Big thank you from

Lisburn Historical Society, Volume 2 pt.4

Volume 2 • December 1979


The Man from Magheragall

ERNEST BLYTHE was something of a phenomenon, a rarity among those who figured in the turmoil of the formative years of the Irish Free State.

He was born on 13th April, 1889, at Hallstown House, Magheragall, Lisburn. A member of the Church of Ireland, his mother was a Presbyterian. On his paternal side his roots can be traced back to William Blyth of Lambeg, whose daughter Elizabeth, was baptized in Lisburn Cathedral on 17th July, 1665. Another daughter Mary, was also baptised there on 23rd February, 1667, and a son James on 24th July, 1671.

It was probably from his mother that Ernest Blythe began to learn something of the Northern Presbyterians in the rising of 1798. The boy also heard - and noted - the maid servants from Omeath who worked in his father's house and talked Irish. It was possibly from these influences in his early life that contributed to his preaching of conciliation in modern politics.

He received his primary education at the school at Megaberry cross-roads, the building still stands, but the present Megaberry Primary School is a more recent building standing close by. An old lady, a contemporary of Ernest Blythe told me that his brother frequently would take his 'bap', which was his school lunch, despite the loud protestations of Ernest.

He began his working life at 15 as a boy clerk in the Department of Agriculture in Dublin. During a lunch break he saw a book of simple lessons in Irish in a shop window and bought it. That night he went to the Queen's Theatre and during the interval it is said began to learn Irish. He joined the Gaelic League, and his teacher was Sinead Flanagan, who was later to marry another of her pupils, Eamon de Valera, and in his mature years, Blythe talked nostalgically of his great admiration for his attractive and vivacious teacher who as a young lady, was far beyond his youthful aspirations.

He joined Sinn Fein and a hurling club, where he met Sean O'Casey. Neither was a good enough player to get in the team, but O'Casey was in the Irish Republican Brotherhood and invited Blythe to join. The invitation was accepted.

In 1909, Ernest Blythe returned to the North to become a journalist on the North Down Herald. His colleague on a rival paper was Sean Lester, who became High Commissioner of Danzig for the League of Nations and later Secretary-General of the League. At this time he was active on behalf of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Belfast. His next post was that of an agricultural labourer in the Kerry Gaeltacht, where he went to deepen his knowledge of the language. His employer, whom he greatly respected was Gregory Ashe, father of Tom Ashe. At the same time Blythe was organiser for the Irish Volunteers in Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Clare.

Then followed years of arrests, imprisonments and hunger strikes. Firstly he was ordered out of Ireland, refusing to live in England, he spent three months in Crumlin Road Jail, Belfast. In March, 1916, he was arrested again and once more refused to name a place of abode in England, so the authorities sent him to a town in Berkshire.

He was then detained for failing to report to the police and sent to Oxford Jail. The Easter Rising took place before his release from Oxford, when he was again arrested and sent to Brixton Prison. In Brixton he broke ranks to rush over to Roger Casement and shake his hand. Later he was removed to Reading Prison. On his release at Christmas 1916, he was ordered not to return to Ireland, but when he did so, was arrested in Belfast. On giving an undertaking to remain in South Antrim, he was released and six months later he went to Skibbereen to edit the Southern Star (formerly the Skibbereen Eagle) which had been purchased by Sinn Fein.

Ignoring a court martial order to leave Munster, he served 12 months imprisonment in Dundalk and in Belfast. Before his removal to Dundalk, he went on hunger and thirst strike in Cork Jail for some days.

In November, 1918, he was elected Sinn Fein M.P. for North Monaghan but like his colleagues he never took his seat. In 1921 he was elected to Dail Eireann under Arthur Griffith as M.P. for North Monaghan and in the same year became Minister of Trade and Commerce. In that position it is related by Paedar O'Donnell, Blythe was most sympathetic to the idea that O'Donnell and his trade union friends had at that time of opening negotiations with the Soviet Union for recognition. He warned O'Donnell not to mention the matter to Cathal Brugha who would be opposed to the idea.

Although not an actual member of the de Valera Cabinet he kept in close touch with the negotiations in 1921. He has related that he heard, in a report from Mr. de Valera, of Sir James Craig's acceptance of an idea of Dominion status for Northern Ireland and was bewildered that Mr. de Valera had rejected the idea. Once the Treaty terms were agreed, he accepted them and fought vigorously in their defence. He held the same Ministry under Griffith in the post Treaty Government until the death of Collins and Griffith when Mr. Cosgrave, then President of the Executive Council, transferred him to the Department of Finance.

He was one of the strong members of that "Free State Cabinet", being thoroughly convinced that the policy of executions was necessary in the national interests. Indeed in February, 1922, he was an advocate of immediate action against the militant group of the I.R.A., but failed to secure the agreement of Collins or Mulcahy. After the occupation of the Four Courts, when a section of the I.R.A. shot at two pro-Treaty T. D. 's, he believed in a policy that would have meant the execution of a great number of I.R.A. leaders, but he went along with the idea of the Cabinet that four leaders, O'Connor, Barret, Mellows and McKelvey, should be executed.

As Minister for Finance he concluded with his opposite number, Winston Churchill, the first trade agreement between the two countries and he earned much criticism also as Minister for Finance for reducing the ten shillings weekly old age pension. He favoured strongly the harnessing of the River Shannon, through the Shannon Scheme, which initiated the Electricity Supply Board and was agreeable to starting the sugar beet industry. Like the other members of his Cabinet, however, he went along with the idea of free trade as against the Griffith policy of protection to develop Irish industry.

Blythe survived for a short time the victory of de Valera and Fianna Fall in the General Election of 1932, being the Fine Gael member for North Monaghan, but he was defeated in the snap election of 1933 and went to the Senate until 1936, when he retired from politics.

In 1925, when Minister for Finance, he was responsible for the grant of a small annual subsidy to the Abbey Theatre thus making it the first state-subsidised theatre in the English-speaking world. In 1935 he became a director of the Abbey Theatre on the invitation of W. B. Yeats and was Managing Director from 1941 to 1967. He remained a director until 1972: During his managing-directorship he became much-criticised, his consistent attitude to critics was: "I don't give a damn". It was said that he rejected good plays and put on bad and that he chose young actors for their proficiency in Irish pronunciation, rather than for the slightest indication of acting ability. In a history of the theatre published in 1963 (by the National Theatre Society Ltd.) Blythe vigorously defended his policies.

He had been accused, he said, of putting on nothing but kitchen comedies. "There is no reason, snobbery apart", he declared, "why, in their plays, dramatists should boycott ordinary dwellings. Most people in Ireland are the habituees of farmhouse kitchens, city tenements or middle-class sitting-rooms and their loves and hates, disappointments and triumphs, griefs and joys, are just as interesting and amusing, or as touching, as those of, shall we say alliteratively, denizens of ducal drawing-rooms, or boozers in denizened brothels".

The only play of merit which the Abbey had failed to produce, he maintained, was Denis Johnston's "The Old Lady Says No", but its quality was appreciated and the Abbey helped to have it produced in the Peacock Theatre.

He brought forward a large number of new Irish dramatists - Michael J. Molloy, Brian Friel, Hugh Leonard, Seamus Byrne and Joseph Tomelty amongst others.

After 26 years which included the 15 years of exile in the Queen's Theatre and the return to the promised land of the new Abbey, it was through his persistence that the new theatre was built as soon as it was. Mr. Blythe resigned the managing directorship in August 1967. He continued as a member of the theatre board of directors and resumed work on the sequel to "Trasna na Boinne". He was also a member of the Television Authority. When the flourishing drama festivals were held in St. Joseph's Hall in Lisburn, Ernest Blythe adjudicated on several occasions.

