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History Comes Full Circle, Where Arson & Extravagance Are Involved.

In a press statement from the Department of Justice on December 31st 2023, the deliberate act of arson which occurred recently in Ringsend Co. Dublin and in Galway, remains currently under investigation by An Garda Síochána.
The statement further warns that “Arson is a very serious crime which carries heavy prison sentences. No one has the right to cause damage to property; to cause fear, or to threaten public order”.
Same communication rightly encourages anyone with any information in relation to the stated incidents to contact An Garda Síochána.

History Repeats Itself.

It was on March 14th, 1848 that some members of the Great Famine, Relief Committee, responsible for the Fethard town area of South Co. Tipperary, that some of their membership including clergy, representing the main Christian Churches in the area, had requested that the Central Board of Health, should close the local fever hospital in Fethard.

Main Street, Fethard, Co. Tipperary, [Lawerence Collection photograph, possibly taken between 1870 & 1890.]

They claimed that the hospital was no longer necessary, since those patients suffering from fever, had reduced significantly, within this South Tipperary locality.
Since the clergy offered no real medical evidence to support their then claim, it was nevertheless understood, at the same time, that these clerical members of the Relief Committee, had abundant opportunities to judge this request for closure.
While they acknowledged that considerable numbers were still being admitted to the hospital; they argued that these were not necessarily suffering from fever, rather that the hospital’s supporters had a vested financial interest in keeping the facility open.

It is more likely that these educated clergy, representing the main Christian Churches, had realised that overcrowding and a neglect of personal and domestic hygiene, was creating the maximum social conditions for body lice infestations, thus spreading in particular dreaded typhus infection.
In the Ireland of the late 1840s, infected lice, carrying Typhus, were feasting on the unwashed and susceptible skin of those now starving, while also multiplying and defecating on their filthy and tattered clothing. Typhus fever is caused by the bacillus Rickettsia prowazekii and is generally passed to humans by the infected faecal matter of the body louse. Natural disasters, such as famine leading to crowding and poor sanitation can cause an increase in Typhus fever cases.

Now travelling the length and  breadth of Ireland, this Irish population, in many cases, had taken to the roads of Ireland, as beggars, having abandoned their homes, some voluntarily and others because of evictions. Lice now found new and unresisting hosts, in those forced to reside in public institutions, such as hospitals and workhouses.

On Sunday, March 19th, 1848, Archdeacon Michael Laffan PP, one of Fethard hospital’s original promoters, denounced the institution from the altar of the town’s Roman Catholic Church. Similar criticisms had been made by the same Archdeacon Laffan and his brother Curate Rev. Patrick Laffan, on a number of occasions during the previous year, similarly criticizing the hospital for remaining open.

Now in the wake of their request for closure, a detached house, which was intended for convalescent patients, was burned to the ground, on the evening before it was due to be officially opened. Investigating Police officers reported that the house was maliciously set alight and was totally consumed by persons unknown.

An explanation for this arson attack was that this intended convalescent house was considered to be too close to the road for the admission of those recovering their health, and was therefore seen as a threat, which could lead to the further spread of infectious disease.

The appointed medical officer for the area, Dr. John Flynn of Fethard; a medical officer for Killusty village local dispensary, since 1839, (Dispersary was situated 8.5km from Fethard), now feared a similar arson attack could take place on Fethard hospital itself, and demanded protection from police.

Dr. Flynn complained to the authorities, that as a member himself of the Roman Catholic Church, he had suffered in silence, serious insinuations being thrown from the Church altar of Rev. Patrick Laffan.
The two Laffan brothers, both appointed clergy and working together, had alleged that the doctor Flynn’s salary was calculated according to the number of deaths, rather than the number of patients, existing in the hospital.
Rev. Patrick Laffan had stated that if the money then being used to support the hospital were allocated to the purchase of sustenance for the poor of the parish, every destitute person in the Fethard parish would have obtained all necessary food.

Dr. John Flynn suggested that Rev. Patrick Laffan was aware that there were many hungry individuals seated in his congregation, latter all greedily listening to his constant condemnations, and thus an arson attack on Fethard hospital was almost inevitable.

Police sub-Inspector W. H. Hoey, stationed at the Clonmel, Co. Tipperary Barracks, was dispatched to Fethard to investigate this charge and he corroborated Dr. John Flynn’s petition.
Sub-Inspector Hoey further confirmed that Rev. Laffan had expressed his regret from the pulpit that some £800 a year was being wasted on that particular institution, instead of being used to support the poor of Fethard, and that he hoped soon to see the grass growing at the door of this Fethard medical institution.

On being interviewed further by Police; Rev. Fr. Laffan explained to yet another investigating police officer; namely sub-inspector W. Fosbery, that the hospital was an enormous burden on the Fethard parish and that he was simply acquainting his flock, with his concerns.
According to sub-inspector Fosbery, there had been some complaints that the period of hospitalisation was excessive and one of the hospital patients had even been observed attending at the local Fethard fair. However, the demand for closure was based on some of the relief committee members believing that fever was declining within the district.

On 29 March 1848 the Central Board of Health sent medical inspector Mr Henry Freke, to further investigate the competing claims for and against closure of the Fethard fever hospital. Mr Freke reported that while the institution was centrally located on rising ground about one mile north of the town, other problems existed. Blankets, sheets and rugs were in short supply and there were no pillows. Similarly, he reported that there was a shortage of shirts, shifts (long dresses) and nightcaps; while toilet facilities were found to be inadequate and overall the hospital was not as clean as one would have hoped.
Henry Freke further reported that there were 39 inmates being hospitalised; 22 females and 17 males, and all but one were suffering from fever.

A copy of the Mr Henry Freke’s report were sent to Dr. Flynn; to the Cashel Board of Guardians, and to the Fethard Famine Relief Committee, by the Central Board of Health, which recommended that the hospital be kept open.

On December 9th 1848, Dr. John Hill, of Ely Place, Dublin, was also requested to investigate the hospital. He reported that the floors and walls of the building were perfectly clean, however beds and bedding were found to be shabby and deficient. There were only 14 long, thick under pillows (bolsters), 34 ragged rugs, 44 well worn out sheets and 46 blankets. Typhus fever was rare, while Diarrhoea was the most common, latter caused by the consequence of a previous disease suffered.
Dysentery and dropsy were less frequent than in previous pccasions, however, measles was prevalent in the local neighbourhood.
Dr. Hill further reported that he could not detect a single instance where any stay in Fethard hospital had been protracted and that Dr. Flynn appeared to have discharged his duties efficiently.
Dr. Hill blamed the vice-guardians for the hospitals claimed extravagance, while further recommending that the hospital be maintained and that a financial committee be now appointed to regulate all necessary future expenditure.

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