Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital was created in response to the Great Irish Famine of 1739-1740. The Winter had devastated Ireland, creating a famine that wiped out perhaps as much as a fifth of the nation’s population. This number was a far more significant proportion than the more famous potato famine over a century later. The plight of the Irish people moved Bartholomew Mosse, a midwife who witnessed the slum conditions refugees endured in Dublin. To provide relief for them, he established the Rotunda Hospital in the city in 1745. Building began in what had been an old theater, and its first birth was delivered by a nurse called Judith Rochford.

At the time, most midwives were unskilled and could only receive training in cities like Paris. Mosse opened the Hospital to provide midwives with the knowledge to help their patients and provide a place for poor women to be looked after. The Hospital was such a success that the building soon became overcrowded. Mosse hired architect Richard Cassells to construct a new building to house his patients. Cassels based the design on Leinster House, one of his earlier projects, creating smaller wards than the larger ones of the day. These innovations helped to contain and limit the spread of hospital diseases like puerperal sepsis, reducing the mortality rate of patients. The mayor of the city laid the foundation stone in 1751, six years before its opening in 1757. Over the years, it would see numerous editions such as its chapel, erected in 1761, and its first Gynacolical Ward in 1835. The Hospital stands as a monument to over two centuries of medical development and innovation.

Artist: Sara Nylund

Two women outside the Rotunda hosipital in the 1800s

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Credit: Sara Nylund and Open Past

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