Cushendall Cottage Hospital 1885 by Helen McAlister

This article first appeared in The Glynns Volume 8 (1980).  It is re-presented here with additional photographs and hyperlinks.


full clipping cushendall cottage hospital (2)

                    Larne Times 5th June 1915




1885 Dr. John W. Fogarty

1903 Dr. Michael John O’Kane

1929 Dr. Alex J. McSparran

1973 Dr. John G. McSparran


1885 Sister Katherine McDonnell.

1906 Sister Harriet Ward.

1916 Sister Emily Henderson, Miss Frazer.

1942 Miss Ramsey.

1959 Miss McKeown.

1972 Miss McAllister.

**(Above dates approximate)


In the Entrance hall of the Cottage Hospital hangs a photograph of “Sister Katherine, foundress of this hospital”. Katherine Ann Stewart McDonnell was born in 1845. She was one of a family of ten, five sons and five daughters. Her father, Dr. John McDonnell, was Medical Poor Law Commissioner for Ireland and also Commissioner of the Local Government Board for Ireland. Her grandfather Dr. James McDonnell founded the first fever hospital in Ireland and the Belfast School of Medicine which was developed into the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.  Her training as a nurse enabled her to act as sister-in-charge when she opened the hospital at No. 5 High Street, Cushendall in 1885.


, village

According to a pencilled addition in the margin of the Valuation Records the rent was £20. A photograph in the present Hospital shows this house with Cushendall Cottage Hospital on a sign above the door. Two staff and a child are outside. Male Patients can be seen through the bottom right window.  The house is, today, known as Sundial House and was built (according to the present inscription above the door) in 1849. It was vacant when Sister Katherine took over the tenancy. When the Cottage Hospital moved to its present site Doctor Fogarty, its Medical Officer and Local Dispensary Doctor kept on the tenancy.

Before recent renovations Sundial House consisted of three numbered bedrooms and attic rooms, upstairs. Downstairs, there was one long room on the right divided by a long hall from two smaller rooms. There are several outhouses. In the Valuation Records a garden is specified.

Entries in the Hospital Visiting Book describe the house thus:

September 1886 — “I have visited the Cushendall Cottage Hospital and feel sure it will prove a blessing to many in the Glens. It is so comfortable and the wards so airy, patients must feel that they are well cared for by the kind lady who devotes her life to this good work”.

12th October, 1886 — “It is to be wished that there were a few more such hospitals throughout the country”.

Writer Mrs. Craik describes her visit in “Unknown Country” (1887)

July, 1888 — “I consider that Miss McDonnell does the best she can in a house not at all suited to her work. The ventilation is excellent and the rooms clear and fresh but I hope she may very soon begin to build.”

August, 1888 — “It should be supported by the sympathies and contributions of kind-hearted residents and visitors”. Money could be lodged in the Northern Bank, Cushendall.

A Hospital Report published in 1896 sets down the function of the Cottage Hospital and House of Rest as being for the Treatment of Medical and Surgical Diseases and injuries. “No infectious cases, or chronic or incurable cases will be admitted.” The latter could be admitted for short periods at the doctor’s discretion.  The House of Rest was for poor convalescents of limited means. Medical Fees were extra, with a sliding scale according to means.

A charge of 3s 6d per week (towards maintenance) was made for each woman and child (up to 14 years) and 5s. 6d. for each man residing in the Union Districts of Cushendall. If vacancies occurred patients from other districts could be admitted at an extra charge of 1 s. 6d. per week. A Private Ward was 10s. per week.

Cushendall District, comprising Cushendall, Cushleake, Glendun and Red Bay in 1881 had a population of 4,021. There were 1,948 males and 2,073 females. Around 3,000 people were under the age of forty five. There were 351 house and 973 out houses and farm steadings.

The village lay “embosomed among its numerous trees and sheltered by the two arms of its beautiful bay” . . . “In Layde burying ground the tombstones were broken and dilapidated”.

A dispensary had been established in 1827 and at this time was at 19 Mill Street.

According to the Census of 1891 the Hospital had two female staff and five patients, three of whom were male.

Correspondence in the Minutes of the Ballycastle Board of Guardians 1892-94 relate to the inadequacy of water and sewerage in Cushendall Village. The people got their water from a tank at the Tower. In 1892 tests showed it was impure. The letters from Dr. Fogarty (Medical Officer, Sanitary Officer and Hospital Medical Attendant) point out that several of the yards had stagnant sanitation; midden heaps, liquid from piggeries and cow houses. Existing sanitation ran through the houses and sewerage flowed into the river above tidal level lying, in summer, in the dry river bed. He reports that in November, 1892 there were twenty three cases of typhoid, three of whom died. Ten of these are shown as having convalesced in the Cottage Hospital according to the Hospital Report. Nurses also visited people in their homes.

