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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Rotunda Hospital Opens in Dublin

The Rotunda Hospital, legally the Hospital for the Relief of Poor Lying-in Women, Dublin, is opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford, on December 8, 1757. It is a maternity hospital on Parnell Street in Dublin, now managed by RCSI Hospitals. The eponymous Rotunda in Parnell Square is no longer a part of the hospital complex.

The hospital is founded by Bartholomew Mosse, a surgeon and midwife who is appalled at the conditions that pregnant women have to endure, in George’s Lane in March 1745. It is granted by Royal Charter on December 2, 1756 by King George II. Lying-in is an archaic term for childbirth, referring to the month-long bed rest prescribed for postpartum confinement. The venture is very successful and Mosse raises money through concerts, exhibitions and even a lottery to establish larger premises. The hospital moves to new premises, designed by Richard Cassels, where it becomes known as “The New Lying-In Hospital” in December 1757. The Church of Ireland Chapel is opened in 1762. Open to the public, it provides a healthy income to the hospital annually, Dr. Mosse successfully encouraging wealthy Protestant Dubliners to attend service there.

Records indicate that around 1781, “when the hospital was imperfectly ventilated, every sixth child died within nine days after birth, of convulsive disease; and that after means of thorough ventilation had been adopted, the mortality of infants, within the same, in five succeeding years, was reduced to one in twenty.” This issue is not limited to the Lying-In-Hospital. In the era, ventilation improvement is a general issue in patient care, along with other issues of sanitation and hygiene, and the conditions in which surgeons such as Robert Liston in Britain and elsewhere, have to operate. Florence Nightingale famously works on the design of safe and healthy hospitals.

The first Caesarean section in Ireland is undertaken at the hospital in 1889.

The eponymous Rotunda is a rotunda designed by James Ensor, which is completed just in time for a reception hosted by James FitzGerald, Marquess of Kildare, in October 1767. The extensive Rotunda Rooms, designed by Richard Johnston and built adjacent to the rotunda, are completed in 1791. By the early 19th century the hospital has become known as the Rotunda Hospital, after its most prominent architectural feature. The Rotunda becomes a theatre, where the Irish Volunteers first public meeting is held in 1913, and later the Ambassador Cinema. The Rotunda Rooms now house the Gate Theatre.

The Rotunda Hospital, as both a maternity hospital and also as a training centre (affiliated with Trinity College, Dublin) is notable for having provided continuous service to mothers and babies since inception, making it the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world. It is estimated that over 300,000 babies have been born there.

In 2000 the Rotunda is one of two Dublin maternity hospitals found to have illegally retained organ tissue from babies without parental consent. The tissue removed in postmortem examinations is retained for some years. The Rotunda Hospital admits that that permission should have been sought for this process to be allowed to take place.

A medical negligence award is approved in 2020 for a young boy who develops cerebral palsy as a result of complications with his delivery at the hospital in 2004.


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Birth of Helen Blackburn, Feminist & Women’s Rights Activist

Helen Blackburn, feminist and campaigner for women’s rights, especially in the field of employment, is born in Knightstown, County Kerry, on May 25, 1842. She is also an editor of The Englishwoman’s Review.

Blackburn is the daughter of Bewicke Blackburn, a civil engineer from County Kerry, and Isabella Lamb of County Durham in North East England. When her family moves to London in 1859, she soon comes into contact with the women of the Langham Place Group, especially Jessie Boucherett and Emily Faithfull.

Over the years Blackburn and Boucherett work together in a number of endeavours. Both are editors of The Englishwoman’s Review. Together they establish the Women’s Employment Defence League in 1891 to defend women’s working rights against restrictive employment legislation. Together they also edit The Condition of Working Women and the Factory Acts, 1896.

Blackburn joins the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872 and is secretary of the executive committee of the Society from 1874 to 1880. She subsequently holds similar positions in a number of related organisations. She also takes opportunities to study, taking a class in Roman Law at University College London in 1875, and later (1886–88) classes at University College, Bristol. In the early 1890s, she assists Charlotte Carmichael Stopes in her writing of British Freewomen: Their Historical Privilege by supplying her own notes on the subject, then by purchasing the whole of the first edition in 1894. She retires in 1895 to care for her aged father, though later returns to take up her work.