In social and political comment he was outspoken, his opinions on the North were intransigent and unpopular, but extremely farsighted and acute. The first Dail, he thought, should never have tied itself in 1919 to the concept of a republic. He was in Crumlin Road Jail when the Dail was set up and could therefore take a more detached view than people living in the "rather hysterical" political climate outside. He was not the only prisoner, he said, who was upset by the "ill-advised decision of Dail Eireann to go on with the pretence that we actually had an all-Ireland Republic".

The misleading propaganda of the 26 County authorities, he believed, led to the unfortunate pursuit by Northern Catholics of a policy on non-co-operation "Instead of helping them with guidance in their difficulty, we offered them only misguidance", he said. The Catholic non-co-operation policy brought only disappointment and the need to retreat, and caused the more fair-minded Protestants to have far less influence in Northern affairs than they would otherwise have had.

He considered Sir James Craig, whatever he might have said on occasion in heat of debate, a man of good will. Only for nationalist intransigence, he would have followed a steadily improving policy of fair play for the Catholic section, and would thereby have prevented the growth of mutual mistrust which bedevilled relations between the two communities.

Protestant bigotry might have impeded the development of religious tolerance, but would never have become a dominating force if there had not been the threat of coercion implied in the contention that an all-Ireland Republic actually existed, a threat confirmed by raids and killings in Northern Ireland. If Dail Eireann had shown reasonable foresight in January, 1919 and set before itself an objective capable of attainment, much suffering and bloodshed before and after the Truce could have been avoided, he asserted.

If the people of the 26 Counties did not jerk themselves free of the illusion that the people of the North would walk lamely into the Republic, simply because its people were so nice, partition could last for generations and become, indeed as permanent as the border between Holland and Belgium or between Portugal and Spain.

"We should realise above all" wrote Blythe in 1968, "that in the stalemate position at which we have now arrived, spiritual reconciliation between the two parts of Ireland is what is really important, and that anyhow such reconciliation must be achieved before and well before - there can be any question of political or institutional change".  

Blythe also believed the Republic should have a Consul General in Belfast and that warrants for political prisoners, issued in the North, should be executed in Dublin. The Union Jack and the British national anthem should not be insulted. We should not induce Americans to "pass their silly resolutions about Partitions" and Irish delegates should not "talk nonsense about partition abroad".

In 1968 Blythe was attacking Proportional Representation. As the Free State Minister for Local Government he had steered P.R. through the Dail, but he was now, he said, ashamed of his part in introducing it into the State. "We swallowed P.R. without a thought", he said. "It was not a good system and we have not had all the bad results of it yet".

Ernest Blythe was a man of considerable attainment and of ideals who was not averse to some ruthlessness in achieving them, but strongly against double-think. If he had been at the First Dail he would have been against the Declaration of the Republic when it was made and would have been against it if he had been present. He believed that Declaration resulted in partition. He also was against the terms of the Democratic Programme of 1919. In other words, he was not a Republican in National Politics and he was a conservative in social policy.

As such, the Treaty was a great gain for Ireland and he was determined that it should be implemented. In this he was ruthless with friend and foe after Collins and Griffiths had died. But, if he was ruthless, he also had tremendous personal, physical and moral courage and never tried to whitewash his own strong actions in the Civil War throughout his long life. He had done what he had to do, in the interests of Ireland and her people. Perhaps the pity was, and is, that the terrible enmity of the Civil War arose from deep differences which separated tough men like Blythe from the idealists, after four years when the idealists and the tough men had worked together with such results.

Ernest Blythe died on the 23rd February, 1975, removing from our midst one of the few remaining links with the tumultuous days of Ireland earlier in this century and the language revival movement.

The Funeral service was held in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The Irish Times reporting the service said "The congregation was a literary and artistic pot-pourri, and the familiar faces of today remembered and greeted the forgotten faces of yesterday. There was a handful of old comrades from their days of the infant Free Slate, and Mr. Sean MacEntee, who travelled in former President de Valera's ancient Rolls Royce- he was representing Mr. de Valera - seemed to be the only conspicuous former adversary.

President O'Dalaigh was there, and the judiciary and present-day politics . . .

Ernest Blythe would have been impressed by the turnout that his earthly remains commanded yesterday. There was the essential trinity of the language and the State and the theatre, and they fittingly paid their homage to a commitment spanning 60 years and more".

The committal at Glasnevin was to a simple grave where his wife, Annie, who died in 1957, is buried.



THERE HAS recently been some criticism of the health services, but a recent paragraph in the Newsletter stated that Northern Ireland is fortunate in having more doctors per head of population than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Lisburn in particular has been fortunate in having a good record of medical care, and philanthropists who have given their time and money for the benefit of the inhabitants for many years.

The earliest records of Lisburn say that there were raths, surrounded by strong pallisades, a very thick high rampart of earth and timber flanked by bulwarks. It is believed that on Fort Hill, White Mountain, Castle Gardens and Todds Grove, the first inhabitants of Lisburn once lived.

It is supposed that early man lived in isolated groups such as these and was in constant touch with the animal world. He hunted them, and shared his home with them, and consequently shared their parasites also. Because he ate raw or partially cooked meat he probably suffered from tape worms and round worms. Wound infections would certainly be a hazard, also tetanus and gas gangrene. As with many primitive people (1) if one of them was ill, he was sometimes killed outright, or left somewhere to die. This may have prevented further cases of disease.

Before the coming of Christianity, the inhabitants were very much under the influence of the Druids, their first doctors, who were supposedly (2) skilled in hypnotism and used herbs and baths, healing stones and hot air baths with helpful results. Under the Brehon Law (which was abolished in 1604) a system for the care of the sick was evolved that was in some instances surprisingly modern. The person in charge of the sick, a leech, often cared for them in his own house which was well ventilated and often near a stream. The celtic leeches recognised the value of cleanliness and healthy surroundings, and were respected members of their community. It is thought they brought their ideas from the far east, possibly India.

The influence of the Romans spread to Ireland. When they left Britain their habit of bathing (which discouraged the breeding of lice and other body vermin that carried plague, typhus and relapsing fever) fell into disuse there, but the idea had spread, and medical baths are often mentioned in Irish tales, and the 'sweating' treatment was commonly practised until within living memory.

With the coming of Christianity, there came also for the first time a chance for the sick poor to receive attention. St. Patrick is said to have nursed a 'leper' in his house and bathed his sores. (3) Leprosy was a common disease at this time, but although there are many references to it, it is not always certain that the disease was accurately diagnosed, as 'leper' was an elastic term applied to anyone 'Full of sores'. In due course man had realised that leprosy was a contagious disease, and rules had to be made to protect people from the unfortunate lepers. In Europe, because of its Biblical associations, its control, after the Edict of Lyons in 583 seems to have become an ecclesiastical responsibility. The leper was cast of our society, after a ceremony of the same order of doom as that associated with the unfrocking of a priest. (1) As they had nowhere to go they were forced to wander, wearing an enveloping cloak, forbidden to speak above a whisper and to punctuate their progress by sounding a bell or rattle. The leper might touch nothing, but had to point to anything he wished to purchase, he must never go into churches, bath houses, or market places, and always drink out of his own cup. In some parts of Europe they were provided with houses called lazerettes, and after the formation of the Franciscan Order they were nursed by friars. Attempts to cure them were rare, as most people thought that without a miracle leprosy was incurable. Whether it was some change in the organism or in the host, or because leprosy requires prolonged contact before infection can be acquired, or the successful isolation of the lepers, leprosy gradually disappeared from Europe, and by the end of the sixteenth century, it had gone.

Another prevalent scourge was plague (bubonic or pneumonic) caused by a bacillus, fundamentally a disease of cats, and transmitted by fleas. As a result of a bite by an infected flea humans acquire the disease. Such places as Tamlaght (near Aghalee) indicate a plague grave - there is one also in Trummery Churchyard - although no record of plague has been found (1) occurring before Christ. 'The earliest known reference is by Rupert of Ephesus in the second century. There was an outbreak in 558 (preceded by famine) though this is thought to have been smallpox, and a particularly violent form of it spread to all parts of Ireland in 1084, reputedly due to demons.

