Foundation of Hospitals - Story of Belfast

ONE thousand years ago there was a curious old Brehon law directing the people of Ireland how the hospitals should be built. There were a great many hospitals all over the country; poverty and sickness always appealed to the tender sympathy of Irish people.

Every hospital was to have four doors open for ventilation, and a stream of pure water was to run across the middle of each floor. It was to be kept very clean and no untidy habits were allowed. It was to be kept extremely quiet, and no noise or conversation was to be permitted. Hospitals were open to all classes, and poor people were admitted free, but those who were able to pay were expected to do so.

It seems to have been a very old fashion for wise men to believe in the virtues of fresh air and pure water. What was good for the people one thousand years ago still holds good for us in these later days. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

There was a great hospital at "Emain," Armagh, in very early times. It was called by a beautiful name, "Broinberg," the "House of Sorrow."

In the year 637 A.D., we read of an operation being performed, which doctors now called "trephining." There was a great man, Cennfaelad, "Kenfaila," who had his skull severely injured in battle. He was a year in Tomregan Medical School, and part of his brain was removed. The strange part of it was that he became so learned that he was afterwards named "Kenfaila, the Learned"; he never forgot anything, for the doctors had removed the bump of forgetfulness when his brain was opened. That operation is not often done now.

There were a great many places for leprosy throughout Ireland, for it was once a very common disease, but one we very rarely find here now. Perhaps at some future time, people may say the same about consumption, and it, too, may become a disease of the past.

We read that in the year 1651, Cromwell allowed a doctor and an apothecary to be engaged in Belfast if they were required, but on no account was the doctor to receive more than £100 a year, or the apothecary more than £60.

"The Old Poorhouse" was the first to give organised relief to the poor, but this was not sufficient for the purpose. It was at first intended to have thirty-six on the Poorhouse side, and twenty-four in the Infirmary, but this was afterwards changed and twenty poor children taken in.

In the year 1792, a Charitable Dispensary was opened to attend the poor in their own homes. A physician and surgeon attended three times a week.

The ladies of Belfast formed a society of their own in the year 1793 for the help of poor women, and they were so much in earnest that in less than one month, from the date of their first meeting, they had taken a house and begun work. The ladies of Belfast have generally been able to accomplish anything of a similar nature when they desire it.

In 1830, the Maternity Hospital in Clifton Street was built, and the work is now carried on in the larger Hospital in Townsend Street.

In 1793, a Fever Hospital was opened with six beds, and from this small beginning the Frederick Street Hospital was opened in 1817, which has now developed into the splendid Royal Victoria Hospital of the present day, and there are also many smaller special Hospitals throughout the city.

The Frederick Street Hospital was built for seventy beds, and thirty were set apart for fever. Epidemics of fever frequently swept over the town and all the beds were filled with typhus fever patients, often far more than double the number the place was intended to hold.

It was a serious consideration to accept patients for operations in the same building where typhus was treated, so, in 1846, a Fever Hospital was opened at the Workhouse, and all fever cases were sent there. Now we have a most up-to-date Infectious Diseases Hospital built outside the city, in the pure country air of Purdysburn. At present it has 168 beds.

The Workhouse Infirmary has 1,500 beds, for fever 100 and for children 200.

The first Medical School was in the Royal Academical Institution in the year 1835, and continued there until the Queen's College was built in 1849. The Medical School of Queen's has produced some very famous men, and has a record of which Belfast is most justly proud.

The Royal Victoria Hospital in Grosvenor Road was opened by King Edward in the year 1903. It occupies a site of six acres, and is fitted with every modern improvement for the relief and comfort of suffering humanity.

It is a marvellous change now from the days of Louis XVI., when he set to work to improve the French hospitals, and they must have required it. In Paris three patients were kept in one bed, but that was a decided step in advance from one hundred years before then, when six patients were accommodated in one bed. Now Paris has the most advanced hospitals and a splendid medical school. All over the world there is no other profession so ready to give their skilful knowledge, and patient care and attention, often for very poor reward. The old Irish system of payment was four shillings a day for surgeons and one shilling a day for nurses. With the advance of knowledge this has also been changed.