Blackburn inspires and funds two collections. The first is an art collection in 1885 that includes pictures and work done by professional women to show the result of women’s industry. She is insistent that this not include voluntary or amateurish work but rather show the products of female professionals. This loan exhibition includes portraits of leading women like Florence Nightingale and Mary Carpenter. This is donated to the University of Bristol, but recent enquiries indicate that this work is now lost. Her second collection is focused on a book collection by women. The books are from her collection, friends and from second hand sources. Bookplates are commissioned and two bookcases which are decorated with paintings of Lydia Becker and Caroline Ashurst Biggs who had been the previous chairs of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. These bookcases are given to Girton College, Cambridge and are extant. In 1880 she is secretary of the West of England Suffrage Society in Bristol and is the main organizer of a large demonstration.

Blackburn’s long term connection with the women’s movement allows her to write her history of the Victorian women’s suffrage campaign, Women’s suffrage: a record of the women’s suffrage movement in the British Isles, with biographical sketches of Miss Becker, finished in 1902, shortly before her death the following year, at Greycoat Gardens, Westminster, on January 11, 1903. She is buried at Brompton Cemetery. She leaves her archives and the decorated book collection to Girton College, Cambridge. Her will also makes provisions for establishing a loan fund for training young women.

A collaboration with Nora Vynne, published in 1903, titled Women under the Factory Act, criticises legislators for treating women as if they have not the intelligence of animals. Blackburn and Vynne argue that women should be allowed to take risks with their health in the workplace or they may find themselves always in need to protection as if they are incapable. The book is noted for its accuracy, but The Economic Journal recognises its authors as Freedom of Labour Defence members and suspects that it may have political motives arguing for the “equality of men and women.”

Blackburn’s name and picture, as well as those of 58 other women’s suffrage supporters, are on the pedestal of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.


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Birth of William Whitla, Physician & Politician

william-whitlaSir William Whitla, Irish physician and politician, is born at The Diamond, Monaghan, County Monaghan on September 15, 1851.

Whitla is the fourth son of Robert Whitla, a woolen draper and pawnbroker, and his wife Anne, daughter of Alexander Williams of Dublin. His first cousin is painter Alexander Williams. Educated at the town’s Model School, he is articled at fifteen to his brother James, a local pharmacist, completing his apprenticeship with Wheeler and Whitaker, Belfast‘s leading pharmaceutical firm. Proceeding to study medicine at Queen’s College, Belfast, he takes the LAH, Dublin, and the LRCP and LRCS of Edinburgh in 1873.

With his qualifications Whitla obtains a post as resident medical officer at the Belfast General Hospital. He next spends some time in London, at St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he meets his future wife, Ada Bourne, daughter of George Bourne, a prominent Staffordshire farmer. She is a ward sister and friend of Florence Nightingale and a member of The Salvation Army.

The pair are married in 1876, settling in Belfast where Whitla establishes a general medical practice. He is awarded the MD of the Queen’s University of Ireland in 1877, with first class honours, gold medal, and commendation.

Whitla is appointed physician to the Belfast Royal Hospital and the Ulster Hospital for Children and Women in 1882. He holds post at the Belfast Royal Hospital and in the Royal Victoria Hospital, of which it is the forerunner, until his retirement in 1918. He succeeds Seaton Reid as professor of materia medica at the Queen’s College in 1890 and is twice president of the Ulster Medical Society (1886–1887, 1901–1902). Appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 1902 Coronation Honours list published on June 26, 1902, he is knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, George Cadogan, 5th Earl Cadogan, at Dublin Castle on August 11, 1902.

In 1906 Whitla is appointed a governor of Methodist College Belfast and he takes a keen interest in the school’s affairs. In 1919, he retires as Professor of Materia Medica in the university.

A strong unionist, Whitla is elected to parliament in 1918, serving until 1923 as representative of the Queen’s University at Westminster. He is appointed honorary physician to the king in Ireland in 1919 and is subsequently university pro-chancellor.

During the 1920s Whitla’s public appearances are fewer and, after a stroke in 1929, he is confined to his room. Lady Whitla dies in 1932. He dies at their Belfast residence, Lennoxvale, on December 11, 1933, and is given a civic funeral two days later. He is buried at Belfast City Cemetery.

During Whitla’s lifetime his gifts to his profession include the Good Samaritan stained glass window erected in the Royal Hospital and a building to house the Ulster Medical Society. At his death Lennoxvale is bequeathed to Queen’s University as a residence for the Vice-Chancellor. The university also is his residuary legatee and acts on his suggestion that the available funds should provide an assembly hall. The Sir William Whitla Hall is opened in 1949.

