By Con Costello
by train from Dublin to Kildare in September 1867 a journalist from the Pall
Mall Gazette from London described his route as being “past much squalor
that seemed less to lie upon the earth, in the shape of wretched huts of
poverty and idleness, than to be born out of it naturally, as toadstools are”.
So little impressed was the visitor with the town of Kildare, which he believed
to be the county town, that he remarked “one may be permitted to withhold from
it the all-sufficing designation”.
At the railway station “carmen were rampant - great industry of tongue among them, and much ingenuity of speech. ‘Bedad, sir’, said one of them with a snatch at my luggage. ‘I’m the man to match ye! Ye’re in luck today, sor, indade. The mare I’m driving is the celebrated Scottish Queen, no less! own sister to Achaivement, and the best blood in Ireland. And where’ll I be driving yer hanner? Imperial Hotel? I’ll make no mistake, sir, seem’ there’s no other but one, and that’s a clubhouse”. And so I go to the Imperial Hotel, where the guest proposes and host disposes. “Foive, did ye say? It’s no dinner ye’ll be gettin’ at foive, sir, nor no baife either; it’s mutton ye’ll have”. And you have mutton at four. At least I did, or at any other hour when the table cloth happened to be disengaged. But then, how do I know? More honourable guests than myself may have been there, and it was necessary for me to look rough and sink all fastidiousness because my business was with people [he had come to investigate reports of prostitution in the vicinity of the army camp] with whom a gentleman is never seen".
when the gentleman asked his carman to take him on a tour of the great open
plain of the Curragh, he found that “the air is strong; an easterly wind was
blowing, but with undulations here and there, and broken by mounds and raths,
stretching along for a considerable distance and at a height at least
distinguishable. The turf is soft and elastic everywhere. Sheep browse upon it;
and there you may see the Irish shepherd, idler than anybody else in his green
isle, and the Irish shepherdess (0 Arcadia!) flustering her rags out of their
natural repose in an attempt to separate the sheep marked this way from the
sheep marked that. That she might have been a beauty you see well, because her
head, with its abundant locks, is bare, and so her well-shapen legs; but she
isn’t — the chance was lost long ago.
The Scottish Queen bowls along. There
are good roads from Kildare to the camp, and from time to time we meet cars upon
them containing well-buttoned military men. Other military men are seen, in ones
and twos and threes, lounging in one direction; they show in moving patches of
red amongst the dark-green masses of furze.
a somewhat aimless way we came to a series of block huts, extending for two
miles, perhaps, on either side of the road. Here and there a few groups of
soldiers were seen lounging listlessly, or engaged in some athletic sport. Jimmy
pointed out each object of interest as we drove along. ‘And that’s the
Catholic chapel, your hanner. And that’s the Protestan’ church ... And this is Donnelly’s
Hollow (strewed with many canvas tents) where the fight was! Hould the mare
sir! hould Scottish Queen, and bedad,
I’ll show ye where Cooper stood, and where Donnelly stood - well I know the futmarks ov’em’.
would Jimmy be denied. Fortunately, the Scottish
Queen restrained the fiery impulses of her blood, and stood like any
cart-horse still while Jimmy planted himself in Donnelly’s footmarks, and
tried to satisfy the 4ast object of my journey by putting himself in a fighting
attitude on that heroic spot’,.
It was almost dusk when, as they drove close to a patch of furze, the first wren” was seen, and the driver exclaimed: “and there’s a nest”. The visitor found that there were ten “nests” in all, accommodating about sixty women aged between 17 and 25, some of whom had been there for up to nine years. Located in a clump of furze, and known by a number given to it by the inmates - who numbered from 3 to 8, each nest consisted of a shelter measuring some 9’x7’ and 4’/2’ high, made of sods and gorse. With a low door, and no window or chimney, and with an earthen floor, the “nest” had for furniture a shelf to hold a teapot, crockery, a candle, and a box in which the women kept their few possessions. Upturned saucepans were used as stools, and the straw for bedding was pushed to one side during the day. At night the fire within the shelter was covered with a perforated pot, and the women undressed to sleep in the straw. In summertime the “nests” gave some shelter, but in winter the wind whistled through them.
women, who were all Irish, came from different parts of the country. Some of
them had followed a soldier from another station, others came to seek a former
lover, while the majority sought to make a livelihood. They lived, received
their families, gave birth and died in the “nests”. Their clothing consisted
of a frieze skirt with nothing on top except another frieze around the
shoulders. In the evenings when the younger women went to meet the soldiers, in
the uninhabited gorse patches, they dressed up in crinolines, petticoats and
shoes and stockings. The older women remained behind to mind the children, of
whom the visitor counted four, and to prepare food. All the takings of a
“nest” were pooled, and the diet of potatoes, bread and milk was purchased
on the few days when the women were allowed to attend the market in the camp.
Otherwise it was out-of-bounds, but an army water-waggon brought them in a
regular supply. While the hospital in the camp catered for soldiers, and where
it was estimated between 38070 and 5007o of the patients suffered from VD, there
was no medical aid for the women except in Kildare infirmary, or Naas workhouse
and jail. Doctors did not come to the “nests”. The gentleman from the Pall
Mall Gazette decided that, contrary to popular opinion, the women did not
live in the furze because they loved vice. They were there because it was known
that those who sought refuge in the workhouse at Naas lived in even worse
his visit to Kildare, the English journalist published a harrowing description
of the condition of the women and, in the following year, when the Curragh
of Kildare Act was passed it enabled the authorities to take action to
regulate the use of the plains.
positive attempt was made to alleviate the suffering of the women in the
building of the Lock Hospital at Kildare. The name Lock is believed to have been
derived from an old Lepers’ Hospital in London. It was later applied to
institutions for the treatment of venereal diseases, such as that in George’s
Lane in Dublin.
the summer of 1868, on a 1½-acre site leased forever from the Duke of Leinster
on the lands of Broadhook farm on the road from the town to the Curragh work
began on the building of the hospital. It was estimated that the project would cost £6,048 and the
accepted tender was for £5,200; in
July of the following year when the work was completed the total cost was found
to be £6,105.1 .0. Very soon the main road, from which the new 320 foot avenue
to the hospital opened, was to become known as Hospital Road.
hospital consisted of a group of one-storey slated buildings, linked with
corrugated-iron roofed corridors, with a separate wash-house and laundry, a
water tank, a dead house and coal sheds. A sewerage pit was made some distance
two wards, to accommodate 20 and 16 beds, the matron’s quarters, medical
stores, examining depot, segregation building, porter’s quarters and
policeman~ s waiting room were built of Athy brick. Part of the segregation
building was adapted for use as a Roman Catholic chapel. The lighting of the
buildings was by oil. Two outdoor recreation areas were laid out, and there was
an appropriate number of baths and toilets attached to the wards. The plans for
the hospital were made by the School of Military Engineering at Chatham for
the War Department, and to administer the institution a staff consisting of a
matron, three nurses, a steward and a porter were appointed. After twenty years
of use the Lock Hospital was closed and the buildings remained in the ownership
of the War Department.
At the end of the 19th century it was decided to erect an artillery barrack on a large site around the buildings of the hospital which was converted to recreational rooms, an office for the commanding officer and stores. About 150 huts, to serve as billets, etc., were put up, and a large range of wagon sheds, stables and ancillary buildings built.