A fact common to all accounts of the plague is drat it invariably entered a country through a port, normally in ships carrying grain. Rumours of a terrible plague had reached Europe in 1346. No serious alarm was fell until some trading ships put into Genoa and Venice carrying their burden of pestilence. By 1348 it had penetrated France via Marseilles, crossed the channel from Normandy to Melcombe in Dorset, and then to southern Ireland, where it spread to Kilkenny and northwards. One reason for its rapid spread was that everyone then considered that the best protection against plague was flight.  

The character of the pestilence was appalling. (4) It had a swift onset, blotches appeared, hardening of the glands under the armpits and in the groin, swellings which no poultice could resolve and delirium. But at length the plague abated its force. The tumours yielded to fomentations. Recoveries became more frequent, the resistant faculties revived, and the scourge passed. Although the Black Death came to an end in 1351, the disease remained in Europe for four hundred years, at irregular intervals causing isolated outbreaks. It still occurs in the far east and the threat remains.

Life in the middle ages was short and perilous. Sickness, disease and death was always close, although the north of Ireland was fortunate in having no large towns where infections congregated. "Medical knowledge was based on ancient texts, and authorities, in which direct clinical observation played little part. (5) The application of herbal remedies was governed by the stars, while surgery was crude, unhygienic and a curious mixture of superstition and brute force".

With this background the Lisburn people had moved nearer to the river, gradually leaving the shelter of the forts to keep swine in the woods, and carry on primitive farming.

In 1585 Sir Henry Sydney visited the O'Neill in his castle on a hill that rose above the River Lagan, close to the village of Lisnagarvey. Imagine the village, a cluster of hovels with mud walls and thatched roofs. The inhabitants probably kept pigs, cattle and fowl, that invariably found a home within a short distance from the house, if not under the same roof.

In 1602 O'Neills stronghold was captured, and the village came under the control of Sir Fulke Conway, who laid out streets in their present form where Castle Street, Market Square and Bridge Street now stand.

The growth of Lisburn had begun.


By 1628 it had grown sufficiently to support a market and a Charter to do so was granted by Charles 1. With the crowds that gathered came problems of contaminated food and water, and contact with infection, though the fact that it was a country town was in its favour. At that time epidemics usually followed a shortage of food, and malnutrition lowered resistance to infection.

Medical treatment at this time followed two patterns. One theory was to follow the teachings of Hippocrates and to keep the patient in bed for nature to take its course and the other was governed by the theory of the four humours. Physicians believed that as long as the four humours, blood, phlegm, bile (yellow and black) were perfectly balanced, the individual was healthy. Disease was caused by an excess of the humour, and restored to balance by bleeding, or herbal remedies. 'Cooling' drugs were used to counteract excessive heat, 'drying' drugs to counteract excessive moisture, and so on. The application of these remedies was governed by astrology. Through the study of the heavens the right day would be chosen for blood letting or gathering and applying herbs.

Then, as now, surgeons benefited by experience in wars and injuries. They practised dentistry, and spectacles had been invented. The only snag was that only rich people could afford the advice of a doctor, the poor depended on the services of an Apothecary. The Apothecaries were the poor man's doctor, and the nearest approach to a General Practitioner, capable of dealing with all situations not needing specialised skill. Some of the mixtures they sold were called elixirs, drops, cordials and powders for the feavor.

In 1667 Bishop Jeremy Taylor died in Lisburn after visiting a parishioner who 'lay sick of a feavor'. He also became sick of a 'feavor' and died, according to contemporary reports four days later.

At that time any sickness that produced a high temperature was called a fever, and it is only guesswork to try to put names to them. But we know the diseases that were prevalent at the time, an one of them was typhus.

Typhus is carried by lice from animals and infects humans with its bite. The disease is characterized by its sudden onset, high fever and toxaemia. It is the one disease (1) that makes Ireland of interest to the epidemiologist. It has been present in this country for centuries as an epidemic disease. It was certainly common as early as 1652. In times of stress, such as failure of the harvest it almost invariably produced an epidemic. Starvation itself does not cause it, but overcrowding and an unwashed population are ideal conditions for its growth. It rarely appears in times of plenty. With the coming of insecticides it may be thought that typhus is at an end, but after the Korean War it was found that some bacteria were resistant and it is possible we may not have finished with typhus.

Another common fever was Typhoid, which reaches a patient through infected water, milk or food, and flies are useful carriers of it. It is hard to imagine the number of flies there must have been when no one connected them with contamination, and neither debarred them from food stores nor sprayed them out of doors.

There is an account in a letter written to a friend, that tells a servant girl from Derriaghy. "Our servant girl Jenny was taken ill yesterday, and has about her the symptoms of fever. Fever is very prevalent and in its kind distinguished from ordinary fever. The patient is in a cold heavy actionless state for some eight to ten days before the fever sets in, after which the mind is disordered". This is a good description of typhoid, sometimes referred to in some forms as Enteric Fever.

(6)When the Duke of Schomberg fixed his headquarters in Lisburn in 1689, he was concerned about supplies of food. There is an account in an old diary which says 'One of his first acts was to call a meeting and arrange prices of food etc. . .'. Although his soldiers were properly fed we find in the months of October, November, and December the burial registers consist very largely of military funerals (incidentally including Charles Gobbagli, the Duke's own confectioner).  

In 1693 a report was written (7) "of ye diseases reigning in Ireland" which is interesting. "There are a certain sort of malignant fevers, vulgarly in Ireland called Irish Agues, because at all times they are so common in Ireland as well among ye inhabitants and ye natives as among those who are newly come thither from other countries. This feavor is commonly accompanied with great pain in the head, and in all the bones, great weakness, drought, loss of all manner of appetite and want of sleep and for ye most part idleness and raving, but no great constant heat. It is hard to be cured, for those that understand ye disease, and seek to overcome it, do it not by purging, which cannot be used at any time without great and present danger, for ye fermentation of ye humours which causeth ye disease is hereby mightily increased and ye patient weakened, and hardly with bleeding which is seldom used with success otherwise than in ye beginning, but with strengthening medicines and good cordials; in which case and if necessary prescriptions be well observed, very few persons do lose their lives".

"Many are a great while troubles with the looseners, and get no other harm and those at betimes do make use of good medicine are without any great difficulty cured of it. But they that let the looseners take its course, not only grow much more troublesome and painful but a great deal harder to be cured, and at last turneth to ye Bloody Flux, which in some persons, having lasted a great while leaveth them of itself, but in faire, ye greatest number is very dangerous".

"That this disease as also ye other, viz ye malignant fevers are so rife in Ireland, doth partly come through ye peculiar disposition and excessive wetness of ye air, but partly also through ye errors which people do commit in eating and drinking . . . for most of those who avoided ye drinking of ale or new bear that are natural looseners, and kept their water and brandy (which is a great binder) kept themselves in good health".

The Flu, was dysentery, which has been with us for a very long time. It certainly attacked the Crusaders in Palestine, the Black Prince's army in Spain, William III's troops at Belfast in winter quarters, Frederick the Great's army, Napoleon's army; was present with the troops in the Crimea and was present at Gallipoli. It added to the miseries of the Great Famine and occurred also in Hitler's Concentration Camps and the overcrowded refugee camps in 1945-46.

Its onset was rapid and caused by insanitary conditions and infected food and water.

A disease never mentioned in modern textbooks in Scrofula, or the King's evil, a disease that produced hard swellings of the glands in various parts of the body, that tended to supprocate especially in the neck. It was called the King's evil because the Royal touch was said to heal it. It was associated with dark airless dwellings, and the victims found it a very irritating disease. It usually left unsightly scars, and is now thought to have been due to a vitamin deficiency, and tuberculosis inflammation of the glands of the neck.

