St.Finbarr's (South Cork County Home and Hospital) Overview


Reference:         IE 627/CCH

Title:                  St. Finbarr's Hospital (South Cork County Home and Hospital)

Level of

description:        fonds

Date:                     1923-1963 (1984)

Extent:                 615 items (bound volumes)

Access:  Restricted. Hard copy only

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South Cork County Home and Hospital/St. Finbarr's Hospital (South Cork Board of Public Assistance)

Biographical/Administrative History

Located at Douglas Road, Cork. Formerly the Cork Union Workhouse, fever hospital, and infirmary which opened in 1841. Public health services, those concerned with the treatment of human illness, and public assistance, the publicly funded poor relief of the ill and destitute, date from the introduction of the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1838, which divided the country into Poor Law Unions. Prior to that, public medical and poor relief was delivered only by charitable institutions and infirmaries such as the Foundling Hospital, the House of Industry and the North and South Infirmaries in Cork. Each Union was run by a Board of Guardians, and a workhouse was constructed at a central location.  Each Poor Law Union was divided up into dispensary districts by the Medical Charities Act 1851, for the provision of free outdoor (outside the workhouse) primary care to the poor by an appointed medical officer. Institutionalised and hospital medical care within the workhouse system was, in general, limited and only applied to the care of the infirm or sick destitute poor.

In 1871 the Sisters of Mercy took up residence at the workhouse and they were to play an increasingly important managerial, administrative, spiritual, and nursing role within the hospital by the 1920s.

The abolition of the poor law system was a priority for Irish republicans. Prior to national independence in 1922, Dáil Éireann (est. Jan 1919) began introducing county public health schemes across the country, involving centralised county schemes to replace the local poor law boards of guardians that had been responsible for poor relief/assistance, health services, preventive public health and sanitation, and labourers cottages. Following national independence in 1922, in Cork the change over to the county scheme officially took place in 1924, under the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act 1923. Under the County Scheme Order, Cork No. 1, 1924, effective 1 May 1924, the joint Cork county health scheme created Cork County a public health area divided into 3 public health/assistance districts North, South, and West. The South Cork Public Assistance district, where the present hospital and home was located, included Cork County Borough (Cork City) and the county areas of the former poor law unions of Cork, Bandon, Kinsale, Macroom, Midleton and Youghal. The South district, and all health institutions within, was jointly administered by Cork Corporation (5 members) and Cork County Council (10 members) forming the South Cork Board of Public Assistance. This Board was dependent on Cork County Council and Cork Corporation (Cork County Borough Council) for its funding. The aim in setting up the new system "...being to wipe out the abuses of the old system, financial and moral, and establish a new system that will provide better treatment for the poor and sick poor of every class, and result in economy in public administration and be to the advantage of the rate-payers and to the community in general..." (South Cork Board of Public Assistance Minute Book Ref. CBPA/SO/M/001 p.3)

The former Cork Union Workhouse and infirmary at Douglas Road, which had been referred to as the 'Cork District Hospital' from c1898 onwards was officially designated by the County Scheme Order, Cork No. 1, 1924. The full list of institutions designated in the South Cork district by the Order was as follows:

 “1. The South Cork County Home at Cork for aged and infirm persons, chronic invalids, idiots and epileptics.

  1. A District Home at Midleton for aged and infirm persons, chronic invalids, idiots and epileptics from such places within the County District as the County Board may decide.
  2. The Cork District Hospital at Cork for the treatment of Medical, Surgical and Maternity cases, and cases of infectious and contagious diseases.
  3. Cottage Hospitals at Bandon, Cobh, Kinsale, Macroom, Midleton and Youghal, for the treatment of acute Medical, Surgical and Maternity cases, and cases of infectious and contagious diseases.
  4. An Auxiliary Home at Bessborough, Blackrock, for such unmarried mothers and their children as the County Board may select.” (County Scheme Order, Cork No. 1, 1924)

The county homes were intended primarily for the aged and infirm poor, but other classes were also found such as unmarried mothers and orphans.

