Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Knight at the Theatre: the Adelaide Hospital and Denominational Divisions in Dublin's Voluntary Hospitals by Robbie Roulston

One of the characteristic features of Dublin's voluntary hospitals has been their long-standing denominational divisions. In this month's blog post Dr Robbie Roulston, UCD, writes about Dublin's Adelaide Hospital, the 'most anti-Catholic hospital in the whole of Dublin', and the government's consternation arising in 1950 when the Irish President, Séan T. O'Kelly, received an invitation to attend one of the hospital's fundraising events. 

Photograph shows Adelaide Hospital nurses in uniform standing on the hospital staircase , 1950s
Adelaide nurses, on the main
staircase of the hospital,1950s

Dublin's Adelaide Hospital

The Adelaide Hospital was founded in 1839 in Dublin for the treatment of poor Protestants in Ireland. As such, the royal charter it was granted placed denominational restrictions on the patients which should be admitted to the hospital. Similar restrictions applied to staff and management. However, what was unusual was the fact that this charter remained in place until 1980.

A 'bitter anti-Catholic reputation'

Such restrictive policies were not unknown to Irish policymakers and caused a considerable degree of tension. In June 1950, the Adelaide Hospital Society issued invitations to various dignitaries for the Gala American Concert, a fundraising event for the Adelaide at the Theatre Royal, in Dublin. Invitations were sent to the Taoiseach, Fine Gael’s John A. Costello, and his wife; to members of the Government; and to a number of Army Officers. All of these officials declined the invitation owing to what the Secretary to the Government described as ‘the bitter anti-Catholic reputation of the Hospital’.

A Knight of Columbanus

Photograph shows a group of medical students receiving instruction at the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, c. 1950s
Medical students, Adelaide Hospital, n.d.

When an invitation for the President of Ireland, Fianna Fáil’s Seán T. O’Kelly, arrived the government assumed that he too would refuse the invitation. O’Kelly had strong Catholic credentials. He had been one of the few Knights of Columbanus in Eamon de Valera’s cabinet and a proponent of Catholic morality in Irish medical ethics and foreign policy during his career. He had form in condemning restrictive policies in hospitals and twenty years earlier had condemned hospitals which employed religiously restrictive admissions procedures. He had argued then that ‘These barriers are a relic of bygone days and they should be a relic of bygone days.’

'Things had changed now'

Photograph shows American Ambassador (Mr. George Garrett); Lord Farnham (President of the Hospital); Mrs. George Garrett; The Irish President (Sean T. O'Kelly); Mrs. O'Kelly; and Mr. Edward Bewley (Chairman). In attendance at the Gala American Concert to launch the Adelaide Hospital Fundraising Campaign (1950), Dublin, Ireland
The President, Séan T. O'Kelly and Mrs. O'Kelly attend the Gala
American Concert to launch the Adelaide Campaign (1950).
L. to R.: The American Ambassador (Mr. George Garrett);
Lord Farnham (President of the Hospital); Mrs. George Garrett;
The President; Mrs. O'Kelly, Mr. Edward Bewley (Chairman).
The presidential O’Kelly, however, was mellower than his former self. When an official in his office approached O’Kelly on the subject, informing him that the Adelaide ‘has the reputation at the moment of being the most anti-Catholic hospital in the whole of Dublin’, O’Kelly responded that he was aware of this. He acknowledged that there was a time when a Catholic priest would not be allowed inside the hospital, but he pointed out that ‘things had changed now to the extent that Catholics are admitted and priests are permitted to see them and administer the sacraments.’

The government remained uneasy and the subject moved up the ladder of protocol when the Taoiseach raised it with O’Kelly the following day. O’Kelly remained firm and informed Costello that he had already accepted the invitation and had promised to go, and that he intended to honour that promise.

O’Kelly continued to attend Adelaide functions when invited and newspapers reported on him attending the Gala American Concert in 1950, a Joseph Szigeti violin recital in 1952, and an Arthur Rubinstein piano recital in 1954.

Cartoon titled: 'She would bid him take out his chequebook'. Shows an Adelaide Hospital nurse in profile descending a stairs with her arms  open in front of her. A well dressed man in a suit sprints towards apparently in the act of signing a cheque. This cartoon was made by an Adelaide Hospital doctor during the 1950s.
'She would bid him take out his cheque book'.
Cartoon of Adelaide Hospital nurse collecting funds.
Drawn by Adelaide doctor, n.d.

A slight against the President

All of this proved very uncomfortable for Irish officials. At the Rubinstein concert the order in which the dignitaries were listed was perceived by officials as a slight against the President – the British ambassador had been listed ahead of the Irish President! A series of notes were passed between the Office of the President, the Chief of Protocol in the Department of External Affairs, and the Irish Embassy in London to see what conventions held there. In the end it was ruled that the ‘the matter is one of tact and good taste rather than of a definitive rule.’ The officials concluded that the Adelaide Hospital erred in a lack of the former rather than by a breach of the latter.

It was decided that no formal protest should be made to the organisers of the concert, but that in future the President’s attendance at such events would be organised more closely with the Secretary to the President to ensure that protocol was followed more strictly.

Ending religious restrictions

Photograph shows nurses receiving instruction at the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, c. 1950. Five student nurses sit at two rows of desks, facing a senior nurse seated at a larger executive desk with two other nurses at her shoulder. One desk is empty and the former occupant, a student nurse, is apparently reading something aloud to the other nurses.
Adelaide Hospital nurses in class, n.d.
In the end, the state’s real power to affect change in the management of the hospital would not lie in attendance or non-attendance at its functions or in furious memoranda on the finer points of protocol. Cash was king, and only as the Adelaide’s financial position slid from bad to worse could the state exact the concessions favoured by Irish policy makers and politicians, which was to open up admission and recruitment policies to all people irrespective of their religion. The Adelaide chose to ignore these demands while it was independent of state supports, but as it grew needy it softened its stance on various matters and relaxed most of its religious restrictions.

Dr Robbie Roulston's recently completed PhD thesis is entitled, "The Church of Ireland and the Irish State, 1950–1972: Education, Healthcare and Moral Welfare." He has taught on the history of Protestants in twentieth century Ireland in the UCD School of History and Archives. Currently, he holds a position with UCD's Academic Secretariat, working in the areas of higher education policy, governance, strategy.

Below, you can listen to Robbie's presentation at the CHOMI Seminar Series, 3 April 2014, on the Adelaide Hospital

CHOMI Seminar Series, Thursday 3 April 2014

Dr Robbie Roulston (University College Dublin)
"The most priceless possession of Protestants in this country”: the Adelaide Hospital and upholding Protestant healthcare in Ireland 1950-1972.
5 pm, K114, School of History & Archives, UCD.