operate as a hospital. But I suppose it only really began functioning as a proper hospital when four Sisters of Mercy arrived here from Tralee in 1889," Nurse Mary Fitzgerald told The Kerryman on a visit to St Elizabeth's on Friday.

Nurse Fitzgerald has been a member of staff there since Jan 1, 1973.

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"We had no lift here in those days and had to carry patients up the stairs on a wicker chair. When patients died we had to carry them bodily on our backs to our mortuary. There used to be a thriving maternity ward here at one time and a lot of local people were born here but that ended in the 1960s. The status of the hospital changed over the years from caring for post operative patients from Tralee or people recovering from pneumonia to the long term care of the elderly," she explained.

"This is a sad time for us because the staff was so small it was like your family. The Sisters of Mercy handed on a great tradition of care for the people of Dingle," she added.

Marie Kavanagh has been registrar of births, marriages and deaths at St Elizabeth's since she began working there on March 3, 1975.

"In my early days the area was divided into three districts, Dingle, Ventry and Annascaul and we had three big registers for each area but now everything is done on computer. The admission register for the hospital only goes back to 1935. We're not sure what happened to the records for before that year. Some famous people were here as patients over the years such as Peig Sayers and her son, Micheál Ó Guithín, the poet," she said.

"One event that will always stand out in my memory was the time the Ranga ran aground in Coumeenole. All the sailors were brought in here for treatment and all the staff were called in to help. The place was full of shipping agents and various authorities following the shipwreck," she recalled.

"On another occasion a woman came in looking for records about her father and grandfather. They had both been sea captains and both were shipwrecked when German submarines sank them off the coast in 1916, during the First World War and in 1941 during the Second World War. They both survived the sinkings and were brought here to the hospital after landing on the coast. We were able to give her the records," Marie said.

She moved her office to the new hospital on Friday last and while she was looking forward to the change she admitted that it was a sad occasion after so many years of service in St Elizabeth's.

Matron Deirdre Quaid was also looking forward to the move.

"We're delighted to have this new, excellent facility and we want to thank Shane and Maura O'Connor for providing the land for the new hospital. The care for the elderly of West Kerry will be hugely enhanced by the move. The patients are our priority and our duty is to make them as comfortable and happy as we can in their new home," she said.