Monday, October 05, 2009

Our Lady's Corpse

Untitled by Unknown

Medium: Clay

Date: Unknown – Found Our Lay's Mental Hospital Cork, 8th September 2007

Image © FatherCrow 2007

WHEN fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil's walking parody

On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

by: G.K. Chesterton

A grey stone spine, five stretched stories high and a street long lies driven heavy into the hillside in the city of Cork, the exposed spine of a twisted monster that ate human souls for over one hundred years.

Men live in the corpse of the monster.

Women live there, children too. They go about their daily business unaware that they live in a murderous psychic cadaver that stares down forever from the hill on the people of Cork. These people, natives of the city, can't look up at the grey geometry of Our Lady's Mental Hospital for fear of raising a scream of torn bloody memory, of raising the faces of friends, relatives and neighbours who were committed there.

You won't hear a Cork accent in the new apartments they made out of half of the main Mental Hospital building. When they finish the second half, you won't hear a Cork accent there either. You see, they the people of Cork more than know what it was. They know what it did to them, what it did to the people they love.

None of the out of towners seem to mind, to them, it's just a building, not a maw that devoured their people. So long as they don’t turn around, who’s to notice the cold necropolis that rolls up the hillside behind them.

The jaw of this monster weakened and started to fall silent in the nineteen eighties. The place was built in the 1840's. No one wants to remember this institution, if you go looking on the Web for trace records of it's passing, trace records is what you will get. A wilful amnesia seems to engulf anyone close enough to tell of it. There are one or two passing mentions, a record of one of the employees in an epitaph here, a few mentions of its governing board and the occasional brief Dail (Irish Parliament) questions between 1925 and 1970 about overcrowding there, other than that nothing.

That’s Precious little information for an institution that, like a psychic Grendel, ate the people of Cork's souls for a century or more.

Did I write of all the web records? no, not all, there was one extended question made by a Mr. B. Ryan of the Irish Senate in 1988, now preserved online, and with that one question, Mr. Ryan gave voice to a multitude, as you read you can hear thousands of men and women, over a hundred years, all join in this one time, this one place and scream their pain and accusations at every fucking one of the good people of Ireland for what was done to them. He speaks of the monster, and the souls trapped in it’s swollen, lightless belly. Part of the questions conclusion reads:

Seanad Éireann - Volume 119 - 01 June, 1988

Adjournment Matter. - Our Lady's Hospital, Cork.

An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach

“The people in Our Lady's Hospital are guilty of nothing. They are vulnerable, innocent and, in the old Irish phrase, in the area of the country that the Minister comes from and that I have close connections with, they would be described as “harmless”. They do not deserve what is being done to them. They are victims of misfortune; they are victims of illness and indeed, tragically, of abandonment. They deserve our best. They have got our worst. Instead we lock them up in a vermin-infested — not my conclusion, but the inspector's conclusion — unsanitary — not my conclusion but the inspector's conclusion — dirty, dark confinement. It is a disgrace”

Even in print his words shine with the blinding white heat of outrage, and they reflect in their terrible luminosity only a tiny proportion of what might constitute a true understanding of what these poor lost souls underwent.

Unless of course…..

You actually went there, actually stood in the yawning darkness of a long dead planet of suffering.

I did.

I went to bear witness, to listen to the voices of the silence.

I was first told about The Hospital by K. K was present for a time in one of the last buildings to be closed down in the complex, again, as is usual in this country, the building was swiftly suffocated by a cessation of funding. K. had long wanted to gain entrance to the dead city that stretched its granite and brick fingers down the hill culminating in the buttress like form of what would be known in a Report to the Minister of Health by the Inspector of Mental Hospitals as “The Grey Building”. We had talked and decided it was important to gain entry to these buildings, we did not talk of reasons prior to the attempt but there was I think an understanding, that the purpose was one of exploration and preservation. Much later I was to find, how much there was to preserve and how little the rest of Ireland seemed to want any of it to survive.

A date was set.

We arrived to witness The Hospital. After first seeing “The Grey Building” from the front with it’s new people busy inside scrubbing the floors clean, all the while cooing yuppified at the bare brick walls. We could have made it in from the front, only a fence, no security, could have made it round to the undeveloped side in a second, but we decided to eschew any potential hubris and approach from the back.

The Sun hit down hard from above, still not managing to beat a clean line through the dust cloud thrown up by the car as it ground to a halt. The shapes of the buildings ahead gradually emerging like signal through noise as the light breeze did it’s work. I was glad I brought my hat, as being pale skinned, without it…….well, think acid guy at the end of RoboCop. Jesus this place was big, she’d mentioned something about a complex and acres all right, but this place was like a city unto itself. When the air had cleared I saw nature had begun to reclaim the whole place, grass kicking canyons through the concrete paths and bony, knuckled vines that if given the opportunity, and the time, would reach up and drag the whole place back into the earth, Stand still long enough and the planet will eat you. The protective antibodies of humans had been gone from this place for years now and the place made you feel that it had reached out and desolated the planet so that everywhere was like this, dead and yawning.

