Dublin 1745-1922 – Hospitals, Spectacle and Vice

The first two volumes were largely chronological in their treatment of the city but we always intended to produce thematic volumes.

Dublin in the eighteenth century became famed for the elegance of its streets and its architecture, particularly the developments of the Wide Streets Commission. It is often forgotten that the centre of Dublin at the time of the Act of Union was seen by many international commentators as a jewel of European planning. The wealth and opulence that this landscape suggested was, of course, shared only by a relatively small group of people and there was a significant underbelly to the city where the realities of daily life were far removed from the world of promenade and sedan chairs. On a leisurely walk down eighteenth-century Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) you would have encountered well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, who enjoyed being seen and wanted to be admired. But, in Malton’s prints of that time you also see men in rags courageously confronting elegant men on horseback to beg for a few coins or women huddled with babies in their arms in street-corners waiting to receive small gifts of money. The nineteenth century was less kind to the city to the degree that Dublin became famed for its beggars and degradation rather than its landscapes.

Gary Boyd explores the contradictions between the visual landscape and the social realties of the city in the eighteenth century by looking at a nether world that few of us would have imaged. He brings to life the people recorded contained in the archives of the Rotunda Hospital, the Lock (venereal) Hospital and the Hospital of Incurables. These hospitals played a very important, but often veiled, role in maintaining public health in the city and assisting those on the very edge of society at a time when social services as we would know them were unknown. The book gives a fascinating account how the Rotunda, the world’s first maternity hospital built at the far end of elegant Sackville Street, fitted into the social and political fabric of the city of that time. The New Pleasure Gardens, on the site of to-day’s Parnell’s Square were ostensibly built to provide funds for the new hospital, but they also introduced new types of social engagement and entertainment to the city, which focused on spectacle and display. The establishment of the Hospital of Incurables and the Lock Hospital are interpreted by Gary Body as attempts by the ruling élite to purify urban spaces and remove disturbing sights from public gaze. This arose out of a sense of civil and religious responsibility in an effort to keep the appearances up of an ideal Protestant city. There is, therefore, a constant tension in the city between public positions and private life that is reflected in the manner in which the city is used.

It is still in print and may be obtained directly from Four Courts Press.


xcover-3 Dublin, 1745–1922
Hospitals, spectacle & vice
Gary A. Boyd
Catalogue Price: €19.95
ISBN: 1-85182-966-0
April 2005. 240pp; ills.

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