Whitla also leaves £10,000 to Methodist College Belfast to build a chapel, library or hall. The Whitla Hall at the Methodist College is opened in 1935.


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Laying of the Rotunda Hospital Foundation Stone

rotunda-hospitalThe foundation stone of the Rotunda Hospital, a maternity hospital in Parnell Street, Dublin, is laid by the Lord Mayor of Dublin on July 9, 1751.

The hospital is founded by Bartholomew Mosse, a surgeon and man-midwife who is appalled at the conditions that pregnant women have to endure, in George’s Lane as the Dublin Lying-In Hospital in March 1745. Lying-in is an archaic term for childbirth, referring to the month-long bed rest prescribed for postpartum confinement. The venture is very successful and Mosse raises money through concerts, exhibitions and even a lottery to establish larger premises.

The hospital moves to new premises, designed by Richard Cassels, where it becomes known as “The New Lying-In Hospital” in December 1757. The rotunda itself, which is designed by James Ensor, is completed just in time for a reception hosted by the Marquess of Kildare in October 1767. Extensive new rooms, designed by Richard Johnston and built adjacent to the rotunda, are completed in 1791.

Records indicate that around 1781, “when the hospital was imperfectly ventilated, every sixth child died within nine days after birth, of convulsive disease; and that after means of thorough ventilation had been adopted, the mortality of infants, within the same, in five succeeding years, was reduced to one in twenty.” This issue is not limited to the Lying-In-Hospital. In that era, ventilation improvement is a general issue in patient care, along with other issues of sanitation and hygiene, and the conditions in which surgeons such as Robert Liston in Britain and elsewhere, have to operate. Florence Nightingale famously works on the design of safe and healthy hospitals.

By the early 19th century the facility becomes known as the Rotunda Hospital, after its prominent architectural feature. The first Caesarean section in Ireland is undertaken at the hospital in 1889.

The Rotunda Hospital, as both a maternity hospital and also as a training centre (affiliated with Trinity College Dublin) is notable for having provided continuous service to mothers and babies since inception, making it the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world. It is estimated that over 300,000 babies have been born there.

Rotunda Hospital is currently managed by RCSI Hospitals.


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Death of War Correspondent William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, an Irish reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, dies in London, England on February 11, 1907.

Russell is born in Tallaght, County Dublin on March 28, 1820. As a young reporter, he reports on the First Schleswig War, a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850.

Initially sent by editor John Delane to Malta to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia in 1854, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown, and Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

His dispatches are hugely significant as for the first time the public can read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports leads the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and leads to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River, writing his missive the following day in an account book seized from a Russian corpse. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops and pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol where he coins the phrase “thin red line” in referring to British troops at Balaclava.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege.

Russell spends December 1854 in Constantinople on holiday, returning in early 1855. He leaves Crimea in December 1855 to be replaced by the Constantinople correspondent of The Times.

In 1856 Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861 Russell goes to Washington, D.C., returning to England in 1863. In July 1865 he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

Russell retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895 and is appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by King Edward VII on August 11, 1902.

Sir William Howard Russell dies on Februry 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


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Birth of War Reporter William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, is born at Lily Vale, Tallaght, County Dublin, on March 28, 1820.

As a young reporter, Russell reports on a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850. Sent by editor John Delane to Malta in 1854 to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown. Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter, and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

Russell is described by one of the soldiers on the frontlines as “a vulgar low Irishman, who sings a good song, drinks anyone’s brandy and water, and smokes as many cigars as a Jolly Good Fellow. He is just the sort of chap to get information, particularly out of youngsters.” This reputation leads to Russell being blacklisted from some circles, including British commander Lord Raglan who advises his officers to refuse to speak with the reporter.

His dispatches are hugely significant. For the first time the public is able to read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports lead the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and lead to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops though pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege. Russell leaves Crimea in December 1855.

In 1856, Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861, Russell goes to Washington, returning to England in 1863. In July 1865, he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War, and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

He is awarded the title of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by King Edward VII. Russell later accuses fellow war correspondent Nicholas Woods of the Morning Herald of lying in his articles about the war to try to improve his stories.

In the 1868 General Election, Russell runs unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate for the borough of Chelsea. He retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895.

Russell dies on February 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.