In 1921, and officially in 1923-1925, Sr. Mary of Mercy O'Keeffe was appointed Matron and Superintendent of Nurses. Training schools were established in general nursing and fever nursing.

On 12 Jan 1925 the South Cork Board of Public Assistance was dissolved by the Minister for Local Government. Cork Corporation and the North and West Boards had already been abolished.   A local government commissioner, Sean O'Farrell, sat in lieu of the SCBPA from Jan 1925 until April 1927 when the Board was re-constituted by the Minister as comprising 10 members of Cork County Council, plus the City Commissioner Philip Monahan. In 1929 a new Cork Corporation was elected and Monahan became the first city or county manager.

In 1935 Cork was officially divided into 3 separate public health districts with an amalgamation of the Public Assistance and Public Health boards in each area. The South Cork Board of Public Assistance became known as the Board of Public Health for the South Cork County Health District with responsibility for sanitary as well as public health functions.

Public hospitals and public assistance continued to be administered under the old poor relief legislation, which were consolidated by the Public Assistance Act 1939.  Medical services delivered under the poor law were limited, and until the mid/late 1930's the hospital mainly functioned as a county home for chronic patients, and the able-bodied who may have been required to do work around the hospital, such as messenger duties and gardening. In the late 1930's visiting medical and surgical officers were appointed. From this period, patients not entitled to poor relief/public assistance increasingly used local authority hospitals as paying patients.

In 1942, the city/county management system was widely introduced, whereby the Boards of Health and Public Assistance were abolished and their functions were taken over by the County Council/City Council through the County/City Managers.  County Council health boards/committees for north, west and south were in appointed for the 3 county health districts in 1943. The South Cork board continued to exist, but meetings were reduced from fortnightly to monthly, and decisions made by the Board were carried out by order of the County Manager or Assistant County Manager. The new board was known as the Board of Public Assistance for the South Cork Public Assistance District.

In 1945, sanatoria were built in Cork, Dublin and Galway for the treatment of advanced and moderately advanced tuberculosis, however certain non-pulmonary cases were treated by existing hospitals such as St.Finbarr’s. The Health Act of 1947 specified free treatment in the sanatoria and payment of maintenance allowances for dependents of TB patients. All forms of TB became notifiable to the County/City Medical Officer.

From the 1950's, with extensive investment and reform in health services, the hospital was considerably extended, for example, through the construction of a maternity and neo-natal unit, an x-ray department, a home for trainee nurses, and separate laundry and nurses' quarters and a cancer ward.

The Health Act of 1953 transferred health services and hospitals to 'health authorities', separate from public assistance authorities, which resulted in the reform of regulations governing health institutions, many of which dated from the poor law era. In most districts, new health committees were established to advise city and county managers. Hospital services became General Institutional and Specialist Services and eligibility was extended to a much wider range of users, related no longer to individual means but to membership of 4 broad classes: those insured for social welfare, persons with family incomes of less than £600 per year, farmers with farms valued under £50, and those outside these groups who could demonstrate 'undue hardship'. Some groups were entitled to services without charge, statutory charges (6 shillings, later 10 shillings per day) were introduced for others, and higher charges could be made for hardship cases. The new services involved more responsibility by local authorities for the cost of treating patients. Maternity and child care services were also expanded. The dispensary system was transferred from the public assistance code to the health authorities, and improvements were made to the governance of county homes, the payment of an allowance to disabled persons, and the boarding out/ fostering of children.

In Cork, the complex of public health and assistance and mental hospital authorities remained until a unified city and county Cork Health Authority was established by the Health Authorities Act 1960.

In 1960, the total bed complement of St.Finbarr's was 1,185 made up of medical 139, surgical 119, maternity/neo-natal 70, paediatric 65, fever 84, and county home 708.

The State Lands (Workhouses) Act 1962 transferred former workhouse lands to the local authorities (Cork Health Authority in this case).

The local authority administration of health services remained until March 1971 when the new regional health boards, including the Southern Health Board, were set up under the Health Act 1970.

