Irish Children Spent Years in Hospital With Tuberculosis in Ireland

Updated on June 25, 2020
viking305 profile image

L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

A Tuberculosis patient in a TB  hospital in   1948 in Ireland
A Tuberculosis patient in a TB hospital in 1948 in Ireland | Source

Irish Children Spent Years in Hospital With TB

Maureen Madden who lived in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 got Tuberculosis in the 1940’s. She says:

"I was twelve years old when I fell on my skates and soon after that I got pains in my back. My parents brought me to Steven’s Hospital. They found out I had Tuberculosis of the spine. The doctor said it was caught just in time. I was put in a big ward at first and they had me strapped into the bed. I was not allowed to sit up at all.

For the first couple of months I cried day and night. They wanted to send me to Cappagh Hospital but my father wouldn't let them because it was too far away. Then they put me in a smaller ward with just three teenagers. Our beds were out in the veranda, you had to sleep out there too, even if it was freezing.

They said it was the best thing to do for Tuberculosis. They wouldn't let me use my arms a lot because they were afraid of me damaging the spine. I had to lay flat on my back in the bed. They had a special thing to drink out of, like a teapot with a long spout, because I was lying down.

I was treated very well in there and because I was the youngest child I was spoiled. When after two years it was finally time for me to go home they took me to the theatre to fit a plaster of paris full body cast. I couldn't stand on my own so I was held up with a strap around my arms. After that they had to teach me to walk again.

I Was Finally Going Home

It was strange for me when I got home to Stoneybatter. I was coming back to a different environment. For over two years I was in one room so I found it hard to adjust when I first came out. My parents had to help me put the cast on during the day, and I had to wear that for a few years too."

Maureen in Tuberculosis Ward - TB Hospitals in Ireland
Maureen in Tuberculosis Ward - TB Hospitals in Ireland | Source

The Stigma of Tuberculosis in Ireland

In the many areas of Ireland like Dublin the disease of TB could be fatal in the mid 1940s. It was not till around the late 1950’s in Ireland that it started to decline. Many people mistakenly assumed you caught it because you were unclean so there was always a stigma attached to the illness. The disease was spread more easily if there was overcrowding and poor diet, but could also attack those who lived in a more affluent society.

This Child is Very Sick, She has TB

Christina Reid who lived in Whitehall, Santry remembers when her older sister Lulu got ill in 1953. She says:

“I remember that my sister Lulu was tired all the time. They did tests in hospital but couldn’t find anything wrong with her. When we were bringing her home she was crying her eyes out, she knew something was wrong with her.

There was a doctor who saw how upset Lulu was so he brought us into this room. He examined Lulu and then went outside and started shouting at the other doctors that 'this child is very sick, she has TB.'

TB Hospital

Lots of people in our area had Tuberculosis but some of them wouldn't let on. But you always knew if it was in a family when the Health Board built a chalet in their back garden.”

Lulu Kiely in a TB Hospital in Ireland
Lulu Kiely in a TB Hospital in Ireland | Source

A Contagious Disease

Lulu herself says:

I caught TB off my best friend Birdie. She had it for years and I used to pal around with her. My mother didn't like me going around to see her because of the Tuberculosis but I didn't take any notice. They let my friend home and she was in the parlour for a long time and then she died from it. I was in hospital myself when they told me she was dead.

Two and a Half Years in Hospital

I was nineteen when I got there and was in a ward with two other girls, we'd spend our time making embroidery and one of the girl's mothers would sell it for us. But you were treated very well really; you got the best of food.

When we were able to get up out of the bed we would walk around the grounds but we were not allowed to go into the street. We were made to rest a lot, you see apart from the tablets the treatment was plenty of good food and rest.

I was not allowed to talk for a long time because I had to have complete rest of my vocal cords. I smoked in those days and my friends could bring me in the cigs, the doctors didn't mind because they didn't realise how bad they were for you then.

The Tuberculosis was splattered all over my lungs so they couldn't operate on me. But I was grand afterwards. When I did come home a chalet had been built in the back garden so I could sleep on my own because I was one of twelve children in the family.