A description of Lisburn in 1689 survives. (8) "The Town consisted of four hundred houses which were straw roofed and covered with oak shingles, the upper ten along living in slated mansions. The population numbered two thousand and as principle borough of the county, it was the postal centre from which all letters were despatched to the lesser towns around it, as well as to England and Scotland". (In 1689 it was a larger town than Belfast).

In 1689 the sanitary laws stated 'No one to make dunghills to continue longer than three days in the open street before the door, or throw carrion, dying stuff or any loathesome thing into the river under the penalty of five shillings'.

The ending of the seventeenth century brought perhaps the greatest single benefit to Lisburn in its history. King William III appointed Louis Cromelin, a Huguenot linen merchant from St. Quentin, to be overseer of the Royal linen manufacture, and gave him and people interested, `every encouragement in his power'. Twenty-seven Huguenot families came to Lisburn in 1699 and so improved linen manufacture (which had been carried on since 1272, though on a very small scale) that Ulster linen became world famous. A contemporary account says "with their industry they brought their virtuous conduct, and civilised manners. These good people were of great advantage to this place".

The eighteenth century saw a period of turmoil,
change and challenge to Lisburn.


In 1707 the entire town was burned down by an accidental fire. The Castle shared the same fate, and was never rebuilt. This gave the opportunity, which was not lost, to build new and better houses, with wider streets and new shops. With new prosperity improved health. The Apothecaries had now been recognised as druggists by the College of Physicians in Dublin, who insisted on a formal indenture of apprenticeship in 1729, and a control of the production and sales of medicines. Rules were made and checks carried out to see that they were observed. For instance, apothecaries were forbidden to keep arsenic or painters colours in the same premises as they used for compounding mixtures, nor to sell arsenic, except to people they knew. A Pharmacopeca was published, though many housewives used their own, and even such a person as the Rev. John Wesley, used his own book. Some of its treatments were:- for hoarseness, rub the soles of the feet before the fire with garlic and lard, well beaten together. For the lethargy, sniff strong vinegar through the nose or infusion of water. For lice, sprinkle Spanish snuff over the head (under the wig), or wash with decoction of amaranth. For the bite of a mad dog, plunge into cold water and keep as long as under it as can be done without drowning.

Writing to a friend in 1698 a lady says- "but my head is none the better as yet, l have took abundance of physick and slaps, more for the apothecaries advantage I fear, than any benefit I shall gain by it myself".

In 1707 Mr. George Berkeley, a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, brought back from America a recipe for 'the Tar Water', as a preventative of smallpox. (3) It became widely used, though after his death the use of it was ridiculed and the craze for it died down. But by modern standards, it was more sensible than most 'physicks' at that time. Berkeley warned against its use at the same time as alcohol, and tar is more rapidly soluble in alcohol than in water. It contains quaiaeol and creosote amongst other aromatic bodies and these have a marked action as expectorants and intestinal disinfectants; and it is possible that he gave his patients some relief. Another drug which was probably effective at this time was Peruvian Bark, or Quinine.  

The fact that tar water was popular was an indication of the fear of smallpox, which was widespread, and dreaded in the eighteenth century. It was a disfiguring disease and frequently fatal. its onset was sudden, with a headache, fever, aching limbs; then the skin became covered in red spots which became thick, raised and filled with pus. Smallpox was a disease that in the twelfth century seems to have been relatively mild, but gradually became more common and more virulent. Vaccination was found to be an effective protection from it by Edward Jenner in 1796.

An example of how the contagion could spread can be found in an account of just such an occurrence (3) (recorded in 1903) "On December 23rd, a boy of nineteen was admitted to hospital suffering from erysepelas (a streptococcal infection usually coming from the patient's own throat). On the ninth of January he developed smallpox, probably contracted from a sailor from the Liverpool boat. Several cases followed, including a nurse who travelled by train in an infectious state. By the beginning of March cases were reported from all over the city and at the end of the month a total of seventy-two had occurred. In April there were sixty-one cases, in May, sixty-nine, in June, forty-two and in July, twelve".

It is no longer compulsory to be vaccinated and fears are held by many that with modern speedy travel from countries where it is still found, there could be outbreaks again.

Difficult as it may seem to imagine nowadays it is a fact that in the eighteenth century the attitude of even cultured people towards elementary hygiene was negligible. Many people who were accustomed to washing their faces and hands regularly rarely washed their bodies. The benefits of soap and water and the necessity for fresh air had to be urged upon unwilling people (9). Part of the advance in medical practice in the eighteenth century consisted simply in the successful application of a few rules of hygiene. The famous "Cool regimen" which doctors began to advocate was merely the opening of windows to allow fresh air into the houses.

Perhaps it was as a result of conditions existing at the time, and partly a new act of Parliament that encouraged the Bishop of Down and Connor to hold a meeting in his house in Lisburn on the sixth of January in 1767, of benefactors and interested people, who thought that Lisburn should have a hospital. At this time and for some time to come, the wealthy were nursed at home where they could be isolated in their own room; but there was a great need for the lower classes to have somewhere to go when the need arose.

THE FIRST HOSPITAL. The Lisburn committee decided to take a house in Bow Lane, now Bow Street, belonging to Mr. Heron, where Redmond Jefferson's shop now stands, and to try to shape it to their needs. Under the chairmanship of the Bishop, the committee members were called Governors and Governesses and were:  

Reverend Dr. Dobbs
Reverend Mr. Dobbs
Mrs. Trail Edward Smith
Mrs. Dr. Dobbs  Thomas Morris Esquires
Mrs. Jones William Rogers

The minutes of the Infirmary show the equipment that was ordered and of the very start of the Institution.

6.1.1767. The Commitee of the County of Antrim Infirmary met this day at the house of the Lord Bishop of Down and Connor in Lisburn. The Infirmary is to be opened with eight beds for the use of patients, one for the housekeeper, one for the nurses and one for the porter, making eleven in all.
8.1.1767. Ordered that Mr. Wolfington be desired to make ten pairs of blankets as soon as possible. He promises at the same time that he would clean them at any time when desired, and without fee or reward.
23.1.1767. Ordered that Mr. Morris should be desired to procure proposals for the making of the beds of the Infirmary. Mrs. Jones reported that she had fallen upon a method of procuring sheeting and checks for curtains of the beds at a very modest expense. Ordered that direction be given to provide:- 1 long deal table to be covered with green cloth for the parlour and Governor's room, with twelve rush bottom chairs and one elbow chair, and a grate of fire Irons - ½ doz. deal stools - 3 deal close stools with earthen pans - 4 bed pans-8 pewter chamber pots and 4 tin lamps for oil. 6 flat brass candlesticks with handles - 4 iron snuffers, 6 extinguishers and 6 pewter basins. 6 tin fenders, 4 deal tables with large drawer each, 4 sets of fire irons and 4 pieces of narrow floor matting, 3 large iron pots of different sizes and 3 small iron pots, a grid iron, 8 tin spitting boxes, 24 trenchers, 12 alchymy spoons, 12 knives and forks, 3 water' or washing tubs. Painters for painting the beds and white-smiths for making curtain rods. Straw for filling the beds. 1 doz. woollen nightcaps.

Lisburn was very fortunate in having such a hospital. It was founded a century before Miss Nightingale had improved the nursing standards, when most hospitals had sanded floors covered with filth, bedclothes rarely changed, certainly without sheets. There were verminous beds in large wards, patients were never washed, and no fresh air allowed. Wooden beds and straw mattresses were havens for germs and vermin.  

It was a much needed institution and served the town and district well, until on the twenty-ninth of December, 1773, the Committee were offered a larger house in "an airy part of town" belonging to Mr. Edward Gayer. This they accepted and the house in Seymour Street became the second COUNTY ANTRIM INFIRMARY.

