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.