Doctor Fogarty says “you might well ask why the people do not go to the Fever Hospital in Ballycastle”. He points out “They are not fit to go or do not want to: go”.

Transport to hospital in Ballycastle was by horse drawn ambulance driven by Ailes McFredden. The rough journey was slow as she stopped at every public house along her way. However, it is related that no one ever died on the journey. Someone who dawdled about their messages would be greeted on their return by “Well, Ailes McFredden”.

Many Cushendall people were unwilling to pay out too much money for a sewerage scheme. It was pointed out that many of the complainers did not even pay rates. Eventually a new fountain was installed at the Tower and despite complaints as to its purity it was passed as pure in 1894. In 1907/8 a new sewerage scheme was carried out in Cushendall and a water supply in 1908/9.

The Hotels and larger houses had private water supplies as did the hospital. However, it was situated near the insanitary yards.

In 1893 the nurses were affiliated with “Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute for Nurses”. Maternity cases were visited at home.

There were 18 cases admitted to the hospital 1893, mainly convalescent. Cases varied from ‘sprain of wrist’ to ‘infantile paralysis’. The latter was transferred to Lisburn Hospital.

In 1894, 14 cases were admitted to hospital. Two of whom had hysteria, one with hypochondriasis and another with bronchitis and anaemia.

In 1895 there were only five cases admitted. One was a sailor suffering from frost-bite as the result of a shipwreck. Another from the same ship had a broken leg.

The 1895 report points out that they had been trying to find a site for the new Hospital. Sister Katherine had been unable to get a site she wanted at Ballymacdoe but eventually procured a “fairly good one” at Faughill from Mr. Turnley.

Cushendall 1903


She reports that Messrs. McLaughlin and Harvey (builders) Belfast, have been building the house planned by Mr. Hicks, Newcastle-on-Tyne. “It is hoped to open it next year” i.e. 1896.

The Visitors Book reports . . . New Hospital erected 1896 Faughill by Miss McDonnell at a cost of £2,000.

14th August, 1896 – Alex. Patterson, Infirmary Paisley — “The most perfect and complete Cottage Hospital I have visited, and have been over Ireland, England and Continent — it is a noble landmark of Cushendall”.

The Cottage Hospital ran successfully for many years but when Miss McDonnell became elderly and on account of the financial strain, it was offered to Ballycastle District Council with £10,000 worth of endowments. This was turned down by one vote as Ballycastle feared their own hospital might be downgraded. Sister Katherine died on 2nd January, 1904 at Kilsharvan, Co. Meath, her will states, “I bequeath the lands at Cushendall which I hold under the lease dated 17 December 1894 from John Turnley Esquire upon which the house now known as The Cushendall Cottage Hospital stands unto the said Barbara McDonnell and Margaret McDonnell and the suriviors of them absolutely and I expressly declare that the said Barbara McDonnell and Margaret McDonnell and the survivors of them shall have absolute discretion as to whether the same shall be carried on as a hospital or not.

She was succeeded by Harriet Ward who according to a tablet on the treatment room wall of the Hospital “acted as Matron for ten years and entered into rest January, 4th 1916. A free bed was endowed in her memory for 6 weeks each year.”

The drugs for the Hospital were carried from the dispensary by Lizzie and her large dog Laddy. A new dispensary was built in 1911, which remained the surgery until 1979.


Cushendall 1911
Cushendall 1911


The 1911 census does not mention Cushendall Cottage Hospital by name but shows a Hospital in Ballycastle district with four staff (female) and three male patients and five female. During the 1914-18 war, soldiers came to convalesce in the Hospital. They are remembered in the area in their blue trousers, white shirts and red ties.

 A certificate was sent from the War Office, London, on July 1920 signed by Winston Churchill.

“This certificate is presented by the Army Council as a permanent record of their thanks, to be placed in the building which has been known and used as The Cushendall Cottage Hospital for British sick and wounded during the Great War 1914-1918”.

The Matron was Miss Henderson who, when Miss McDonnell was alive had married a soldier named Sergeant Campbell of the Irish Guards without Miss McDonnell’s knowledge. He lived up in the attic of the Hospital and worked as gardener.