The house in Bow Lane had served its purpose in establishing the first infirmary, but it was in many ways inconvenient with its narrow passages and many steps and rooms poorly illuminated. Imagine Bow Lane - a cobbled street with a rough stone pavement indistinguishable from the roadway, a stream running across it (the Bywash, now flowing in a culvert under the Ulster Bank, Bow Street and Chitticks Shop on its way to the Lagan). There were numerous little courts and alleys, crowded with people, dogs and cats. Horse-drawn carts rattled over the cobbles, street vendors shouted, the children played and shreiked - there was a town crier, and water was pumped from communal pumps until 1861. In 1766, the year before the Infirmary opened, on the 8th September "it was enacted the sum of £35 for buying oil lamps and oil to lighten the town of Lisburn from Rakestraws and Doctor Betty's at the end of Bow Lane to Brithwaites in Belfast Gate and to the Big Bridge inclusive". Whether the lighting was installed in time for the opening of the Infirmary is doubtful, as a great deal of argument ensued, and haggling over the expense.

Bow Lane was the noisy end of the town, in Castle Street the houses and pavements were more elegant, and the wider road let more light into the houses.

On the eleventh of May in 1774 lead pipes were installed in the new Infirmary to bring water to the now thriving Infirmary. A report said "It's object is to provide medicines or medical and surgical aid for the poor of the county, both male and female. This is effected in two ways, either by dispensing medicine or advice, or both to extern patients or by receiving them into the house when the case requires the immediate care and superintendence of the surgeon. The number of extern patients annually relieved amounts to, on an average, 850 with medicine, 400 with advice, and interns 290. The Infirmary is supported by private subscriptions and county presentments. Since its establishment it has done, and is doing an immense amount of good work".

One of the earliest surgeons was Dr. Dennis Kelly who died in 1777, another was Dr. Stewart, a well known physician, who was succeeded by Dr. William Thompson, who "for nigh on half a century" occupied the post of surgeon. He was followed by Dr. George St. George, an immensely popular man, who died not long after the First World War, and who was mentioned frequently and with affection in Christ Church records.

"In 1780 a Charitable Society was formed by the inhabitants of the town and parish of Lisburn, having by voluntary subscription raised a sum of money for the support of their poor, and being desirous that a body corporate should be formed for carrying their humane design into execution under proper regulations. The Earl of Hertford, Bishop of Down and Connor, the Seneshal of the town, its representatives in Parliament, the Rector, Curate and Church Wardens of the parish, and members of the congregation under the title of "The Presidents and Assistants of the Lisburn Charitable Society".

A description of Lisburn in 1800 says:- "At present it contains about 800 houses mostly built of brick, forming three good streets, at the junction of which stands a good Market House, with a Ball Room over it, where an assembly is held every fortnight".

"The trade of the town is very considerable both in the manufacturing of linen and cotton, and in the shopkeeping line. The streets are wide and well paved, and lighted with globe lamps at proper distances".

In 1828 the town first elected commissioners to look after the 'watching, lighting and cleansing of the town', and four nightwatchmen were appointed. In 1831 the population had risen to 5,745 people.

During 1813-1814 a visitor staying in Lisburn during a tour of Ireland wrote in an account of it: "There is also in this town a Philanthropic Society, which weekly distributes from six to ten pounds to the poor, raised by public contributions. The Infirmary of the County of Antrim is in this town, though on the very edge of the county, and I was informed that its being created in Lisburn was on account of the number of Quality in the town to help support it: but all I could find the Quality did for it, was their establishing a dancing assembly to be held every fortnight in the Market House, the profits accruing from which were to go to its support; but as the subscriptions for each individual were but one guinea a year, and none but Quality properly introduced were admitted as subscribers, there could not be much left for the Infirmary after paying for the music and tea for twenty-six assemblies.

Added to this is the Bishop's annual visitation of the clergy, which is always held in Lisburn, with a Ball held for their entertainment, admissions to which cost each person the sum of half a crown. To this were admitted all that could pay; of course the Quality seldom graced it with their presence. The profits of this Ball were frequently ten pounds or more, a sum much larger than the whole years produce of the Assembly; and these were the advantages of having the County Infirmary twenty miles distant from its centre".

This visitor took a very superficial view. Of all the catastrophes that beset the poor, sickness has always made the greatest appeal to philanthropy, and most of the people of Lisburn that were able tried to help.

The Hertford family had given land and money, and rarely turned down an appeal for help.

The Linen Manufacturers took an interest in their town and lived in and around it.

One of the first friends of the Infirmary was Mrs. Mary Jones, a lively French lady, whose father, Louis Roche was a friend of Louis Cromelin and who had come from Picardy with him to settle in Lisburn. Young Mademoiselle Roche fell in love with a Welsh gentleman, a Mr. Valentine Jones who although he was young had trading interests in the West Indies and a thriving wine merchant's business in Belfast. They were married and had five children and all taking an active interest in the affairs of the Infirmary. In 1779 a special vote of thanks was given to Mrs. Jones for her generous present of a silver chalice to be used in the Infirmary. She was told that they were happy to have it in memory of her noble work.

Another early benefactor was Mr. Edward Gayer, who was a son of M. Peter Gayer, of Picardy, a silk merchant who also came to the north of Ireland with Louis Cromelin. He acted as a clerk of the French Church in Castle Street, and had two sons, of whom Edward was the elder. Mr. Edward Gayer became a friend of John Wesley and gave the land on which the first Methodist Chapel was built.

Dr. Whiteford was a much loved doctor of whom was written (10) "he came unbidden to the poor man's bed". "This worthy gentleman fell a victim to his philanthropic labours in the course of mercy and charity. He died from the contagious effects of a most violent and contagious fever while in attendance on a poor female patient. Dr. Whiteford afforded one of the noblest and best examples of that devotion, heroism and disinterestedness, so characteristic and so extremely honourable to the medical profession. Whatever his religious opinions, he exemplified in his life that "A humane man is the noblest work of God".

There were numerous other benefactors who bequeathed money to the Infirmary. Some of them were - General Heron in 1807, the Rev. S. Cupples, rector of Lisburn (who left �100 for the poor of his Parish in January, 1820) and the Rev. John Carleton. The Bishop left �2,000 in trust, the interest to be given upon St. Thomas' Day every year 'amongst poor householders who are not common beggars'.


One growing problem now became a constant thorn in the side of the townspeople. The 'sturdy beggars' had been known in England far centuries travelling around in companies and terrifying the townsfolk. An Elizabethan poster was discovered in 1897 stating `that all persons calling themselves "schollars" going about begging, or using any subtle craft, or faining themselves to have a knowledge of palmistry or other crafty science, all common players of interludes, or peddlars, or minstrels, being persons able in body, and refusing to work, not having living otherwise to maintain themselves- Rogues and Vagabonds of every sort, are to be searched, punished and suppressed'. Their insanitary condition and wandering vagrant habits were considered fatal in spreading the plague.

More recently they had been found in Dublin and the larger Irish cities, but they now came north in increasing numbers and were thrusting themselves between those in real and deserving need of help and those in a position to give it. The beggars now however were not spreading anything. They were swelling a population that was soon to be engulfed in another pandemic - cholera.

As it had done before, pestilance followed malnutrition. (1)Europe had been relatively free of it until the seventeenth century. Previously it had confined its operations to a small area of India, but it now burst forth in five great pandemics, and reached countries which from the beginning of time, had been clear of it. It finally reached Ireland where it added to the miseries of the 'great hunger'.

The `Cholera' broke out in the Ganges Delta in 1817, amongst the dirty marshy jungles, and did not take long in reaching Calcutta. In due course it reached the army of the Ulster general, the Marquis of Hastings, and from there reached Persia and Bokhara in southern Russia, again a pestilence travelling the trade routes.

Cholera is an infection of the intestinal tract with an almost immediate onset. The extreme vomiting and typical diarrhoea cause intense dehydration, which is the real cause of death. Again flies and infected water are the main carriers. In 1832, however, this was not realized, several different reasons were given, and of course not enough precautions taken. In the minutes of the Armagh Poor Law Union is this entry:

"On Saturday last, a strong wind set in from the east of a keenly piercing nature. The wind blew directly from Belfast where cholera is now prevalent, and on the evening of that day a girl aged twelve years was suddenly attacked with malignant cholera, which proved fatal in fourteen hours".

