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Resilience in the face of the unknown

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

As we look back at the past two years with hindsight I often cast my mind to the resilience of Ardglass in the days before there was a health service.

Ardglass Castle
A field hospital was built on the front lawn

In 1832 trade routes from India brought Cholera into the ports of the western world. The busiest were the first affected but it soon came to the smaller harbours like Downpatrick, Portaferry and Ardglass. In Ardglass, the first reported cases came through on the 26th July, nine days after the steamer Harriet began to operate between here and the port of Liverpool. A Board of Health committee was brought together and its members were Rev. George Crane, Peter Denvir, Joseph Saunders, William Roney, Bernard Small, Richard Kearns, John McNown, and Richard Clark. They met each morning at 11 for reporting to William Gosset, Under Secretary of State to Ireland. Richard Clark, who had a rather apt surname, was the Board's secretary. His account of the unfolding disease survives to this very day.

Notice for the first sailing of Harriet in the Belfast News-Letter July 1832

The Board appointed Robert Johnston to be Inspector of Nuisances for the town at one shilling per day. William Ogilvie, the owner of Ardglass had offered the use of a house for the establishment of a hospital but due to concerns of the neighbour a field hospital had to be established. It was built within three weeks.

Richard Kearns built the hospital of wood for no fee, William Gilchrist thatched the roof with straw from John McNown, Glass and paint were purchased from Mr McSinden and five metal bedsteads were borrowed from Strangford Charter School. Other beds were probably made up with left over straw.

Among the medicines supplied by Mr. Marshall and Mr. Aicken were a dozen bottles of port and two gallons of malt whiskey. The staff were under strict guard and rules were even set up for fines of one day’s pay should they be found drunk in work! Mr. Aicken had just arrived to his new post in Ardglass when he was thrust to the centre of the events. He had previously worked for a £50 per year salary, board and accommodation at the Belfast Fever Hospital and Dispensary as an apothecary; in 1834 he was made an honorary member of the Belfast Medical Society.

William Clark’s shop donated the soap and tallow candles. Dan Blaney and Captain Wheeler were the coal merchants. Eliza Brown made the tick for the beds. To prevent the further spread of disease barrels of tar and brimstone were purchased from J Smyth & Son for burning the patients clothing and bed sheets in the street, with the patients reimbursed for this.

Dan Blaney had stores on the North Dock

Beef was purchased and cooked with meal and onions from William Roney and rice from Mr. Richardson for a stew. For those who couldn’t take any food milk and sugar were purchased from Eliza Norris. Maria Crangle was the nurse tutor and Mr. Ogilvie and Major Beauclerk were among the generous benefactors while the voluntary contribution was £22.4s.6d.

As the first wave of the disease eased off, Patrick Stewart Allen, a medical attendant, and James Campble, a porter, were discharged on 25th August. The hospital was left in the care of Mr. Aicken, Mr. John Rowan, and Mr. J. Stewart, medical attendants; Hanna Crangle, Mrs. Burns, Issy Napier, nurses; and Samuel Hunter and Thomas Murphy, porters. Unfortunately second wave of the disease came swiftly after.

Chairman of the Board of Health Rev. George Crane was one of the victims of the disease, John McKeown took over chairing of the Board, while James and Mrs. Smyth left orphaned children who were taken into the care of Mary Corran who received money from the board for their “diet and lodging.” Widow Reid lost two of her children; Hugh Corran, Margaret Corran, Rose Quail, Jane Teggart, and Patt Walsh all had their coffins paid for by the board.

The only burial marked to this day in Ardglass is that of the Rev. Crane located in the cemetery of Saint Nicholas’ Church of Ireland. His obituary from the Belfast New-Letter reads: “On Tuesday, the 4th September of Cholera, aged 70, the Rev. George Crane, Clerk of the Parish of Ardglass of which has been minister 21 years. He was of genuine value to the whole neighbourhood in which he lived, by administering relief to the poor, comfort to the sick, and peace to the distressed. As a Magistrate, he was pure in the administration of justice, and a terror to the aggressor; and his loss will be severely felt. He caught the contagion by his exertions in administering relief to the patients, being an active member of the Board of Health”.

You may remember the time that NI's Greatest Haunts came to Ardglass. As she was standing on the front lawn at Ardglass Castle (Golf Club), Marion Goodfellow could sense a rush of children running toward her. She brought the distraught souls of the children affected by the disease to rest with their parents and grandparents and ending their one hundred and seventy eight year torment. The former Harbour Master, John Smyth, believes that the bodies of the nine other victims may have been buried in the harbour yard.

The cost of the hospital is known down to the last penny to be £83.7s.2d. Dublin Castle reimbursed the board £80 at the end of August by which point the disease was in retreat. In all there were 39 cases, of which 10 died.

You can watch NI's Greatest Haunts on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2

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