Cappagh Hospital Open Air Wards

In 1907 Lady Martin left Cappagh House to the Religious Sisters of Charity. It became Cappagh Hospital, for children who had Tuberculosis. In the 1920’s TB was rampant and the beds were increased from 60 to 260.

The 'Open Air' wards were adopted here because it was known that fresh air helped in the treatment of the disease. In 1923 a school was established in the hospital because most of the children needed to stay at the hospital for a few years in order to beat Tuberculosis.

A TB Hospital in 1947 in Dublin Ireland
A TB Hospital in 1947 in Dublin Ireland | Source

Eleanor Roosevelt

Famous People also contracted Tuberculosis and some died from the disease. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884 in New York City. Her mother died when she was only eight years old, and her father two years later, so her grandmother reared her.

Her uncle was Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America from 1901 to 1909. She got married on March 17th 1905 to Franklin D Roosevelt. He became President of the United States from 1933 to 1945. They had six children, but one of their sons only lived a few months.

Too Busy to be Sick

As the First Lady she was head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and chaired the Commission on the Status of Women. She was also an author and wrote a daily column for the newspapers called “My Day”. The President died in April 1945. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was always busy and was not happy when she became ill.

First it was with anemia which slowed her down and after two years and a few blood transfusions the doctors insisted on giving her more tests. She was not a good patient. She was known for saying “I’m too busy to be sick.”

But in 1962 she got another fever which became dangerously high. More tests followed but a diagnosis was not forthcoming. She eventually had to have the very intrusive bone marrow test, but the doctors could not agree on what was wrong with her.

After a chest X ray Tuberculosis showed up on Eleanor Roosevelt's lungs. She was given the most up to date medicine, streptomycin, para-aminosalycylic acid and isoniasid. She left the hospital and returned to her work. But her lungs were damaged too much.

She Died of TB on November 7th 1962

She had wanted to donate her corneas to an eye bank after her death, but this could not be done because of the TB infection. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was buried in Hyde Park on November 10th beside her husband.

No Social Boundaries

I hope I have helped to dispel the myth that Tuberculosis was a disease that only the poor suffered from. There were many people in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 and all over Ireland who suffered from TB in the 1940's and 50's. A lot of them were ashamed to admit this but there were also many affluent and famous people who caught the disease

Famous People Who Died from Tuberculosis

  • D.H. Lawrence died in 1930 English writer
  • George Orwell died in 1950 English writers
  • Vivien Leigh, the English actress also died from TB in 1967.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D Roosevelt, President of the United States, died of Tuberculosis in November 1962.
  • Emily Bronte, the English writer in 1848, at only 30 years old.
  • John Keats, the English poet in 1821.
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the English poet in 1861.
  • Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer in 1849.
  • Frederic Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist in 1849.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish writer in 1894.
  • Anton Chekhov, the Russian writer in 1904.

How Tuberculosis is Spread

Tuberculosis is spread by people when they cough and sneeze. The spread of TB can be stopped by isolating the patients.TB prevents the defense cells, macrophages, from doing their job. It can not release the enzymes and acids which destroy the bacteria in the body.

Chronic Lung Infection

It can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, lungs, spine, and brain. It can be fatal.

I Got Tuberculosis


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    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      7 weeks ago from Ireland

      Hello Marcy, I am glad you found the article interesting.

      Hello Dorrie, no I could not find out any information on the TB hospital in Bellmullet co Mayo, sorry.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      7 weeks ago from Ireland

      Hello Catherine, yes TB of the spine was really bad because the children had to stay lying down in the bed for years. It would be great if you could hear more of your mother's experience there. If you manage to get some I could add it to this article with a photo if you like.

    • profile image

      dorrie caviston 

      8 weeks ago

      have you any information on bellmullet hospital co mayo i spent some time as a child thank you

    • Marcy Bialeschki profile image

      Marcy Bialeschki 

      2 months ago from Cerro Gordo, IL

      Interesting article. It caught my eye because it is about Ireland and because I am thoughtfully trying to make connections with COVID-19 and other pandemics of the past. They say we learn...or we can learn...from the past. Thanks for the great read!