During this period the wind continued in the same point, and on its shifting towards the west there was an evident decline in the virulence of the malady. The rapid and almost instantaneous manner in which many persons were seized in all parts of the house who were entirely separate from each other, proves unquestionably the power of cholera was carried by the atmosphere, and that disease on this occasion was not propagated by contagion".


The year 1832 brought the first cholera epidemic, that was to last spasmodically throughout the century, and which, through necessity was responsible for the building of several hospitals, the first being the Fever Hospital (where the Medical Block now stands and still in use) in 1832-1833. Henry Bayley wrote in 1834 "This is a fine brick building on an elevated site contiguous to the Dublin Road, and forms a pleasing ornament to the entrance of the town. This charitable institution for the reception of poor patients was built by subscription at a cost of E600. The grounds were the gift of the Marquis of Hertford who also, with his usual liberality gave �250 towards its erection.


Bayley also reports a Cholera Hospital `standing in an airy place on the N.W. side of the town which was erected at the cost of Lord Hertford in the year 1832, when cholera was committing such dreadful ravages over the country'. This hospital was in Antrim Road, its gable to the road, where a block of flats now stands (also with its gable to the road). It was a necessary practice in many towns to take over houses as emergency hospitals. Bayley goes on to say `On the occasion of this awful visitation the usual kindness and paternal watchfulness of the Marquis of Hertford were particularly evinced. His Lordship, without any application on the subject gave directions that no expense should be spared in adopting every precautionary measure against its attacks, that preventative medicines, blankets, warm clothing and other necessary articles should be distributed throughout the whole estate, and hospitals built wherever needed, entirely at his sole cost'.

There was help also from other quarters. The ladies of Lisburn formed an institution for lending bed linen to the sick poor to assist them in seasons of distress (and the ladies of modern Lisburn show the same spirit with their many committees for The Save the Children, Cancer Research, etc. and even a shop for War on Want).

Help also came from America, In 1818 young Mr. Alexander Stewart borrowed fifty pounds from his inheritance and left Lisburn with the consent of his guardian, to seek his fortune in America. This he found through the dry goods trade, and in 1825 married the daughter of a wealthy Ship's Chandler in New York. When the famine struck his home town he chartered a ship at his own expense, filled her with provisions and despatched her across the Atlantic to relieve the starving poor of Lisburn. On her return she carried about 120 emigrants, for whom he provided until they found employment.

Sir George Nicholls travelling in Ireland in 1836 to make a report of conditions wrote:- "It has frequently been asserted . . . that in the north the necessity of relieving the destitute is there admitted and in most northern towns of any note there is a kind of voluntary poor law established . . . I found provisions made for relieving destitution, and the principle virtually recognised that it is the duty of a civilised community to protect its members from perishing by want".

"The extent of poverty is there less than in the south, there is this difference however. In the south and west the destitute depend for support on the class immediately above them, the small collars and cultivators, but in the north the sympathy existing between the different ranks of society, between the opulent and the needy, has led to the making of some provision for the relief of the latter class. But the charge is unequal, and the relief partial and inefficient".

The first Board of Health was set up in Ireland in 1818 but had little effect, as there was no co-ordination with the dispensaries, such as the one in operation at the County Infirmary, in Hillsborough, and in surrounding districts. In 1838 the Poor relief Act was passed, which established a workhouse system with 130 Union District administered by a Board of Guardians, one Guardian represented each townland, and there were three for Lisburn, to try to eliminate the extreme poverty, and give some help to the poor. The Act did not come into full operation until 1845, the year in which the famine started (11) The coincidence of the Famine and destitution being relieved in the newly established workhouses did nothing to popularise them. The workhouses everywhere were overcrowded and underventilated and infectious diseases piled further misery on the paupers, who without the food and shelter they provided, would almost certainly have perished.

THE WORKHOUSE in Lisburn was situated where the Lagan Valley Hospital now stands, and part of it is still in use. The Hospital has been changed and modernised but parts of the original fabric are still there. Two hundred and fifty people were admitted to 250 straw mattressed beds. On admission the inmates were given a bath, their verminous clothes replaced by clean ones, and they were given a pair of wooden clogs. All who were admitted had to work for their keep. During the winter the workhouse was more heavily patronised than in the summer. There are people now living in surrounding districts who still remember the 'beggars' sleeping under haystacks sometimes in groups of twenty or more. They were very rough fierce characters who terrified the country people, as they trudged from one workhouse to another.

The Master of the Workhouse must have been a disciplinarian to handle men and women of this calibre. Some were tired and docile, others not so easy to live with. There was a padded cell for 'lunatics' but it was frequently used in the latter days for 'drunks' also. They would receive little sympathy. The general idea that poverty was a sign of moral failing was widespread, and only after an article published in 1824 which held that poverty was frequently caused by disease, which could be eradicated if improvements were made in sanitary condition, did people begin to question this belief.

It was also noticed that (11) the increasing desire which has lately been manifested by the working classes in general to avail themselves of bathing; this important means of contributing to health as well as cleanliness is not yet shared by those who inhabit workhouses.

The cleanliness of workhouses was also in question. The method of cleaning was sometimes not the best. It was the custom to whitewash the walls twice a year, probably over the existing dirt. In the sick ward, dry cleaning was advised. "Dry rubbing is the only mode proper for employment in wards devoted to cholera, where a dry as well as a warm atmosphere is essential". The standard of nursing needed to be improved. Each sick ward had a nurse in charge of pauper nurses, who were paid one shilling and sixpence a week, sometimes two shillings.

The constant anxiety with which the reappearance of cholera was regarded arose principally from the prevalent opinion that it was a sudden and uncontrollable malady neither to be prevented nor remedied and in 1845 and 1846 it reappeared. A characteristic of the disease was that patients did not report its onset and neglected early treatment, and reports from various doctors remarking on this are interesting. "If asked if anyone in the house was ill, the invariable answer was "No, but my husband (or child) has got a bowel complaint". One reason for this apathy consists in the belief of the poor that everything of this kind will work itself off, this belief probably arising from the frequency of diarrhoea among them. No alarm is taken until it is loo late. One eminent physician who was fully aware of the necessity of early treatment and danger of delay permitted a slight attack of diarrhoea to progress unchecked, and did not even think it needful to go to bed, until a sudden and fatal collapse put a period to his existence. Another doctor 'attributes this extraordinary indifference in part at least to the physical and mental apathy, produced by the operation of the poison of the disease'.

One of the most surprising features of the Poor Law administration generally(9) was the failure to link destitution with public health. Paupers in the workhouse only received attention from higher authorities when epidemics broke out. Diphtheria, cholera, typhus and tuberculosis were frequent causes of death. The Master and Nurse were often overworked and frequently contracted the fever of the patients. The children suffered from rickets and vitamin deficiency.

In 1897 pauper nursing of the sick was forbidden and in time the Workhouse Hospital became the most efficient part of the Workhouse, in spite of the fact that the workhouse doctor was badly paid, conditions of work were appalling and there was no prospect of a pension.

There was also developing the theory that prevention is better than cure. In 1819-1870 is was discussed "how far it may be desirable from a sanitary or social point of view to extend gratuitous Medical Relief beyond the actual pauper class to the poorer classes generally.


A new approach to medical care had begun. The era of blaming evil spirits had passed to the theory of the four burnouts which had given way to the evidence seen in the microscope. It was not until the nineteenth century when man for the first time could see 'germs' and identify microbes with disease that a realistic approach to sickness began. Looking back it is difficult to imagine sickness without effective relief when today we have almost instant relief from pain and no real dread of poverty. But this has come about remarkably in one lifetime.

