Share memories of old North Infirmary

There is centuries of history on the site of the current Maldron Hotel. CHRIS DUNNE finds out about a host of events this weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of the closure of the hospital there
Share memories of old North Infirmary
North Infirmary.

VISIT the Maldron Hotel in Cork city and you’re wallowing in industrial and social history.

Opened in 2008, it stands on the site of the former St Mary’s Church, which was destroyed during the Siege of Cork in 1690.

After that, it became the site of the North Infirmary — the first general hospital to be opened in Cork. It was used as a fever hospital during the famine, housed Irish soldiers wounded in World War I and covertly treated wounded Republicans during the Irish War of Independence.

The infirmary closed in November, 1987, and now the Maldron Hotel is marking the 30th anniversary of its demise by inviting the people of Cork to come and tell their stories associated with the hospital.

“We are calling on all Corkonians to make contact with us to recall their stories and anecdotes about the North Infirmary Hospital,” says Robert McCarthy, hotel general manager.

“The hotel is hosting a memorable weekend on June 23/24. John Spillane, the great Cork storyteller and song- writer, is entertaining us on the Friday night. It will be a special, intimate evening with 100 guests.

“A short film about the North Infirmary, I Went Down to the North Infirmary, will be screened also.

“On the Saturday, we are having an afternoon tea event where people can chat together, recalling their interesting and fascinating memories of their experiences of the North Infirmary.

“It will be an intimate gathering where people can enjoy an informal chat over a cup of tea and a scone. It is free and it’s operating on a first come, first served basis.

“We’re hoping that some of our ex- members of staff will come along too.”

“We are expecting a great response,” adds Robert. “Our staff members and customers are very enthusiastic about the gathering. We are mindful of the affection and the strong association that both our staff and our customers have with the building.

“The North Infirmary had a huge connection with people locally and with all the people of Cork. We’d like anyone associated with the hospital to come along.”

The stories are coming in thick and fast already.

“We met one lady recently who told us her mother and father met at the hospital,” says Robert. “Her dad was admitted as a young man and shared the ward with another man. The man’s sister came to visit him and she began chatting to the other occupant in the bed opposite. Romance blossomed and the couple married!

“The pair are coming to tea on Saturday. We love hearing stories like these. We’re hoping to blow up and display some of the stories written by locals.”

We are chatting in the reception, which was the original A&E of its day.

“There was a dong on the desk which was sounded when the surgeon arrived,” says duty manager Denis Healy.

The magnificent staircase is the original article. “It is always a cause of much interest,” adds Denis. “People love to take photographs of it and pose for photographs on the steps. The staircase is a piece of history.”

The same question is always asked.

“Is it haunted?” says Denis, smiling. “We get asked that all the time.”

He has a great knowledge of the hotel, having worked there when it was developed as the Shandon Court Hotel and then the Maldron Hotel. His dad has a connection too.

“My dad was a bread man and delivered bread here when it was a hospital,” says Denis. “I used to come with him in the van and I’d sneak in the back door into the kitchen and get fed.”

In 1917, the military authorities in Cork sent wounded soldiers from the World War I front to the infirmary.

“The Black and Tans took refuge at the hospital and were helped with their injuries,” adds Denis. “The same back door they came through is still there today.”

The sleeping quarters reflect the original wards of the North Infirmary.

“Customers love keeping the heritage and history alive this side of the river,” says Robert.

“And you can sleep in the original chapel if you wish during your stay here,” adds Robert, as he opens the door of No.115 — a charming split-level bedroom overlooking the city. The high windows are in keeping with the chapel.

“The bedrooms are all different and quirky,” says Robert. “Of the 101 bedrooms, 60 are the original rooms of the hospital. Three-quarters of our staff, numbering 70, are local.”

The Maldron Hotel, part of the Delata Group, is flourishing on Cork’s Northside. A sister hotel is planned for Beasley Street on the South Mall. “€2.5million was invested in the refurbishment of the hotel,” says Robert. “The Delata Group is the largest operation in Ireland. Five new hotels are planned for Ireland. Three in Dublin, one in Cork and another in Belfast.

“The refurbishment here included every single bedroom, the function room, the restaurant and the lobby.

“The leisure centre is a fabulous space that has full membership. Our swimming classes are popular with both children and adults.”

What was here before?

“The morgue!” says Robert.

With that, we retire to the restaurant, which is thought to have been the operating theatre at the North Infirmary.

Tickets for John Spillane on Friday, June 23, are €15. Numbers limited to 100.

Afternoon tea is on Saturday, June 24. Admission free. Tickets by request. Numbers limited to 100. First come first served basis.

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