Report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals on the conditions in Our Lady's Hospital, Cork.

read at

Seanad Éireann - Volume 119 - 01 June, 1988:

“St. Ita's 1, female with 20 patients; the enclosed courtyard attached to the ward was littered with old clothing, toilet rolls and plastic bottles which had accumulated over several months. We were informed that patients [1935] do not get out of doors in winter time.”

We didn’t say much, this whole place silently screamed “Shut the Fuck Up” at the top of its emptiness at the two of us. We complied, after all, if we were going to tread on this place’s dreams we might do well to tread softly. We walked forward, and thinking that some of the buildings on the extremities of the complex might still be used for storage, moved swiftly on down the cracked concrete path underneath the first serious sun of the summer.

On rounding the first corner a figure moved toward us over a grassy hill we were approaching, we kept walking, all the time I was formulating my responses to any difficult to answer questions that might be thrown my way and hoping my heart would stop beating like a fucked metronome. I needn’t have worried, our greeting party was “Our Lady” or at least “Their Lady” herself. God damned religious statues always seem to be fucking doing something scary, be it bleeding out their stigmata or leaping out at you every corner you round. I was still pumped by the time we moved past the first boarded up building to the granite tunnel laundry’s that led us gradually down through a breach in itself to the building beyond, which housed the St.Kevins wards. Up to that point we were really just exploring the grounds, and trying to get far enough into the complex so that if we had to tear off one of these boards, we’d be far away so that the noise wouldn’t be heard.

As it turned out, St. Kevin’s just invited us in.

One of the wooden panels in a basement door had been torn out, and through that half window space we hefted one leg up and then the other, pulling ourselves through the small square with our hands. The building swallowed us in a suffocating absence of light. I went in first, K passed the pack and lamp we had brought through and then followed suit. To the left of us, wall, and to the right rectangles that stained the darkness a hissing deeper black, above these rectangles white timber window frames, looking onto nothing but brick.

We moved on, lamp on, suddenly coming upon a false dawn as we passed under a part of the roof that had rotted clean through. But soon enough we passed back into the darkness. Then another door, we passed crab style through it, as this time, the bottom half was kicked in. Then upwards upon concrete stairs we moved toward another brief oasis of light. A porch leading into an atrium, this time through a broken window in the door still jagged with glass. We managed to keep its teeth from spitting the hospitals infections through our derma and into the rivers within. The pink flesh of peeling paint dripped in tongues from the ceilings and walls in this Victorian reception area, but still the pink peeling skin was more inviting than the darkness beyond, around that corner, and deep into the creatures dead entrails. From here on in, all the windows were probably boarded up, that’s the way it looked from outside, save two up on the fourth floor. A deep breath and the decision is made, we offer ourselves to the corpse.

Report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals on the conditions in Our Lady's Hospital, Cork.

read at

Seanad Éireann - Volume 119 - 01 June, 1988:

"Five beds were placed along one wall while on the opposite wall a structure had been erected in which five patients were separately incarcerated. Each unit was roofed in the manner of a stall and each door was closed by three farmyard bolts. Mattresses were generally on the floor. These units did not have external windows or fresh air. There was a padded cell with a mattress on the floor of this ward. Toilets had no seats and there was no soap available to patients."

There was nothing else for it, I had to turn on the lamp, the florescent tube cast a pale and ghostly grey light that diffused into black within a few feet. High ceilings above our heads and dust, dirt and clag under foot. From this point on we hardly spoke and for a while, with every passing footfall my gut grew ever tighter. Thrown across the corridors were swathes of light here and there where windows remained unboarded but grilled and barred, descending down a skewed perspective to the nadir of the corridor, Beside and above me the whispering of the tongues of paint moved in the slight breezes that made their way through broken windows and cracks in boards. I was waiting to hear the tinkling of a ghostly piano somewhere out there in the darkness.

First we came across the Nurses station records of long ago prescribed medications then on to a dead baby blue wash station and beyond to a yawning open space. We moved onwards.

This was a place where towards the end of its life there were too few nurses to run the wards, there had been cutbacks in staff and many of the carers took early retirement, glad to be rid of the cracked minds and window panes of this under funded Bedlam. They left, and the cutbacks took their toll. But then something strange happened, the wards that should have been closed when the staff left, remained open. I can picture the patients, wild or vacant eyed, fat or thin, young or old, wandering like marie celestes in this place, locked up for the entire wintertime, playing riddles in their own heads and left to their own devices, people so lost in their own inner worlds that they abandoned their external to rack and ruin. Being brought milk in buckets and having their food stored in bins, treated like cattle but with less attention.