At the beginning of the recognition of 'germs producing disease' there were no adequate ways of destroying them. The patient relied on his own natural ability to create his own antibodies and although good nursing counted, and still does, the advent of antibodies really revolutionised the cure of the sick. The powers of medicine gave relief from pain and suffering and helped to prolong life. Lisburn has a good record for the care of the sick and poor:

In 1767 

it opened its first hospital in Bow Lane, and continued in Seymour Street (at first called Castle Street). In the Parliamentary Gazette of 1864 it states "the Co. Antrim Infirmary situated at Lisburn was not originally
intended for a hospital, but has been admirably adapted for the purpose, and is now a very healthy well managed and efficient institution. Though the house is capable of containing 50 beds, it is greatly too small to, serve for the county; the governors have been obliged by the scarcity of funds to reduce the number of beds to 30. In 1839 the Infirmary received £71. 17s. 1d from subscriptions; £589. 1s. 10d. from public grants and £5l. 3s. 4d. from other sources. If expended £181. 16s. 11d. in salaries to medical officers, £67. 11s. 3½d. for medicines and £739. 8s. 1½d. for contingencies and it admitted 512 intern patients and had recommended to it 1,716 extern patients".

In 1826

the first Almshouse was built for four widows, with four apartments on the corner of Belsize Road, said to have been built by a member of the Traill family. Another Almshouse for eight poor widows was built by the Marquis of Hertford in 1832 near the Methodist Church and Forthill School, and placed under the care of the Cathedral clergy. Both Almshouses are now dismantled.

In 1839

the Fever Hospital was still in use. The Parliamentary Gazeteer stated 'It is a well managed institution supported partly by subscription, but chiefly by assessment levied off the Manor of Lisburn - the property of the Marquis of Hertford, and in 1839 it received £342. 12s. 3½d.'

In 1862

Rosevale House was founded by Miss Moore of Warren Cottage as a home of rescue for women, who founded a laundry, and became self supporting. In 1914 the house was still in use, as a notice appeared in the Lisburn Standard saying 'the Lady Superintendent begs to thank all those kind friends who so kindly gave the girls at Rosevale House a pleasant evening at Hallowe'en. Although Rosevale House is often forgotten, it does quiet and unobtrusive work amongst the unfortunate ones. Will kind-hearted people please remember the nights are cold'.

In 1882

saw Miss Helen Pimm using a house in Bachelor's Walk as a base for her Young Womens Help Society, and an Iron Hall behind it. In 1892 this Society became affiliated with the Y. W.C.A.

In 1885

the Thompson Memorial Home was built in memory of Dr. William Thompson, who met his untimely death on the crossing at Dunmurry, by his widow and daughter Mrs. Jane Bruce. It was to be a home for people with an incurable disease and as Thompson House continues to give help to the disabled under the care of the Welfare Service.

In 1899

at the time of the Boer War 1899-1903 Lisburn had formed classes in the Assembly Rooms every Thursday to impart knowledge concerning first aid to the wounded, home nursing and hygiene. Two Lisburn doctors, Dr. St. George and Dr. Rentoul gave instructions to the enthusiasts who attended. Dr. St. George had succeeded Dr. Thompson as surgeon at the Co. Antrim Infirmary.

In 1903

a lecture was reported in the Lisburn Standard given on the 10th January under the heading "Food Dangers" at the meeting of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association. It dealt with a case of ptomaine poisoning from a tainted pork pie, and the increase of appendicitis in connection with the care of the teeth which it said was the beginning of worldly wisdom, for good digestion waited not only on appetite but mastication!

In 1918 

a meeting was held in November to request the use of a room in the Technical College for a dental clinic to be held. This was achieved on 28th November.
The local paper has many interesting advertisements at this time, such as "Painless Dentistry. John Tate, 42a Bow Street. Single sets from £2. l0s., fillings 5s. 10d. Consulation free. Fares paid to Lisburn - Weary Women Workers will derive help from Beechams Pills - Persistent coughing causes strain and weakness of the lungs and bronchial tubes making an easy road for Bronchitis, throat trouble and the dreaded Consumption. Safeguard yourself by taking Chambers Compound Essence of Linseed at the Central Pharmacy, 45-47 Market Street Lisburn".

The diseases suffered now had more familiar names. In the monthly report of notifiable diseases in Lisburn were the following - 2 cases of tuberculosis, 2 pneumonia, 2 bronchitis, 1 case of diphtheria, enteric fever, whooping cough influenza, cancer and one of infantile diarrhoea. This latter was a dreaded disease of babies until at least the beginning of the 1939 War. In summer when flies were numerous and milk delivered in cans into which a ladle was dipped, it was a common cause of' summer diarrhoea' especially when babies were in the habit of sucking 'dummies'.

In 1919

the last great dramatic epidemic occurred. Influenza was first recognised in Siberia, and a mild epidemic had occurred in Belfast in January 1890 with few fatalities, but in 1919 it is believed a stronger virus appeared which was complicated by an unpleasant form of pneumonia. (1) There are many strains and vaccination against one is no protection against another.

In 1922

The quarterly return gave the extra disease of erysipelas, scarlet fever, puerperal fever, ophthalmic and cerebrospinal fever. There had been no typhus or smallpox since 1920. There are noted decreases in influenza, diarrhocal diseases of children, measles, pneumonia, whooping cough, diphtheria and scarlet fever. Tuberculosis was more rare, but cancer, apoplexy, bronchitis and heart disease were on a steady increase.

In 1922

the Lisburn Poor House became the LISBURN AND HILLSBOROUGH DISTRICT HOSPITAL, and with the use of the hospital by the sick poor and sometimes not so poor, the stigma of pauperism left the Hospital.(9) The Inspection System formed to keep the better standards of the workhouses led the way to better hospitals generally and the problems of sickness, old age, unemployment, health, housing and destitution began to be viewed as a whole.

In 1933

a notice in Lambeg Parish Magazine said "Mrs. A. M. Barbour's interest in the sick and poor, and every worthy object is known far and wide. It is owing to her generosity that a District Nurse has been provided with a residence at Hilden. The Barbour family have also given generously to the Co. Antrim Infirmary both in money and equipment. An X-ray machine and new lockers of the latest design were given, as well as many donations (including one from Mrs. E. Barbour for £1,000)".

In 1947

the Lisburn and Hillsborough District Hospital became the LAGAN VALLEY HOSPITAL at a ceremony at which Mr. Adrian Robinson, later the Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs was present. The Matron, Miss Pearson, was succeeded in 1951 by Miss B. J. Miller, O.B.E., who was mainly responsible for the founding of a training school for State Enrolled Nurses there. In Miss Miller's time the new buildings in the Medical Block (Medical III and the Cardiac Unit) and the New Surgical Wards, Theatres, Outpatients and Casualty Departments were built. A new geriatric block has been added and the Midwifery and Gynaecological Wards are modern inside their old shell.

Several Satellite Hospitals also serve the area. The Rev. Canon Stewart bequeathed Killowen House for use as a branch of the Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Belfast, and it now continues as a physiatric and geriatric unit.

The Manor House Home is a Church of Ireland sponsored Home for Children needing care, from broken homes, battered babies, orphans with no apparent guardian. Some support is given by the Welfare Authorities, but most apparent from local sources, such as church collections and much help from the Orange Order. There is also a Children's Home in Hilden, the Glenmore House.

Mrs. Lindsay bequeathed Lissue House as a Hospital for Children. It is now under the control of the new Medical Centre and is used for children needing Child Psychiatry.

The Dower House in Hillsborough formerly belonged to the Marquis of Downshire, and after being occupied by several successive families, has now become Kilwarlin House, a home for the aged.

Seymour House, Dunmurry and Drumlough House in Lisburn are both homes for the elderly and infirm also Warren House in Warren Gardens and a Special Care School in Wallace Avenue.