    • profile image

      Catherine Tonge 

      4 months ago

      My mother lived in Dublin (Montague St and then Crumlin) and suffered from TB of the spine. Dissatisfied with the local doctor, my grandmother somehow managed to ring and get through to Dr Collis who agreed to see her. Immediately diagnosed TB. She was sent to Cappagh where she spent several years during the 1950s. I have many photos if anybody is interested (mostly not great quality). Sadly my mother is now suffering from early stage dementia but I am trying to clarify the details before it's too late.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      13 months ago from Ireland

      Hello Virginia, yes I would say it would be very interesting to do some research on the TB sanitorium in Kansas. It would make a good article

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      14 months ago from Central Florida

      Some of my ancestors worked in a TB sanitorium in Kansas in the U.S. in the early 1900s. I've been meaning to research more about what their experience there was like.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Yes, Brendan, that would be very interesting.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I was born with primary tb and brought straight from the Rotunda to Fairy Hill, spending six months according to my mother. I obviously have no memories, but my mother said I got great care and came home a chubby and healthy baby. I would like to know more about the place, there may be records kept somewhere of admissions and discharges.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thanks, M. I did call some yeatd ago and the owners very kindly showed me round. It looked much smaller than I had remembered; it seemed huge to a 3 year old child. But what I would love, would be to hear from someone who was there around the time I was.

    • profile image

      4 years ago


      Im sure if you call over to the house the current owners would be very happy to show you around, its a provate house these days abd nothing like a hospital

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      4 years ago from Ireland

      Hello Mary, hopefully someone who was at Fairy Hill hospital will read this soon.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      No news yet from anyone who was at Fairy Hill hospital run by Bob Collis?

    • profile image

      anna tobin 

      5 years ago

      I was in st senans hospital foynes co limerick 1949 remember it as if it was yesturday lots of very harsh treatment and very strict anybody out there rem me iwa then anna scully

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Of course, but I'm interested in those who wete in Fairy Hill, specifically.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      5 years ago from Ireland

      A lot of Irish children had Tuberculosis back then.

      Hello Jim and Marycru I hope you get the information and contacts you are looking for

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      It was in Doldrum Bay Howth and is now a private house. I don't have a pic, sorry. I was there aged 3, for a year in 1955/6. I would love to hear from anyone who was there, especially at the same time as me. What was your experience? What treatment did you receive? Did it affect you in later life?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My sis was taken to Fairy Hill with primary TB. This hospital was in the Sutton/Howth area of Dublin. Can anyone tell me exactly where it was and if there are any photos of it?

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Thank you Theresa for sharing the story of your dad and his experience with TB. He probably did catch it from his sister's husband

      Thank you Rebecca, briannaca and Brianca for reading and taking the time to leave a comment

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very Very Sad :(

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      very sad

    • profile image

      Rebecca Roache 

      9 years ago

      Please note the famous people died from TB in the mid 1800'S and the poor in Dublin in the mid 1900's.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My Dad, who sadly passed away a few years ago often told us of his time in a sanitorium in hertfordshire when he had tb and how they use to sleep on the veranda. He was from the east end of london and from a working-class family but thought he caught tb from his sister's irish husband. My dad spent 10 years suffering from tb and its after-effects in the late 40s/50s and eventually had an operation to remove 1 lung together with a huge blood transfusion. He said the operation was quite a scarey thing for him and his family to agree to and go through. He was embarressed of the big scare he had on his back afterwards but we thought nothing of it, he was alive and our dad. He went on to live until his late 70s, dying eventually of dementia, so sad when you think of what he went through when he was a young adult.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Marty for reading this article. Yes your friend was lucky because the treatment was available to him.

      But like you say a lot of people in third world countries are dying from Tuberculosis because they are too poor to afford the treatment.

    • MartyWare profile image


      9 years ago from New South Wales Australia

      TB is really heavy.

      When I was living in Asia I made a friend who had a really bad cough. I thought it was from the cigarette smokes, but one day I found this person hemeroeging blood all over the floor.

      I thought they were going to die.

      Luckily this person survived, but hay many still don't in these 3rd world countries.

