Over the recent past I’ve noticed increased construction activity in the grounds of the WRH which most locals still refer to as Ardkeen (Hospital). This activity is centred on the area between the beautiful old gate lodge and the main entrance area. Another few units of the older hospital are finally hitting the dust. There are still a few remaining of the original purpose-built stand-alone units which date back to the original function of Ardkeen as a sanatorium. The terrible illness of TB had ravaged the country for decades and it was mainly due to the pioneering work of Waterford-born Dr. Noel Brown that sanatoria such as this one at Ardkeen were built. Their original purpose is reflected in the south/sunny facing verandas which were a feature of each individual unit/building, so that patients would benefit from the maximum degrees of sunshine. So let’s learn a bit more about the origins of the hospital here and that of Ardkeen House itself, which gave its name to this area.
Ardkeen House or ‘Elva’ as it was originally called stood in the site of what is now the Waterford Regional Hospital. The original house (pictured) was demolished to build a laundry and today only the gate lodge remains.
In 1947 the Waterford County Council decided to acquire Ardkeen House and the 50 acres of surrounding land from the de Bromhead family. Initially the original house was converted into a regional sanatorium catering for 40 patients.
Tuberculosis was widespread in Ireland and in 1948 The Infectious Diseases Allowance introduced under the 1947 Health Act meant that allowances were payable to the dependant of those undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. This encouraged more people to seek treatment and increased the waiting lists. Dr. Noel Browne, the then Minister for Health reviewed the position and suggested that a 250 Chest Hospital be built. Waterford County Council under took to build and run such a hospital, which would provide a service for Waterford as well as the Counties of Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford and Carlow.
The Chest Hospital wing of the sub regional sanatorium (accommodating 120 patients) was opened at Ardkeen on Monday 21 July 1952. It was estimated that the whole project would cost £750 000 and would be completed in nine months. A staff of 130 (nearly all resident) would care for the 250 patients making a self-contained community 480. The Waterford News of 25 July 1952 reported; “the people of Waterford and the surrounding counties will have at their disposal an institution for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis second to none in the country” . The hospital did go on to play a highly successful role in finally getting to grips with TB which had for a number of generations had devastated whole families and communities. Indeed personal tragedies inflicted by TB on his own Waterford family had been a driving force For Noel Brown in fighting this awful disease which affected all classes but ravaged the poor in particular due to poorer quality of housing conditions and diet.
The de Bromheads
The two-storey house was built by John Malcomson from the large Quaker family of ship builders who settled in Waterford in the 17th century and who also founded the cotton mills in Portlaw.
It was later owned as we said above, by the de Bromhead family. I remember reading in Annabel Davis-Geoff’s book the Walled Gardens of her childhood friendship with her then neighbour, the late Johnnie de Bromhead. The house itself became the administrative block of what became Ardkeen Regional Hospital. The original house was demolished in 1994 to build a laundry and Pathology labs and today only the gate lodge remains which have been used as consultant rooms
Ardkeen House was an Italianate house and was built by J.S. Mulvany between 1864-1866. It would have been painted white, lined and rendered with a west front of five bays and two storeys with a parapet. The main house was flanked by quadrant walls with gates and pavilions.
It is interesting to note that the original simple building that then constituted Ardkeen Stores was built opposite the then main gates- along side the gate lodge of course- was opened there(67/68) to serve patients, staff and visitors to the hospital. This was built on the land of adjacent Prospect House, home to generations of the Jephson Family. Robbie himself, like his father before him was born in that very house which in turn is the oldest one on the Dunmore Road dating back to the mid-17th century.
The Malcomson Family
The Malcomson Family of Quakers came to Waterford from Scotland in the late 17th Century and by the end of the 18th century they were emerging as the new entrepreneurs and industrialists in Waterford. The Quakers consolidated their business and trade locally and nationally their trade became rich and diverse prospering as traders, merchants and ship owners.
The founder of the Malcomson business empire in Waterford was David Malcomson. The Malcomsons were master ship builders and also founded the cotton mills in Portlaw. In the 1850s and 1860s The Malcomsons were reputed to be the largest steam-ship owners in the world.
During the years 1860 and 1861 the Malcomson Brothers built many big houses in near Waterford; John commissioned ‘Elva’ at Ardkeen (later renamed Ardkeen House), Robert ‘Minella’ in Clonmel and David ‘Villa Marina’ at Dunmore East.
So Ardkeen House in time evolved in time into the Hospital that became the WRH. Robert’s house became the Minella Hotel and David’s sea-side pad in time became the Haven Hotel with part of the rolling front gardens being granted to the people as a Public Park. I hope to bring you more of the impressive Malcomsons’ story another time.
Now you see what can happen why I notice a simple thing like an old humble hospital units being demolished as it immediately conjured up a much storied past. I am sure there are many people out there who could well contribute a story or two if not more relating to the hospital here or the area generally- if so let me know – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Site For Sore Eyes
Just to finish this week with an appeal to those responsible for the former Maxol site. We spoke before of it becoming a terrible eye sore – well it has become exactly that. Previously when sections of the metal barrier fencing came down in bad weather it used to be up righted again, even if it did take a few days. But now that is not even happening as a whole longish section has become strewn there for some time now. Surely the local authority has a role in making who ever is responsible to secure the site and we look forward to an attractive development here in keeping with the area.
By the way the ‘back road’ is looking good with great work being done. More of all that next week.
Go seachtain eile, slan.