1143a. The former Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital on Western Road, present day. (picture: Kieran McCarthy)

Journeys to a Free State: Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, 1921-22

Cork’s institutions such as its hospitals offer another lens to look at the life and times of Corkonians amidst the challenges of war during 1921-1922.

Cork hospitals usually submitted their annual reports to newspapers such as the Cork Examiner one hundred years ago and their publication provide an insight into their workings and challenges. Indeed, without the annual publication of their AGM reports it is difficult to reconstruct their stories and institutional evolution. Many of the physical paper copies of reports that would have been given to shareholders have been destroyed over the past century.

The annual general meeting of the Cork Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital was held at noon on Saturday 11 March 1922.

In 1868 at the age of 24, Henry MacNaughton-Jones founded a 30 bed Cork Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, in a building at the western end of Sheares Street. He was also physician there between 1868 and 1882.

In the first eleven years, the hospital treated over 2,000 intern and 20,000 extern patients. A new hospital building was constructed 200 yards from existing building in 1895-97.

Designed by architect James McMullen, it has an elaborate ruabon brick with limestone dressings design. The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor of Cork, Patrick Meade on 29 or 30 December 1895. In today’s context, the building is still owned by the HSE but its services were distributed to other hospitals in Cork in the late 1980s.

In March 1922, well-known Cork merchant William T. Green presided at the AGM with the secretary being CJ Lane. The report and statement of accounts for the year 1921 were read. It was noted that it had been a difficult and anxious year in many ways.

The hospital had, in common with other institutions suffered from the surrounding conditions of war, unrest and instability. Financial questions had caused grave anxiety to the committee, while the insecurity or uncertainty of railway travelling arrangements had caused great inconvenience. Continued high prices of provisions, coal, and other necessaries also rendered more difficult the justification of expenditure.

A total of 2,273 patients received treatment at the extern department involving some 10,000 individual attendances, while 508 were admitted to the wards as intern patients. The report noted that the high number of individual attendances—proved the necessity for such a hospital which had done, so much for patients and especially for children in the city.

For many years, extern patients were received and treated gratuitously. In 1920 the committee believed that many of those, who could afford to do so, would gladly contribute voluntarily some small sum towards the working expenses of the extern department, from which they received benefit.

Facilities were, therefore, provided for the reception of small voluntary donations, and the committee were content that the donation box had contributed during the year the substantial sum of just over £93. The report notes: “The voluntary contributions to the donation box proved that those who came for treatment didn't wish to be treated as objects of charity. They contributed something towards the upkeep of the hospital, and that showed their independence of spirit, which was a very gratifying feature.”

The revenue from all sources, including subscriptions, donations, and payments from paying patients, amounted to £5,326, while the expenditure was £3.082. The year begun with a debt to the bank of £107 and ended with a credit balance of £137. A donation of £534 from the Welfare of the Blind Fund was received through the Local Government Board. Another donation of £259 was received as a donation from the Prince of Wales Fund.

The annual subscription list has suffered sadly by the removal of several generous subscribers. It was earnestly hoped that others will come forward to fill the vacant places, and to keep up or augment this, the only stable source of hospital revenue.

The committee were very grateful for legacies of £99 and £50, received through the representatives of Thomas Bones and Samuel Kingston, respectively. Both these very welcome contributions were added to the reserve fund of the hospital. In considering the question of hospital finances, the committee ventured to hope that sooner or later would be possible to re-establish the Hospital Saturday and other annual collections, which for many years provided a steady source of income for all the hospitals without pressing upon any individual.

Warm thanks were given to the surgical staff for their constant and untiring work in the hospital. In particular the committee thanked the matron Mrs Crofts, and the nursing staff under her for their loyal services.

Ill health and advancing years led Mrs Crofts to retire in 1921. She had been associated with the institution from its earliest days, for forty years and much of its success could be attributed to her capacity and work ethic.

The vacancy caused was being filled by the promotion of staff nurse Murphy, who for the previous seven years had been associated with Mrs Crofts in the hospital. She, as the report highlights had “won the approval of all those responsible for its management and proved her ability to fill the position of matron”.