The then Cork Examiner dedicated a full page to the issue when St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital first opened its doors in November 1955, at a cost of €538,000.

The contractors associated with the construction were as prominent a part of the story as the visiting hours.

Advertisements surrounding the newspaper article show Munster Arcade supplied the linoleum, PJ Hegarty & Sons did the construction work and The Dublin Paint and Glass Company supplied all the glass.

The first surgeon was John “Sengin” O’Connell, who worked there from 1955 to 1980.

Bishop Con Lucey spoke at the opening and was described as “a central player in the response to the polio epidemic in 1956”.

During a four-month period in 1956, more than 550 children in the Cork area were hospitalised during a polio epidemic, mainly in St Finbarr’s, but also at St Mary’s where a plaque was unveiled in 2006.

The fascinating history of ‘The Orthopaedic’ has been captured in an oral history project and a booklet, launched yesterday.

The Memories of the Orthopaedic Oral History Project involved 12 months of gathering memories of those who worked at and used the old St Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital, led by HSE community health worker Joanne McNamara, in collaboration with the Cork Folklore Project.

Contributor Maura O’Connell, former matron, (left) who worked at the hospital from 1965 to 1997, with (right) former theatre nurse Fionnuala O’Gorman looking over a photo (which includes her) from 1994 of a ministerial visit to newly revamped surgical theatres, by Minister for Health Brendan Howlin. Pic: Larry Cummins
Contributor Maura O’Connell, former matron, (left) who worked at the hospital from 1965 to 1997, with (right) former theatre nurse Fionnuala O’Gorman looking over a photo (which includes her) from 1994 of a ministerial visit to newly revamped surgical theatres, by Minister for Health Brendan Howlin. Pic: Larry Cummins

The project includes audio clips taken from one-to-one interviews. The memories fed into a piece of research called The Ministry of Healing by Tomás Mac Conmara, co-ordinator of the Cork Folklore Project.

Ms McNamara said the booklet “briefly explores the foundation of ‘The Orthopaedic’ as a development originally intended to respond to a growing fever concern in the city, to its reshaped focus as a facility concentrated on orthopaedics”.

Indeed, it was the first hospital in Ireland to undertake a hip replacement operation in 1970.

Ms McNamara said that, with the removal of orthopaedic services in 2011, and the announcement of a new health campus at the site, “we felt it would be important to capture a sense of the hospital’s unique story”.

This week, the keys to a €13m primary care campus, expected to open in the autumn, were handed over to the HSE. Ms McNamara said they are hoping to include quotes from the interviews on signage at the campus.

The interviews can be listened to at the Cork Folklore Project Outreach Hub in the North Cathedral Visitor Centre. The booklet is also available at the centre, and at the HSE Community Work Department, St Mary’s Rd.

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