Rewind - Coombe Womens Hospital

By Sean Heffernan

This week we are exiting Saint James’s Church, passing the Guinness Brewery as we turn onto Grand Canal Place, down Pim Street and Forbes Lane, turning onto Marrowbone lane, where we soon arrive at our destination on Cork Street – The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.

Dublin has a proud history of maternity service care, with the Rotunda Maternity Hospital the first such facility of it’s kind to be built in the UK and Ireland.

coombe portico

The Portico of the Coombe Hospital, built in 1877 

It was first built in 1757 and it was so successful but overwhelmed with patients, due to population increases in the capital that 69 years later a second such hospital was built on the Southside in 1826.

The hospital derives it’s name from the Coombe Stream, a water source that fed into the River Poddle.

In the 30 years before the medical facility was built many tradespeople, most notably those in the weaving trade, assembled in that area and this led to a big increase in population leading to construction of dwellings around Cork Street, and the area off Camden Street.

This is how we have the place name Weavers Square, and the newly constructed playground has been christened Weaver Park.

The person who paid for the facility to be built was one John Kirby, the son of a doctor who followed in his father’s footsteps and rose up the medical fraternity ranks to a senior position in the Royal College of Surgeons.

A few years later he left to setup his own teaching school with a fellow medic Alexander Read, whom he paid off to take full control of the training school.

It was first located in Stephen Street, but the business became such a success a bigger premises was needed, and one was acquired in Peter Street, which is at the back of Whitefriar Street church.

In 1923, Dr Kirby’s standing had risen to the point that he was welcomed back into the RCSI as President of the eminent institution.

Three years later his next building opened, and on the instructions of a Margaret Boyle who donated £100 (now around €11,000) a Maternity wing was provided for in the development.

This was named The Coombe Hospital, and was located in Heytesbury Street, which today links Camden Street with the South Circular Road.

Three years after it’s opening it became a public hospital after Kirby sold his interest in the building, and a later donation from the Guinness family enabled a significant extension to be built which allowed the hospital to expand it’s services, and an increased range of gynaecological care was now available to those who walked through it’s doors.

Royal Charter of Incorporation

In 1867 the hospital received the much coveted Royal Charter of Incorporation, which gave it legal status and official recognition that the procedures carried out and the operational structure of the care given to the women of Dublin was of the highest standard possible.

Fast Forward to 1964, and after much deliberations and planning and architectural work, the foundation stone was laid on the modern far bigger replacement which was being built on Cork Street.

It opened it’s doors three years later, and now over 8,500 babies a year are born within it’s walls, while over 110,000 outpatient appointments have taken place in that time too.

I and my twin brother were born there in 1979, the day before Pope John Paul II arrived on these shores; hence we were christened Seán and Paul.

As was discussed in a past edition of Rewind, there was another hospital on that same street, which was first built in 1804.

The Cork Street Fever hospital dealt with the many victims of conditions such as Tuberculosis, Polio and Whooping cough among other conditions.

It shut it’s doors over a decade before the Coombe opened on the same street, with the newly opened Cherry Orchard Hospital in 1954 now taking care of the citizens of Dublin who had the misfortune of coming down with fever.

The upper end of Cork Street upon which the hospital is located is regarded as part of the Dolphin’s Barn area.

The name traces it’s origins as far back as Medieval Dublin, where a pub with a Dolphin sign hanging above the front door existed on what is now Dame Street.

The owner of said public house owned a number of acres of land upon which the canal ran through.

Back in the day the area was officially regarded as being within the Parish of St James, the church I wrote about last week.

So the next time you are going into The Coombe to visit a friend or relation who has just given birth, you might stop a moment to acknowledge the foresight of one Dr John Kirby.

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