Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Lifford Community Hospital: Over the Years

In February 2010 rumours surfaced that Lifford Hospital, the oldest hospital in County Donegal, was facing possible closure. This came as a shock to the community as it was sudden and unforeseen. There has been always been a strong community involvement with the hospital over the years. The hospital is considered the heart of the community, and many local people have had dealings with the hospital and have many memories of time spent there. This has led the Lifford hub of the History Links Project to collect and compile historical information about the hospital since its creation to the present day. The hospital today provides a convalescent and respite service. It also provides physiotherapy and chiropodist services. It also houses a Chapel of Rest. The hospital sits in the heart of the town by the River Foyle, near the surgery.








The hospital first opened in 1773 and took five years to set up. It was originally located behind the old courthouse in a place called the Barrack Yard, just off the town centre. It was a twelve bed hospital and Mr. William Hamilton from Strabane was the first surgeon, but he likely worked in the general area as well as the hospital. It was highly efficient and well used and one local M.P. claimed that more people attended and it was better run than the Omagh hospital.
In 1780 a long period of negotiations began, to take over the old cavalry barracks and stables in Lifford. Due to political difficulties and troubled times this process took over 20 years, and the first patient was received in 1799, one year after the rebellion.
The hospital first encountered difficulties in 1836 when major repairs were desperately needed, and there was a looming threat of the hospital services being moved to nearby Letterkenny. The hospital was now evidently in trouble. However in 1838 the Workhouse Act allowed for
additional hospitals to be built to provide support for local Workhouses, and in 1840 it was clear that Lifford was the only institution that could provide the much needed services to treat workhouse patients, therefore its survival was assured for the time being. However problems arose again in 1879, with the inadequate use of the hospital being questioned. Rumours once again arose that the hospital could be moved to the old Lifford jail, and a resident surgeon could be installed. A man named Dr. Little was asked to draw up plans in accordance with requirements. However, difficulties ensued following arguments that the infirmary should be moved entirely to Letterkenny, resulting in the eventual collapse of the new hospital plans and the infirmary remaining in its present location. However, a much needed cash injection in 1884/1886 meant renovation work was carried out, including upgraded resources and improvements to the operating facilities.
In the early 1900s the hospital was functioning at full strength and was serving the local community, and its surgery and maternity services were in practice regularly. On average 400 patients were admitted yearly, and around 350 operations were also carried out each year. However, in 1932 another dispute arose to close Lifford hospital, but once again the hospital survived. Many different doctors came and went during this period, including Dr. Weir, Dr. Kerrigan, Dr. Bannigan and Dr. Coyne. Many of the local people have fond memories of being
visited and treated by these doctors. One of the biggest struggles Lifford Hospital faced was with the opening of the new hospital in Letterkenny in 1961. However the local people strongly objected to the possible closure of Lifford Hospital and led by local man Jim (Scranny) Fields, were eventually successful in allowing the hospital to remain open.
Today the hospital still remains open but there is a planned closure by the HSE due to maintenance costs. On the 23rd of May 2010, there was a protest rally organised in Lifford to keep the hospital open. The future of the hospital remains as of yet uncertain, but it is clear that over the years it has had a huge impact on the development of Lifford and the surrounding areas, and its closure would be strongly resisted and its services will certainly be missed.

HSE- Health Services Executive.

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