Holles Street hospital

Holles Street hospital

In Brief

In Hades Bloom thinks that a young medical student named Dixon who treated him at the Mater hospital has moved to "the lying-in hospital," and in Lestrygonians Josie Breen tells him that Mina Purefoy is in her third day of labor at the lying-in hospital "in Holles street." The establishment is not named until Oxen of the Sun, whose action takes place "in the commons' hall of the National Maternity Hospital, 29, 30 and 31 Holles street." In Ithaca, when Bloom and Stephen discuss places to meet in the future, this phrase is repeated verbatim. In addition to the NMH there were two other major Dublin hospitals dedicated to obstetrics and gynecology, a fact which elicits patriotic comment in Oxen of the Sun.

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The NMH was, and is, one of three large maternity hospitals in Dublin. Oxen mentions that it has "seventy beds" for laboring women, and that 300 babies are delivered each year: "in twelve moons thrice an hundred." The second number, averaging to not even one child per day, seems low. Today, so many babies are delivered at the hospital (over 9,000 per year) that a move to larger premises is being explored. The hospital lies just north of the Merrion Square park, a location that is highlighted in Oxen as a rainstorm moves in: "In Ely place, Baggot street, Duke's lawn, thence through Merrion green up to Holles street a swash of water flowing that was before bonedry." The sentence describes a storm track moving from southwest to northeast.

The NMH forms a major reference point in the 16 June 1904 action of Ulysses, chiefly because Mrs. Purefoy is giving birth there. But did Molly Bloom likewise give birth at this hospital? Both Gifford (79) and Igoe (290) assume that she did, and it seems possible that Joyce did as well. But Milly was born in June 1889 and Rudy in December 1893, while the NMH was founded in March 1894. The stone plaque over the hospital's entrance supports this dating, as do numerous documentary sources. Among them is a Charter Amendment Act passed in 1936, which begins, "WHEREAS the National Maternity Hospital situate in Holles Street in the City of Dublin was founded in the year 1894 for the relief of poor lying-in women and for the treatment of diseases peculiar to women . . ." But there is some contrary evidence. The hospital has been led by 18 Masters since its founding (Professor Shane Higgins began his service as the 18th Master earlier this year), and the list stretches back to a William Roe who served from 1885 to 1893. I have not yet been able to resolve this contradiction.

ยง The NMH, which today is the largest obstretrics hospital in Ireland, was a relative latecomer, the third such facility to be established in Dublin. The Rotunda Hospital, on the north side of the city, was founded in 1745 and incorporated by royal charter in 1756. It moved to its present location on Rutland (Parnell) Square in 1757 and still operates today. Gifford notes that, according to Thom's directory, in 1904 it was "the largest chartered Clinical School of Midwifery and Gynaecology in the United Kingdom" (409). The Coombe Lying-in Hospital was founded in 1826 and received a royal charter in 1867. Originally located in the Liberties on Heytesbury Street, it moved to nearby Cork Street in 1967, and likewise is still in business. Together these three hospitals deliver an impressive 27,000 babies each year, or about 25 babies per hospital per day. (In 2014, according to the Central Statistics Office of Ireland, the numbers were NMH 9,231, Rotunda 8,913, and Coombe 8,768.)

Ireland's long history of committing resources to the care of women in labor, including ones who cannot afford expensive medical care, amply justifies the view, expressed in the tortured language at the outset of Oxen of the Sun, that "by no exterior splendour is the prosperity of a nation more efficaciously asserted than by the measure of how far forward may have progressed the tribute of its solicitude for that proliferent continuance which of evils the original if it be absent when fortunately present constitutes the certain sign of omnipollent nature's incorrupted benefaction." (Whew!) The next paragraph of Oxen, commenting on Irish doctors of the distant past, observes that "a plan was by them adopted" to remove "maternity" as far as could be managed "from all accident possibility," providing whatever was needed "not solely for the copiously opulent" but also for women who are not "sufficiently moneyed."

JH 2018
The National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, in a photograph of unknown date. Source: allied.ie.
Inscription over the front door of the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street. Source: www.newstalk.com.
The Rotunda Maternity Hospital in a late 19th century photograph. Source: www.census.nationalarchives.ie.