In June 1802, the County Infirmary finally opened. Some 35 years before, it was ordered in council at a meeting of the corporation, “That a committee consisting of the principal gentlemen of the town, be, and are accordingly appointed to enquire and find out a proper place within the county of the town of Galway for erecting a public infirmary or hospital for the reception of the poor, sick and disabled persons”. The Governors of the Erasmus Smith School granted two acres of ground gratis for ever, but it still took 35 years to build.
“This spacious and elegant building, which stands in a healthy and elevated situation, at a short distance from the high road or principal entrance to the town, commands from the front an extensive prospect of the bay, and from the rear a view of the lake and adjacent country for many miles round. It is three lofty stories [sic] in height, with a range of seven windows in each, front and rear. The architectural design of the exterior is plain, and suitable for the object of the institution, but the interior contains every convenience requisite for establishments of this nature.” Thus did the historian Hardiman describe the new structure.
When it opened it had 30 beds, for county patients only. One of the very strict rules and regulations stated that if a patient from the city needed to be treated there, they would require permission from the infirmary’s governors, otherwise they would have to go to the workhouse hospital. Another rule stated that, “Each patient, after being inserted on the books, to be taken to the bathroom to be well washed and cleaned by the person appointed for that purpose, and the barber directed to attend; afterwards to be taken to the vesting room and dressed in the hospital clothing, and directed to the ward and bed appointed by the surgeon”; “No patient to be allowed to spit or dirty the walls or floor of the house, as spitting boxes and bed pots are provided for the purpose; and no smoking of pipes to be allowed on any account in the wards”; “Any patient who acts impertinent to the housekeeper or nurses, to be immediately dismissed”.
It was not until 1892 that patients from the city were admitted without any red tape.
After the end of British rule, the county council decided that the workhouse would be upgraded to become the Central Hospital for both city and county. The County Infirmary building would be converted into offices and become the County Buildings, with county council staff transferring from the courthouse. As the council expanded, a major extension was added on to the rear of the building in the 1950s. The small domestic type building on the right of the front of the main building was probably originally the residence of the medical director of the infirmary, but in more recent times it housed the county committees of agriculture.
The building on Prospect Hill was not designed as, nor was it ever suitable as, an office block (some of the staff there referred to it as ‘The Kremlin’ ), so in the 1990s a decision was taken to demolish it (this was done in August 1997 ) and replace it with a completely new structure. When the plans were announced, some members of the public informed the council that a small plot of land in a corner of the yard was used to bury stillborn children. This came as a surprise as it was not marked on any ordnance map.