Archival History

The majority of the Cork County Home and Hospital archive was transferred to CCCA by the Southern Health Board in c1975. Another accession was transferred in 2009.



Scope and Content         

Archive of the South Cork County Home and Hospital later known as Saint Finbarr's Hospital, previously Cork Union Workhouse/Cork District Hospital.

Records of Managerial Correspondence and Orders, such as, Matron's Correspondence 1939 – 1953, Copy Managers Orders, South Cork Public Assistance and Hospitals 1944- 1945.

Records principally relating to patients of the County Hospital and residents/inmates of the County Home, such as; Admission & Discharge: Cork County Hospital Daily Admission and Discharge Books 1923 – 1946, Cork County Home and Hospital Combined Indoor Register and Statistical Record, 1924 – 1960, County Schools Medical Services Register and Account Book, 1931 – 1953, Other Patient Registers/Indexes to Paying Patient Registers, 1969 – 1982, St. Finbarr’s 'Hospital Roll and Dietary List' (Ward Patient Record), 1962-1963, Daily State Book 1957-1958, Record of Juvenile Patients, 1950.

Records specifically relating to Hospital/Medical/Nursing activities such as Medical Weekly Return Books, 1929 – 1948, Sick Diet Books, 1951 – 1963, Record of Operations, St. Brigid's theatre, 1959-1965, Special Diet and Stimulant Books, 1937-1958, Ambulance Log Books, 1924 – 1945, Medical Doctors Admission and Discharge Books, 1925 – 1945, Nurses Report Book, Matrons Journal 1927 – 1947, Record of Telephone Calls and Telegrams, 1954 – 1955, Monthly return of infectious diseases, 1920-1931.

Records of Births, Deaths: Record of Births Memorandum Book, 1924 – 1933, Record of Deaths, 1931 - 1940, 1974-1976, 1978 – 1984; Registration of Deaths Memorandum Book, 1930 – 1931.

Financial Records such as; Paying Patients Maintenance Account Books 1927 – 1949, Personal Ledgers- Contractors Accounts 1924 – 1964, Personal Ledgers - Suppliers Ledger 1930 – 1967, Day Books 1926-1945, Matrons Patient Maintenance Cash Receipt Books 1934 – 1937, Supplier Invoice Payment Day Book 1972-1975, Petty Cash Book 1929 – 1949, Receipts- Repayment of Assistance Account, 1955, Petty Cash Receipts 1941-1958

Records principally relating to General Administration and Staff such as; Store/Inventory Books 1927 – 1966, Provisions Books 1923 – 1962, Bread and Milk Books 1935 – 1946, Electricity and Gas Meter Log Book 1965-1968, Diet Class and Rations Books 1927 - 1961 including patient and officers and staff rations; Tobacco Book 1924 – 1934, Old Age Pension Maintenance Account Books, 1933 – 1953, Porter’s Admission and Discharge Books 1927 – 1955 (including patient names), Chaplains Report Books 1933 – 1941, Time and Wages Books 1938 – 1956, Salaries and Wages Books 1935 – 1958, Farm Account Books 1936 – 1958, Night Porters Report to Matron of People In/Out, 1955.

The archive documents the operation and administration of a major health and public assistance institution principally responsible for the care of patients of limited means, and paying patients, in the county hospital wards, and also the care of the aged, infirm, and others, within the county home. While administrative and financial records predominate, the archive does extensively document, in an outline fashion, patient admission and discharge plus aspects of the operation and development of the institution from 1924, following the reform of the poor law system by the Irish Free State, such as wider availability of services, efforts to better care for patients, for instance through better diets, and better medical care. This advance is particularly visible in the records from the 1940s and 1950s onwards.

The home and hospital would have employed large numbers of people at various grades and quite a few records of time and attendance, rations, and wages and salaries survive, which are of use to those pursuing their family history.  The hospital was also a significant economic unit in its own right, requiring large amounts of provisions, hardware and services, that were obtained from a range of local and national contractors and suppliers that feature in the administrative and financial records.