The County Antrim Infirmary continued to function as a useful hospital until recent times, and gradually the acute cases moved to the Lagan Valley Hospital until by degrees it was completely given over to the use of geriatric cases. In 1972 because of the risk of fire in the old building, lack of fire escapes, and means of easy evacuation of the elderly patients, it was condemned as a residence, and the patients moved to the geriatric wards of the Lagan Valley Hospital.

The old building is still in use however, as a workshop, with good modern equipment for carpentry etc. If is used by the Welfare Authority in Wallace Avenue as a Day Centre, where they also hold classes, another worthwhile enterprise. A family planning clinic also uses the old building.

In 1977 the Health Centre was built on the ground where once small homes had stood for hundreds of years behind Bridge Street. It has replaced the scattered group practices, which in turn replaced the family doctor, who in turn was long ago an apothecary. It is the Centre of Administration of all Medical and Welfare services in the Lisburn Area which is in the Eastern District of Northern Ireland Health Services. There are four districts altogether.

The Lagan Valley Hospital is now, officially at least, the Medical Unit of the Lisburn District.

Our way of life has changed also, though some things may revert to their former pattern, and the population will begin to propel themselves by walking and cycling, instead of sitting in a car. In times past, men ate fat (such as fatty pork, bacon and butter) but not so many carbohydrates. Modern man has developed a sweet tooth, which has not helped the state of his arteries, nor smoking the state of his lungs.

Health has been defined as "wholeness or soundness of body". Wealth has been written of as "those things which are transferable or limited in supply". The healthy take for granted their good health and although hospitals have not greatly changed, but are more efficient and streamlined, kindness still permeates them and goodness in them can be sensed.

But the world is becoming more crowded and with rapid transport a series of disasters could still face us. It is something to be thankful for that the Health and Wealth of Lisburn is there to be used.


  1. Pomp and Pestilence. Professor Ronald Hare.
  2. Medicine and Ancient Erin. Henry S. Wellcome. 1903.
  3. History of Medicine in Ireland. John Fleetwood, M.B., D.Ph.
  4. Hayes Index.
  5. Plague and Disease. Paul Slack.
  6. Lisburn Cathedral Records.
  7. On Diseases Prevalent in Ireland 1693. James Buckley.
  8. Rev. Storey, a Chaplain to the Duke of Schomberg.
  9. Social and Economic History of Britain 1760-1972. Pauline Gregg.
  10. Henry Bayly.
  11. Infectious Diseases British Parliamentary Papers.
  12. Lisburn Standard.

Thanks to Mr. Trevor Neill, Dr. John Best and Mrs. Munn of the Public Records Office.



THE GREATEST COLLECTOR, by Donald Mallett. Macmillan, £8.95.

No town in Ireland today can surely still provide so many reminders of its one-time landlords as does Lisburn in Co. Antrim.

It has Seymour Street and Seymour Hill, Conway Street and the Conway Hotel, a pub called the Hertford Arms, and there is the Hertford Roundabout on the Ml. There is Wallace Park, Wallace Avenue and Wallace High School. In the park, the town Cricket Club plays its matches in a ground bounded by four stone pillars bearing the initials "RW"

All these names commemorate one family. They stem from Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and brother of Henry VIII's Jane. By the 17th Century they were Seymour-Conways and the owners of large estates around Lisburn. In the 18th century one of them became Earl of Hertford, later the first Marquess of Hertford.

In the late 19th century the estates in Co. Antrim, along with a vast fortune and one of the most valuable private art collections ever to be amassed, were bequeathed by the 4th Marquess to his illegitimate son, Richard Wallace. Wallace's own widow left the collection to the British nation, and today it is the Wallace Collection on view in Hertford House in Manchester Square, not far from London's Oxford Street - the house that Wallace himself lived in and that had been one of the Hertford London homes. Though only a portion of the original Hertford collection, it is described as the finest single collection of 18th century French painting, furniture, porcelain and objets d'art.

The great collector of Mr. Mallet's fine book is not Wallace, but his father, the 4th Marquess, who was born in 1800 and who died in Paris in 1870 with France at war with Germany and the capital itself under threat. But for almost 30 years, Wallace, who had been brought up in Paris by Lord Hertford's mother, had acted as secretary and accountant to his father- he was known as "cher neveu" -and had been association in the great era of the expansion of the Hertford treasure store of all manner of objets d'art.

Wallace, his father, Lord Hertford, and Lord Hertford's mother, Mie Mie, wife of the 3rd Marquess, are the three most remarkable characters in a story peopled with a bewildering array of eccentrics. Mie Mie was the illegitimate daughter of the Lord Queensberry and an Italian dancer, and her marriage to the Hertford Heir in 1798 did not please the then Marquess.

The marriage was no success. Mie Mie took advantage of the Peace of Amiens in 1802 to persuade her husband to move to Paris with their two children. In fact, she never left France, remaining there through the resumed Napoleonic Wars and indeed a lot more, until her death in 1856.

The boy who was to be the 4th Marquess spent at least the first 16 years of his life in France and remained devoted to his mother. In 1824, he brought to her a six-year old boy, called Richard Jackson, and asked her to bring him up. This was his own illegitimate son, who later changed his name to Wallace. Mie Mie did indeed bring up the young Richard, and he lived with her until her death.

(A child born in wedlock was an exception in the Hertford-Wallace connection. Richard Wallace's own son, Edmund, was 34 when his father married his mother. Edmund himself had four children, but never married, drawing from his father the remark, "Mon Dieu, est-ce qua nous n'aurous jamais fini de batards?"

The Hertford passion for collecting works of art had already shown itself in the 3rd Marquess, but it was his son who expressed it fully. Mr. Mallett records that he bought his first painting at public auction in Paris in 1841, and from then on devoted himself and his fortune to collecting.

The fortune came to him in 1842, when his father died and he became the 4th Marquess. His buying was prolific; in one two-month spell in 1865 he bought 34 pictures at a cost of almost one million francs. (Annoying Mr. Mallett gives no indication of the value of the franc). Included in this lot was Frans Hale's "Laughing Cavalier", the most famous painting of the Wallace Collection.

But Lord Hertford was not just a very wealthy man spending recklessly. He bought only with the utmost care and discretion. Nor was his an investor. He bought only those pictures he found "pleasing", often refusing to purchase works he recognised as masterpieces because the subject matter did not please him. Portraits of old men, for instance, were out.

As he became more recluse himself, the rapidly growing great collection was equally recluse. Many of the acquisitions were seen by no one, not even the Marquess. In all the collecting, Richard Wallace was the right-hand man. And Paris was the base, though the works of art spread over several Hertford Houses in both Paris and London.

All this was very remote from Lisburn and the Antrim estates, except in one particular. The Hertfords had no house in Lisburn. The 3rd Marquess never visited the estates, and the 4th Marquess went there only once. It was Wallace who built the house that is now part of the Technical College in Lisburn and who returned in some small part the riches he had received from the estate tenants. For the one real connection between Lisburn and the Hertford-Wallace collection was that the tenants around Lisburn paid for it. The Hertford income from these estates was reckoned at £60,000 a year in 1841, the main plank in the family fortune.

Wallace, later Sir Richard, first came to Lisburn in 1871, when he had to fight the Hertford claim to the estates - the 4th Marquess's will was disputed - at the Antrim Assizes. Though he built his house and sat at Westminster for the Borough of Lisburn, he did not live there and did not settle permanently in London. He returned to Paris and died there in 1890.

Paris had been his real home. During the siege in 1870 he had become a public hero through his philanthropy. One of the balloons sent out of the beleagured capital was called Richard Wallace. His memorial there today is an avenue named after him and "Les Wallaces", the ornamental drinking fountains, 50 of which he presented to the city. Identical fountains still stand in Lisburn's Wallace Park and Castle Gardens.

Mr. Mallett's concern is the Collection, and the way it was assembled, and, in part, dispersed, the manner of persons involved, their tastes. But he has also produced a fascinating tale of an eccentric English aristocratic family, in part preferring Paris to London, pursuing art with great dedication, while leading the most confused and odd private lives.