      Happy Hubbing

      Marty Ware

      The SEO DAD & the creator of the Hubpages Tribe!

      ps: Many 3rd world countries need our support

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      No sorry Collette I have no information on that TB Sanitarium

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Do you have any information on the old sanitarium on the Shelly Banks near Ringsend? I never knew it was there until I went walking in the area today

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for the comment 'Make Money', much appreciated. Yes I was very surprised about the nomination and the win. Thanks again

    • Make  Money profile image

      Make Money 

      10 years ago from Ontario

      Quite the informative hub viking305. Congrats for the Hubnugget.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Yes very much so here in Ireland, I am not sure how it was for other countries.

      My mother still finds it hard to let people know about the TB in her family even today. Thanks for reading and the extra info. Sounds like a very painful operation and long recovery process

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      That was really interesting. I never knew there was such a stigma attached to TB. Some one I know had a TB abcess grow on his spine when he was 13, he had to get it cut out and a bone graph done. He was in hospital for about 18 months and had to learn to walk again.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks shazwellyn for reading the article and your comment. Much appreciated.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thank you Lisa for sharing your family's personal experience with the disease. It was very interesting to read.

      TB is one of those diseases that has a misconception about its causes. On the maternal side of my family there was overcrowding and poverty. My great grandparents had 15 children, 3 who did not survive. My mother is still a bit embarrassed about most of her siblings and herself getting the disease. She is 76 now.

      But on the paternal side of my family there was not so much overcrowding. There were only my great grandparents and 4 children. And both had experience of TB.

      Thanks again for reading

    • shazwellyn profile image


      10 years ago from Great Britain

      Well done for an informative hub. Brilliant! :)

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      In the US (1960's), my middle-class mother got TB. She was hospitalized, and we were reassured that it could be treated far more effectively than in the past. Still, in the hospital, at least a couple of the people she knew died. My father, siblings, and I were all tested; and I showed up positive, so they put me on "super-vitamins" to build me up and some kind of medication. I was 6. For one year I was brought for chest x-rays every three/four months.

      We could only visit our mother on Sundays, as she sat in an open window and we talked to her from the hospital lawn.

      My mother stayed in "The San" (sanitarium)for eight months, coming home first for afternoon/weekend visits, then for weekends, and finally for good.

      I know, to someone younger, the 60's seems like a long time ago; but my mother's follow-up x-rays continued right into the 70s, when she was finally not scheduled for a follow-up visit.

      We weren't affluent by any means, but we lived in a nice enough neighborhood in a single-family home with two parents and three kids. My mother provided absolutely healthy meals. So I was a first-grader who went to school each day with a freshly ironed dress and my hair curled each night - being treated for Tuberculosis.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for reading and your comment.

      I grew up listening to the stories I have detailed here in the article. My Father's sister, Maureen and four of my mothers' sisters and herself all had TB. So I assumed everyone was familier with that time, here in Ireland anyway. But even my own sisters were not aware of the family history. That's because I ask questions with being a history nut. lol. I was lucky too that both sides of the family had photos of their stay in hospital, from a writers point of view of course lol.

      Polio is also a disease that affected Ireland and my family and I will be writing a hub on that when I get a chance.

      Thanks again Faybe Bay

    • Faybe Bay profile image

      Faye Constantino 

      10 years ago from Florida

      Wow! I didn't now all of those people died of TB. Very interesting history! I didn't know any of this.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for the comment much appreciated.

      Yes here in Dublin if a member of your family had TB it was something to hide and be ashamed of. Even today the attitude amongst the older generation is the same. That's why it surprised me when i did the research about the 'famous' people who had it and died from the disease.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      10 years ago from Texas

      Interest history about a disease that is still around today. Thanks for sharing and Congrats on being nominated to the HubNuggets Wannabe Contest for this week.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      This is your official announcement right here: You are a Hubnugget Wannabe! This means your hub got picked for the Hubnuggets! Please vote over here:

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for reading the article Majidsiko. Yes it is familiar to me because both sides of my family had it and i have heard so many stories about those days. My mother and a lot of her sisters and brothers still have the after effects of TB. She has five sisters and six brothers lol.

    • Majidsiko profile image


      10 years ago from Kenya

      Very interesting. TB is still a reality for people in the third world and still taking many lives. I myself see TB cases every day and its effects. Great HUB


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