Report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals on the conditions in Our Lady's Hospital, Cork.

read at

Seanad Éireann - Volume 119 - 01 June, 1988:

“Earlier redundancies among nursing staffs were to have coincided with significant ward closures. The redundancies happened but the ward closures did not. The result is that the remaining staff are spread thinly over too many wards. It is not possible to establish cogent reasons why the ward closures did not go ahead as planned”.

They started wiping this stain from the collective consciousness of the City of Cork back in 1988, but until the thin light of my lamp illuminated the four thin pillars that stretched across this room, and outlined what I at first took to be a piece of patients art, I had no idea when precisely this section was closed but as I moved towards the "art", it gradually took a fuller and more defined form.

It was a poster and it wished me Happy New Year 2000, so, at least seven years dead, at least seven years since anyone lost control within these walls, seven years since anyone was sedated or electro shocked or frozen, or therapized with anything, be it psycho, gestault, interpersonal, art or information. I could hear that piano again, this time nearer, I could almost feel them dancing around me in this ghostly and perpetual gloom, whispering squeals of nonsensical delight in my ear.

We moved upward, again.

Christ’s face, empathic of all our pain, followed us around this place, it appeared on our left and on our right, staring at us from walls peering at us from discarded cards on the floor. We passed the pale white coffins of the patient baths and still the face of Jesus followed, perhaps in sympathy for what had happened which was never fully explained outside the unread pages of the confidential report.

Report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals on the conditions in Our Lady's Hospital, Cork.

read at

Seanad Éireann - Volume 119 - 01 June, 1988:

This is most notably evident in the illegal opposition to the transfer of patients from Our Lady's to Sarsfield Court. This was a disgraceful episode which reflects no credit on anybody and exemplifies management's inability or unwillingness to direct the service in the interests of the patients.” I want to emphasise that. The Inspector of Mental Hospitals clearly identified the responsibility in this matter as a responsibility of management. It reflects managements inability or unwillingness to direct the service in the interests of patients.”

Nothing more is said, at least in text, but I could hear the protests that day in the empty husk where it had all happened, however it evolved. Scratch and scrape their bodies, scratch and scrape their souls.

Another room, a white board, and a poem, some kind of lesson perhaps for the patients, never erased and left to hang forever before an empty room, you know the one, it told the patients of their birth when the moon was blood. Which I am sure helped them all a great deal.

We made it to the third floor, avoiding the sharpened detritus scattered all over this place. Each floor was slightly different, but each floor had those main spaces, each one slightly different, some had the remains of curtain rails, some had wooden frames arranged in odd patterns across half of the space. The best and most beautiful rooms of course, the ones that had four windows looking over the grey of the city and the green of the county had been used as store rooms. Another seemingly deliberate insult by the carers to those in their care.

However long we’d been in the place, it didn’t prepare us for the fifth floor, of which there is no mention in The Reading of The Report.

Another long dark claustrophobic tunnel of a corridor and then a shock of green and blue assailed my eyes, lit from above a whole wall shining with life just at the corridors seeming terminus. A mountain-scape on a glorious day, families lying in the grass appreciating the all the joys that life bestows upon them through the rays of the sun and the gentle fingers of the breeze that nature envelops them with.

A man struggles as they put the electrodes to his temple, his eyes widen and his pupils shrink to dots as the lights assault his face, he screams, I shocked leap an inch within my skin and a bird flies out a hole in the fucking roof. Christ, mustn’t let my imagination get the better of me in this place, the old heart won’t take it. But at least there’s light.

So comfortable in our false sense of security we walked on. The murals extended down a corridor to our left and our right, here and there a voice from beyond, screaming in its own isolated rage scrawled over a placid view of a beach and endless calming blue ocean beyond. A rage consumed by a madness that they hadn’t yet locked the author up for. It was like being inside someone else’s head, that of a confused and violent child spitting blood over the pretty pictures on the walls of his playroom.

We went forward and then to the left into the first room of this demented theatre set.

It’s dark, save for the occasional shaft of light thrown downward by a hole in the roof, gloomy, enough to keep the lamp on. Its quiet for a long time before we enter the room so the crunch of sand underfoot echoes through the room and in our ears like a gunshot. Sand is out of place here, as much as a gun at a wedding, what the fuck? I look down and spread out around my feet, about two or three inches thick, is a bed of sand, a sand pit in fact that covers just about half of this large room. On the walls are painted a verdant lush forest green, creepers a creeping up the walls and around the park benches put up against the wall in the vast adult playpen, between them thrust paintings of trees, your gaze runs the rest of the length of the room, and no matter how you try you cant seem to make out what that dark humped shape crouched in the shadows at the end of the room is.

It turns out that the further you get into this floor the farther outside it takes you.

