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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

St. Dympna's Hospital

(Source: Michael Purcell & Carloman.)

Carlow Lunatic Asylum (St Dympna's)

Ariel view of St Dympna's Hospita.
Source: Anna Nolan Gough donated from Carlow families Past & Present.

Map of Straw Hall showing an outline of the Lunatic Asylum built c1831.
Source: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
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

St 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

St Dympna's

St. 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 wife’s place.

 (Picture) Saint Dymphna: fanciful portrait from an old holy card

Image from Wikipedia

Stained-Glass window with a place in history

County Carlow Military Museum, Old Church, St Dympnas, Athy road, Carlow. A 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 broken.

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 Killeshin/Graiguecullen.

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 church.

"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 XI.

"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 commission."

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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