The Dublin Lock Hospital: Medicine, Morality, Disease and Sin

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Anecdotal evidence has it that when Dublin’s venereal disease hospital closed its doors for the last time in the 1950s, its administrative staff began to burn its records, starting with the most recent. This attempt to conceal the results of sexual profligacy is perhaps understandable in the rarefied climate of mid-century Catholic Ireland. However, the sense of shame attached to this institution has been pervasive. For example, of all Dublin’s major hospitals, the lock hospital remains the only one without a dedicated history. And, throughout its two centuries of existence, the ‘lock’ had often been a site of controversy and approbation.

    The institution began in the eighteenth century as the most peripatetic, poor relation of the city’s voluntary hospitals, wandering indiscriminately through a series of temporary premises before finally achieving a permanent home and official recognition as a military-sponsored medical hospital in 1792. It also gained architectural extensions by both Richard and Francis Johnston and in the following decades. This new-found status and a growing re-conceptualisation of venereal disease as a legitimate medical problem rather than a matter of morality was, however, somewhat compromised by the choice of site at Townsend Street. The institution occupied a hidden part of city, appropriating the vacated home of the Hospital for Incurables, another marginalised group whose presence in the city had been viewed through the lens of superstition and fear. For the rest of its existence, the lock hospital would share this experience occupying a nebulous position between medicine and morality; disease and sin.

    Using what’s left of the hospital’s records and a series of original architectural drawings, this paper discusses the presence and role of the lock hospital in the city in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, tracking how changes in its administration and architectural form reflected wider attitudes towards disease, sexuality and gender in Georgian Dublin.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages10
    Publication statusPublished - May 2006
    EventBare Bones of a Fanlight: Georgian Dublin - University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
    Duration: 05 May 200606 May 2006


    ConferenceBare Bones of a Fanlight: Georgian Dublin

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