St. Joseph's Hospital Records Dating Back Almost 200 Years to be Preserved by Limerick City Archives

A fascinating insight into Limerick’s social history has been unlocked with the transfer of almost two hundred years of records from St Joseph's Hospital to Limerick City Archives.

A fascinating insight into Limerick’s social history has been unlocked with the transfer of almost two hundred years of records from St Joseph's Hospital to Limerick City Archives.

The St. Joseph's Hospital Archive Collection has been transferred from the Health Services Executive (HSE) to Limerick City Archives on long term loan. The transfer of records took place today (Monday) at a launch in City Hall, Limerick by Mr Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

St. Joseph’s Hospital was founded as the Limerick District Lunatic Asylum in 1827 and records of the institution survive in the archive from that date.

The hospital once employed 400 staff to care for more than 1000 patients and ran its own bakery, laundry, cobbler, butcher, tailors and upholsters. It employed permanent tradesmen to maintain the buildings including masons, carpenters, grounds men and painters. The Morning Statement books record the daily activities of patients, whether employed in the kitchens, laundry or sewing.

All social classes and religions were recorded among patients admitted to the hospital and the vast majority were adults. Over the years patients were admitted for many different reasons, including sunstroke, epilepsy, disease of brain, effects of climate and dementia.

Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht congratulated all involved in the project, and commented: "This is an important, fascinating and thought provoking project. These records give a fascinating insight into the lives of those who both worked and lived in the Limerick District Lunatic Asylum and later St Joseph's Hospital. Being able to examine committal forms, minute books and inspection reports - along with a range of other documents - gives a sense of the time, the institution and the people involved with it."

"These records will be an important resource for scholars, historians and the general public and gives us an insight into the lives of some of the normally 'undocumented' people of that period, and I hope that many people will come to view these records."

Limerick City Archivist, Jacqui Hayes said, in preserving the hospital’s records, she was “honoured to be working with such a vital part of Limerick’s history.”

"The collection records the management and administration of the hospital and the people that passed through its doors. It is in their memory, and to mark their experiences that the collection will be preserved," she explained.

"While St Joseph’s was a psychiatric hospital, its history wasn’t all dark. It was effectively like a small town with a huge amount of people working there from nursing staff to tradesmen, bakers and cobblers. It was also a home that staff lived in and they spent a huge amount of their working lives engaging with the patients. Over time, they came to know their patients extremely well and as one former nurse said, there was an awful lot of genuine care there."

Minute books from committee meetings survive in the archive from the first meeting in 1827 to the final meeting in 1960 when it was taken over by the Limerick Health Authority. The minute books note the changes in name, from Limerick District Lunatic Asylum, to Limerick District Mental Hospital in 1923 and finally to St Joseph’s Hospital in 1959.

Although details of the first patients remain, admission registers do not survive for almost the first fifty years of the asylum, but are continuous from 1880 to 1957. From the 1880s onwards they are almost intact providing a record for the causes and methods of admission.

The records were moved many times throughout the hospital as extensions and renovations went on and thanks to the enlightenment of key staff they have survived and have been transferred to Limerick City Archives.

Welcoming the handover of the St Joseph’s Archival collection from the HSE to Limerick City Archives, HSE Area Manager, Bernard Gloster, said: "This is a unique project with benefits at so many levels. I want to pay tribute to our Mental Health services manager in the Mid-West, Teresa Bulfin, and her staff for their dedication to honouring our commitment in bringing this important record to life. Social history is important not only in understanding our past but also grounding our future. Generations to come will benefit from the preserved records so diligently compiled and maintained over the decades. I want to particularly acknowledge the project staff and Limerick City Council for the respect shown to the many former patients and staff in the manner in which they compiled and presented the archive."

The main categories of records in the collection are a full run of minute books from 1827-1960, reports of inspections by the local visiting committee (1831-1946), Annual Inspections by the Inspector of Lunatic Asylums (1932-1955), Managers Orders (1942-1959), Letter Books (1847-1953), A Gate Book (1958-1959), Statistical Returns (1939-1949), Financial Records, (1938-1965) Staff Salary and Superannuation (1910-1957), Admission Registers (1848-1971), Committal Forms (c.1880-1960), Registers of Discharges and Deaths (1891-1959), and a sample of ward books (1948-1981).

All requests for access to the Collection require the prior sanction of the HSE under three categories to be administered by the City Archives.

Level One access will facilitate access to the entire collection and will only be granted to applicants engaged in research at post-graduate level. Level Two access will facilitate access to Committal forms up to 1922, with a closure period of 100 years on all other records and will be granted only to applicants engaged in historical research of an academic nature. Level Three refers to records of a non-personal nature.

Information on family members will be handled under Freedom of Information.

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