After the war the Tuberculosis Authority went looking for a place near the sea for the treatment of children suffering from surgical tuberculosis and they paid for six or eight beds to be kept for this purpose. Local patients were still admitted for treatment.

The Census of 1926 shows four female staff and four male and seven female patients.

A certificate dated 30th January, 1934 shows the Nursing Home situated at Cushendall as having seven staff.

During the Second World War a New Zealander crashed his plane in Glendun. His comrade was killed but he managed to make his way to the bottom of the Glen. He convalesced for about three weeks in the Hospital.

After the war the Government arranged for a preliminary survey of Northern Ireland Hospitals and this was carried out by Major General William McArthur, Physician to the King.  He recommended that the Hospital be taken over by the Government as it served a useful purpose in the isolated area.

(1) As a casualty and first aid clearing hospital.

(2) As a hospital for patients who could not be nursed at home, especially elderly and infirm.

(3) Four maternity beds should be provided. Cases had previously been visited at home.

The report was implemented.

The children’s beds for Tuberculosis patients were no longer needed due to the decline in cases (because of the effective use of the newly discovered antibiotics.) In 1948 the Hospital came under the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority and was part of the Waveney Hospital Management Committee group.

On 29th May, 1957 a nurses’ home was opened and a plaque unveiled to Miss McDonnell. This plaque is situated under her photograph. The cost of building was defrayed from the interest on monies subscribed by Miss McDonnell, her sisters Rose and Barbara McDonnell (who had lived in Monavart) and their brother William. The cost of the building was £2,400. The Matron’s quarters being the School originally built for the children with tuberculosis.

Previously, local people had used the Hospital for treatment of minor injuries etc.  and in 1967 official recognition as a Casualty Department was given. An ante-natal clinic was also set up that year.


Cushendall 1975
Cushendall 1975


Under reorganization in 1973 Cushendall became part of Coleraine, Ballymoney and Moyle District. This did not really affect the running of the Hospital. A portable building was erected for use of the ante-natal clinic, chiropody and Social Services.

But in June 1976 a document entitled “Development of Hospital Services in the area of the Northern Health and Social Service Board” was published. The proposal of the strategic planning team, responsible for the report in relation to Cushendall Hospital was that the Hospital should be closed. “A committee was formed to fight against this proposal. The Planning Team under the chairmanship of Lord Melchett were persuaded that the Hospital should remain open.”



Cushendall Hospital
Cushendall Hospital 1975


Today the Hospital is little changed** from that envisaged by Sister Katherine. The patients are mainly convalescent and elderly.

Downstairs there are a four bedded male ward and a four bedded female ward. Upstairs there is a three bedded maternity ward and nursery. There are are also two single rooms and a three bed female ward.

Today  it is still a General Practitioner Hospital run by a matron, ten nurses, five auxiliary nurses, a porter, chef and four domestic staff, with the local doctors caring for their patients both in the community and in the Cottage Hospital.**

Accounts of shipwrecks, plane crashes, boating accidents, drownings, and climbing accidents have made the headlines but it is the quiet daily caring probably known only to the patients and their relatives, which make the Hospital. “Their works do follow them”.

(** Cushendall Cottage Hospital – Closed 1995.)


Acknowledgements: Mr. Hugh Boyd, Ballycastle. Mrs. Jean Boyle, Layde, Cushendall. Mrs. F. A. Deane, Cassidy, Irvinestown. Mrs. Mona Dempsey, Sundial House, Cushendall. Mrs. Rose Emerson, Middle Park, Cushendall. Mr. R. Hume, The Tower, Cushendall. Matron and Staff Cushendall Cottage Hospital. Dr. Alex McSparran, Cushendall. Dr. J. McSparran, Knockmacarry. Miss I. Ramsey, “Enagh”, Cushendall. Staff of the Public Record Office, Belfast. Census Office, Public Health Department. Northern Health and Social Services Board.



Minutes of the Ballycastle Board of Guardians 1892-1894.

Annual Valuation Revision Lists 1884-1908.

Census of Ireland 1881, 1891, 1911, 1926.

Cushendall Hospital Visiting Book.

Life in the Glens of Antrim in the 1830’s — published by Glens of Antrim Historical Society.

An Unknown Country — Mrs Craik, published 1887.

Cushendall Hospital — Submission of Cushendall Hospital Committee.

Report of the Cushendall Cottage Hospital — published 1896.

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