The dark shape is a mock waterfall, nestled among the trees, I’m unsure as to whether there was actual flowing water in it at any point, but when I saw it there were brown pools of dank brine in the creases of grass coloured plastic. Around this mock waterfall, rocks were scattered, big ones, some you’d need two hands to pick up.

And one lonely bony knuckled branch.

Outside, Inside.

Couldn’t have been a locked ward here because as K said, you leave material like this around in a locked ward and you have yourself a bunch of armed and disruptive patients. No, it wasn’t that. This was different, this must have been for passive patients that just couldn’t face, or as the report says, we not allowed, to go outside. So they built

Outside, Inside.

To our left, some violent uncontrolled rage had kicked, or used a tool to smash, gaping holes in a passive vista of hills, seas, and a running iconic theme of this hospital, horses. In the next room we were confronted with an eight foot tall cage with a wooden frame and sealed with chicken wire. Behind the door, which hung by one tendon like hinge were murals of parrots

K had heard rumours from some of the staff that used to work there about this kind of thing, environment reversal and even some talk of keeping animals indoors….That’s what they did here. This I am sure housed parrots. And to our left.

A collapsed wall about three foot high, shaped like a square in the corner of the room, one side left free for a gate, all collapsed. From the look of it, parrots weren’t the only animal that they kept indoors in these dark claustrophobic rooms this could have been a sheep, or a pig, perhaps a deer. Who knows, but it wasn’t for a dog, that much was evident.

And the mewling of animals rang through the madhouse every night.

Beyond these grotesque curios and through another brutally attacked mural on a partition wall someone waited to speak with us.

It was K. who found it. It lay on its back, lonely on the dusty floorboards in the centre of the room. It was a pottery figure of a woman, one tiny pupil, one huge with some unknown madness, who fought to claw her way out of, what looked at first glance like a bowl, but then my stomach sank as I remembered all the tiny cramped cells we passed by, cells that got smaller and smaller the further down you went, until down in the basement, well… can see it at the top of the article. Beyond it was the wall and its cryptic, panicked waving of hands, smearing of understanding, scouring of reason and the blinding of sanity. Desperate stabbings at a blank wall. Sound and Fury, signifying nothing? Or everything? I favour the latter, it was just so big and refused to stay still none of these desperate swipes at a blank wall could capture the enormity and speed of it, taunting them at their incapacity to express themselves. Manic Phrases repeated again and again, like the Birthday Party wailing “express myself??! EXPRESS MYSELF!! Say something say anything, express yourself” but always elusive, ever maddening.

Other art, other lines of confusion, hate and fear. Leading us straight to the Sunshine Café, shot in the face by the boards nailed across its two broken eyes that looked back down over the county of Cork. More horse motifs, now starting to follow us in stop motion animation wherever we crept in this cadaver. There was nowhere to go but down, and we moved, thankfully unbarred, toward the still visible exit signs at the periphery of the lamp light. We had little more than an hour of daylight left, and it was best not to get caught in this husk without any light helping us from the cracks. We decided to start the journey back down toward the wound we came in by. We took a while to find the right stairwell that would lead us down to our departure point, at this point I could almost feel the buildings architecture creakingly rearrange itself so as to confound our exit, its laughter implicit in the creaking timbers and dripping faucets in the impenetrable darkness of this hidden underworld. We passed a mural of the liffey and the stern unforgiving grandeur of the Four Courts on the way out, a reminder I am sure of who may have been complicit in both their confinement and abandonment.

The Sun split the firmament when we emerged, the sky wider than it had been for weeks, and the plants breathed life into my lungs, within seconds cleansing me of the damp decay of forgotten madness, pain and suffering.

As the man says, lest we forget.

Seanad Éireann - Volume 119 - 01 June, 1988

Adjournment Matter. - Our Lady's Hospital, Cork.

"Mr. B. Ryan: When you consider that we make them all, old age pensioners, pay for it. We take most of [1940] their income, the best part of £40 a week from them. They pay for that confinement, that locking up in dirty unsanitary conditions. We have to and must make very fundamental choices. It is a disgrace that people have been paid large salaries, salaries twice and three times the average industrial wage to manage such an institution of confinement. Those people have failed to discharge their duties. They should resign or be sacked. Messrs. Denis Dudley, Donal O'Sullivan and Pettit should either resign or be sacked. They are unfit for their job. They are a disgrace to their profession and they should be dispensed with.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: In fairness, would the Senator withdraw those remarks? You cannot name people if they are not here to defend themselves.

Mr. B. Ryan: I have named them and I make no apology for naming them. They are not accountable to anybody I know for what they do. Tell me where I can make them accountable?"

Where indeed?

A FLICKR SLIDESHOW OF PHOTOS TAKEN ON THE DAY, click on the "i" that appears over image for image comment.

Peace and Hope



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