Carlow Lunatic Asylum (St Dympna's)
Map of Straw Hall showing an outline of the
Lunatic Asylum built c1831.
- Source: National Inventory of
Dr. Fitzgerald, Resident Medical Superintendent
of Carlow Lunatic Asylum pictured with his wife and
children in his new Darracq motor car c1905.
- Source: Carlow County Library
Dympna's Hospital (formerly Carlow Lunatic Asylum)
- The hospital is situated in extensive grounds between
the Athy Road and the Old Dublin Road. It was built to a design by
Francis Johnston. The central part of the Building is in a U plan of
five bays, two storeys high. On either side are long wings
terminating in advanced end bays. The outer bays of the central
block have strip pilasters and pediments. The door-case features
scroll brackets supporting a curvilinear cornice. Over the centre is
an octagonal clock tower and dome which are set on a square base.
The main building material used was granite ashlar but later
additions have limestone snecked walls with brick trim and parapets.
Source: Carlow County Library
Dympna is the patron saint of those who suffer from mental illnesses
and nervous system disorders, epileptics, mental health
professionals, incest victims, and runaways.
She was born in Clogher, Co. Monaghan in the
year c.620 and beheaded by her father Damon
in Belgium. He was a pagan Irish chief in the 7th
century. At the age of 14 years her mother died and she went to
Belgium with some of her friends. The reason she was beheaded by her
father was because she refused to return to Ireland with him so he
could marry her because he couldn’t find anyone who could take his
- (Picture) Saint Dymphna: fanciful portrait
from an old holy card
Image from Wikipedia
Stained-Glass window with a place in history
Stained-Glass window installed in the mid-1920s at the church in the
grounds of St Dympna's Hospital, Carlow, was the work of world
renowned German sculptor Professor August Weckbecker.
The window is considered extremely
valuable and the South Eastern Health Board have recently taken
steps to ensure its safe encasement after some window panes were
The church is at presented being
converted into the County Carlow Military Museum.
Local historian Mr Michael Purcell,
Kennedy Street, said the discovery came to light when he was
compiling research for Carlow in Old Picture Postcards Volume 3
which has just been published.
Michael Purcell's research has disclosed
that Prof. Weckbecker came to Carlow in 1925 having received a
commission from Fr Michael Bolger, the then parish priest of
That commission was to erect a monument
over the grave of Fr Hugh Cullen, who died in 1917, and whose name
was added to Graigue thereby giving the name Graiguecullen.
It seems Professor Weckbecker was in
Carlow for about a year and that, having completed the Killeshin
commission, he undertook other work in the Carlow area, the most
prominent and important being the stain glass window at St Dympna's
"Because of the fact that the original
work took place in County Laois, I contacted Peter Smith, John
Sweeney Park, Carlow, a historian for the Laois area. Peter
discovered the window in the church at St Dympna's and passed on the
information to me," Michael Purcell informed The Nationalist.
At that stage Michael contacted The
Goethe Institute in Dublin, which deals with all German affairs.
"The Institute sent me a book compiled
by Dr Karl Busch containing the history of Weckbecker and his work.
This book is in German and mentions his Killeshin commission and
also the St Dympna's work which is No 152 in his catalogue of work
and refers to that undertaking as 'a paint and glass window'."
Weckbecker's stained glass window in the main window in St Dympna's, being of large dimensions.
It is signed by August Weckbecker.
"The importance of August Weckbecker's
work is reflected in the fact that he was commissioned to undertake
works for King Alfonso, King Ludwig, Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius
"In fact he was involved in painting a
portrait of Pope Pius XI, which is on display to this day in The
Vatican, when he got the call to undertake the Killeshin
Michael Purcell says the question
remains as to why did August Weckbecker travelled to Killeshin,
interrupting the Papal commission. Other local historians are also
mystified by this fact.
Michael first became aware of the Carlow
connection with Weckbecker when, having purchased a box of old
documents relating to Carlow at an auction in Dublin, he came across
cross five letters from Weckbecker to Fr Bolger.
In one of those letters, dated October
19, 1924, Weckbecker mentions he was working on the portrait of His
Holiness Pope Pius XI and was then going to Killeshin. He requested
that his studio be located beside the church in Killeshin and that
he would like to sleep in the studio.
He wanted limestone for the work and
also outlined the dimensions for his work.
Michael says that local monumental
sculptor Frank McGarry from Hughes Monumental Works, College Street,
said he (Mr McGarry) had always been aware of its importance and was
constantly drawn to it while working in Killeshin cemetery as a
hand-carved work of art.
When he came to Carlow in 1925 August
Weckbecker was accompanied by his sister-in-law, who decided to stay
in the area. She taught German and music in St Leo's Convent and
later joined the Mercy Order of nuns in Carlow where she took the
name Sister Hildegard in religion and was well-known to legions of
students. Sr Hiledgard died about 20 years ago.
August Weckbecker died in an accident in
Munich on September 13, 1939, just ten days after the declaration of
War. He was aged 51.
It is felt that Professor Weckebecker's
work will be a major boost to the new Military Museum and also as an
important tourist attraction in the Carlow area.
Source: Michael Purcell c2007
St Dympna's Memories
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