In 1720 it was known as something completely different, The North Infirmary Hospital, the first general hospital to be opened in Cork. Originally it had accommodation for 24 patients and was 70 feet long by 24 feet wide and mainly gave basic medical services to the poor people in the city, with the majority of patients being Catholic.
It was not an easy ride for the hospital. It was funded by donations but with the cities ongoing population growth and the development of the northern suburbs, The Infirmary was under pressure for money and space.
The North Infirmary was caught up one way or another in Irelands political upheaval. There was the First World War, the 1916 Rising, the tragic deaths of the cities two Lord mayors, the burning of the city centre, The War of Independence, The Civil War and the Second World War. A 5 o’clock curfew was vigorously enforced and if you broke it, you were shot. They were exciting but dangerously traumatic times in Cork. Wounded volunteers were often brought in the hospital backdoor and secretly treated before being released again.
In the early 80’s there were talks about the hospital’s future. The Irish Government was sending out daily reminders to tighten their belts and that health cuts were on the way. There was mounting speculation that several hospitals were to close. There was disbelief when it was discovered that the North Infirmary was among them. It was unthinkable that the only hospital in the vast Northside was to close.
On May 12th 1987, 5,000 staff from 14 hospitals in the county marched through Cork in protest at the cutbacks. Still the Irish Government stubbornly refused funds to upgrade the hospital.
At precisely 4.46pm on the 26th November 1987, the North Infirmary passed into the realms of memory as the nearby Butter Exchange Band and Shandon Bells played a duet of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ 2,000 people, each with a lighted candle, looked on as the lights were slowly switched off from the top to the ground floor.