School Days, — April 19, 2009 23:18 — 0 Comments

Daisy Hill in early 50s

In the winter of 1952, aged 14 and just after I had started at the Abbey Grammar School, I developed an enormous carbuncle on my jaw and ended up in Daisy Hill Hospital for six weeks. 

Strangely, I didn’t feel ill and found the inactivity hard to handle.  My treatment seemed to consist of two enormous daily injections, in the thigh.  I can also remember the food which, unlike today, was plentiful, hot and nutritious.  I can still see, smell and taste the breakfast fries and the piled up, steaming Irish stews.  


My mother visited me, as far as I can recall, every day, which must have been quite an effort and expense, involving a 24-mile bus journey.  She kept me supplied with cowboy books, which I enjoyed at the time but after my discharge seldom read – I had discovered science fiction.  Even in the dark evenings I always knew when she was coming as I could recognise her step.


The ward was in the old Fever Hospital, now demolished (converted from the old Workhouse which had been abolished by the advent of the new Welfare State in 1948).  It was surrounded on three sides by a high stone wall in which I could see a double gate. The ward window looked down towards the main hospital and I could watch the comings and goings. Hospital Matrons ran strict regimes in those days and extra-curricular activities by nurses were frowned on. I can still see the nurses shinning over the wall after illicit absences in the late evenings and early mornings.


The ample display of leg in the process was also much appreciated by a growing boy.


The hospital had two wings and I spent time in both. In the first one there was a mixture of boys of different ages and for a while a nine-year old girl. I recall that her name was Patricia McAleenan and she came from Hilltown in County Down. She was a bright child with long fair hair. She was there for only a short time.  About a week before I was discharged I was moved to the other wing.  This was gloomier than the first one and looked out on a green patch that I think may have been a paupers’ graveyard attached to the old Workhouse.


It was a geriatric ward, full of old men all of whom seemed to have the most enormous ears. They were all bedridden and for the most part very quiet. Conversations were short and intermittent. I got on with them well enough and I think that most of them appreciated the company of a young person. It was the only time, before or since, that I had an appreciative audience for my singing. I was however very glad to go and I can recall how strange and fresh the countryside seemed on the bumpy bus journey home to Creggan.


… more later …

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