The Abandoned Heatherside Hospital, Co. Cork, Ireland

Built in 1909, the abandoned Heatherside Hospital in County Cork, Ireland, operated as a tuberculosis sanatorium until 1957. After that, it was used as a mental health and psychogeriatric facility by the HSE up until 2010, when it closed its doors despite public outcry.

In 2006, Heatherside Hospital was in the media spotlight when a diagnosed schizophrenic patient, Hannah Comber (65), choked to death by a restraining belt whilst being strapped to a chair and in the care of the hospital staff.

Large-scale investigations were launched by An Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive (HSE) and it wasn’t until 3 years later that the murder probe was completed.

The inquest into her death recorded a “verdict of misadventure” and the Director of Public Prosecutions decided no charges would follow Ms Comber’s death.

The 22-acre site comprises over 56,000sq ft of buildings, church, houses and other structures in the hills of Ballyhoura Country.

It is currently for sale for just €350,000 by Lisney Cork (on behalf of the HSE) which is about the price of an average county bungalow in Ireland.

The History of the Abandoned Heatherside Hospital, Cork

The 110-year-old former Heatherside hospital and sanatorium opened in 1909 and was designed to counter the tuberculosis epidemic (also known as the White Plague) which annually claimed over 10,000 Irish lives between 1900 – 1950.

The "March of the White Plague" cartoon from an Irish newspaper in 1907.

The need for a new medical facility was realised after the wife of the Earl of Aberdeen (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland) went abroad to Canada and realised how much higher the TB death rate was in Ireland compared to other areas.

The Earl of Aberdeen entering Dublin in 1906.

Tuberculosis had been endemic in most societies but by the 20th century, the death rate was falling in most of Europe and America. Ireland on the other hand, was experiencing a spike and in 1907, it was claimed that death by TB in Ireland was “the highest in the civilised world”.

Dissections of diseased lungs affected by pneumonia and tuberculosis by W. Gummelt, c. 1897.

Lady Aberdeen was so struck by how bad the situation was in Ireland that she formed a group called “the Women’s National Health Association” which turned out to be the most formidable health pressure group of the early 20th century.

Another turning point was in 1908, when the Tuberculosis Prevention Act was passed. This gave the city and county borough councils power to provide hospitals (including sanatoria and dispensaries) for the treatment of persons suffering from tuberculosis or to enter into agreements with existing institutions.

A tuberculosis hospital in the early 20th Century Ireland.

In 1910, the sanitary authorities of County Cork combined with Cork Corporation to establish Heatherside Sanitorium.

By the mid-1920s, other TB sanitoriums had been established in Cavan, Clare, Galway, Monaghan, Kilkenny, and Tipperary. As the 20th century progressed many more were constructed until the disease eventually declined in the 1950s.

Heatherside Sanatorium stopped treating TB patients in 1957 at which point it was renamed “Heatherside Hospital”. It had two new purposes from that point forward: to relieve overcrowding at the Cork Mental Hospital and to be used as a 180-bed geriatric unit.

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