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  • Publication
    The Hospital in Medieval Ireland, 1170-1540: an Archaeology
    (University College Dublin. School of Archaeology, 2022) ;
    The term ‘hospital’ conjures up the concept of specialised medical care in the modern mind, but in the Middle Ages the role played by such institutions, especially hospitals, was as much about caring for the spiritual welfare of the ill, a care predicated on the salvation of the immortal soul. The medieval hospital was also a place where travellers/pilgrims could find a bed and a place to rest, whereas the medieval infirmary was more narrowly concerned with care of the ‘infirmed’ those would could no longer care for themselves or did not have anyone to care for them, in general these infirmaries were attached to monastic settlements for the care of the lay members or those of the choir. According to Gwynn & Hadcock (1970) there may have been as many as 211 hospitals throughout the 32 counties, of which only a small number have extant remains. To date I have identified a possible 257 hospitals, based on extant remains or written records. It must be remembered however that these numbers stretch across recorded history and part of my task here is to refine this total. These sites have never been the subject of systematic archaeological attention, so this research will provide a survey of the archaeological and architectural remains of buildings and complexes associated with care of the body in Ireland, and a revisiting of the definition of the architectural style of these sites. Medieval hospitals performed multiple functions, in some cases being no more than small waystations providing hospitality for the poor traveller or being 'lazar houses' or leper hospitals. Some are closer to what our understanding of a hospital is, it is an understanding of this different concept of hospital which is one of the main aims of this project. At a conference in Glenstal Abbey in September 2014 and the accompanying volume (Browne OSB., M. and Ó Clabaigh OSB., C. , 2016), a recurring theme was the uncertainty about the precise forms and functions of hospitals in medieval sources, an uncertainty reflected in Prescott (1992) and one that seems to persist generally. I would suggest that some understanding is core to the appreciation of the architectural form and therefore the extant archaeological remains. This problem is a modern one as our understanding of hospital has change so radically from that understood by people of the time. In his verse ‘The hye way to the Spyttell hous’ written in 1535-6 Robert Copland (1965, pp. 1-25) gives us a vision of what a medieval hospital, probably St Bartholomew’s in London, was and some insight into a medieval understanding of its role. One needs to view the modern hospital as a refinement and specialisation of the medieval model a refinement that has seen one of the most important features of the medieval hospital to a greater degree removed, that of hospitality. Central to this research is a better understanding of how the sick and infirm were treated and considered by the rest of society and how that may have changed as the religious climate changed over the period A.D. 1169-1540. The study builds on the key concept in medieval culture of care (to care, curare Latin), the care of the soul, this care was one of the functions of the church as an institution (the priest was the curate, the curatus, the carer of souls). In Ireland it would appear that most hospitals of the period were administered by ecclesiastics (Gwynn & Hadcock, 1970) although most probably had secular patrons as to our current concerns the form of these buildings the ecclesiastical influence is more relevant. The hospital, is a difficult building to interpret, it could be a hospital, a hostel or closer to a retirement home as we would understand them today. From an archaeological point of view and of key concern to this study, it would be useful if we had some understanding of the layout of these complexes, a layout that would have been driven by the ethos around care and the structural needs generated