The archive, though extensive, contains gaps particularly in relation to detailed patient/inmate records, medical care, care of unmarried mothers, care of children, correspondence, death records, and records in relation to the nursing sisters who operated the hospital. Where certain types of records do survive the information within may be minimal. All of the surviving records are in bound volume format, there are no files.

Researchers will note that there are significant overlaps of information between certain series, such as information relating to patients/inmates, which may also be found in records relating to administration, hospital/medical/nursing, and financial records. Examples are the Porters Admission and Discharge Books (FN), Daily Admission and Discharge Books (GA) and the Medical (Doctors) Admission and Discharge Books (HI), and the Paying Patients Maintenance Account Books (CA) and Sick Diet Books (HC), all of which contain information on patients.

There are limited numbers of records in the present archive dating from after 1960, the year of the establishment of the Cork Health Authority. Researchers will also note that the present archive must be used in conjunction with the minute books and other records of the South Cork Board of Health and Public Assistance (from 1942, the Board of Public Assistance for the South Cork Public Assistance District),  which was the governing body of the County Home and Hospital and other health institutions and of all public health services and public assistance services generally in the South Cork public assistance area.

System of Arrangement

Correspondence and orders (B) (3 series)

Financial (C) (8 series)

Administrative and Staff (F) (16 series, 37 sub-series)

Inmates/Patients (G) (4 series)

Hospital/Medical/Nursing (H) (8 series)

Birth/Death records (K) (4 series)

The arrangement of the records into series is loosely based on the Classification of Board of Guardian Records published in 1971 by Sean McMenamin of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. In 1924 Cork Union Workhouse became the South Cork County Home and Hospital, and though the spirit of the institution changed, most of the functions and activities, and most of the records, remained similar, albeit with some changed practices and terminology. The 1971 classification is in use by most local authority archives services holding older workhouse/health institution records. The 1971 classification system was not intended for post-1924 hospital records, and it has therefore been adopted here with many modifications and additions.  For instance, 13 new subseries were created here under the FD series Store/Inventory Books. 

If there is a gap in the record where an item is not extant/missing, or has not yet been acquired, the relevant item number generally remains in situ in the list, but the gap is indicated with the text ‘NOT EXTANT’.

See the Table of Contents for an overview of the full arrangement of series and sub series.



It is possible, given the number of gaps in the existing archive, and the lack, in general, of records for the post 1960 period, that additional historical records exist. The Southern Health Board, as the local health authority, had been active in transferring records to the CCCA. On 1 January 2005, the health boards were replaced by the Health Service Executive.



St.Finbarr's Hospital | Cork County Home and Hospital | Douglas Rd., Cork City



Hospitals and Homes

Health institutions





Conditions Governing Access

Restricted access to records containing personal data less than 100 years old.

Conditions Governing Reproduction




Finding Aids

Descriptive List. Certain volumes, such as patient registers, contain an integrated name index.



Related Units of Description

Reference           Description         


IE CCCA/BG/69  Cork Board of Guardians              

CC/SO/PH/MO  South Cork Public Health Manager's Orders         

CBPA/WE            West Cork County Board of Public Assistance     

CBPA/SO             South Cork County Board of Public Assistance    

CBPA/NO/M      North Cork County Board of Public Assistance Minutes  

CBPA/NO            North Cork County Board of Health/Public Assistance     

CBPH/SO             Cork County Board of Public Health Southern District      

CBPH/SO/S         Specialist Services Medical Referral Forms           

IE CCCA/H/SK    St. Kevin's Nursing Home             


Publication Note

The First Hundred Years, Edward Marnane, Cork County Council 1999

The Health Services of Ireland, Brendan Hensey, Institute of Public Administration, 1979

A Tale of Two Hospitals, Sr. Emmanuel Browne, 1989.

Classification of Board of Guardian Records, Sean McMenamin,  Irish Archives Bulletin Vol 1, No 2, October 1971




Descriptive List Prepared By:

Brian McGee,


Cork City and County Archives.

28 March 2019

View Descriptive List of Contents