Beneath the East Wing: The Inns Quay Infirmary, 1728-89

The above image shows the site of the Four Courts as surveyed by John Roque in 1756, when it was still owned by the Benchers of the King’s Inns. You can see what is left of the old Priory/King’s Inns buildings on the far left. Much of the rest of the site has been built on – sometimes, but not always, with the permission of the Benchers.

The Charitable Infirmary started life in Cook Street in 1718, but soon ran out of space and was delighted to take up in 1728 an offer to move to part of the King’s Inns site. The old house into which it moved and which it subsequently renovated is hatched black at the bottom of the map above and also shown below.

The Charitable Infirmary, Inns Quay

During the period 1728-1789, the Infirmary on Inns Quay ran a brisk accident and emergency department treating fractured skulls due to riots, husbands and city villains, legs broken as a result of falling off horses or houses or escaping stray bulls, burns and scarring after exploding boilers and runaway carriages.

In 1789, to facilitate the building of the Four Courts, the Infirmary moved to premises in Jervis Street. Sadly, two workmen involved in demolishing its former buildings to make way for the East Wing were killed when a wall fell on them.

The above images from c. 1800-1805 show the Four Courts almost immediately after its construction. The infirmary is gone, but another building immediately beside the eastern wing remains in place for the time being.

Barely visible on the eastern side of this building is a small lane, Mass Lane, leading down to a chapel originally used by the Dominican Friars and subsequently donated by William III to the Huguenots – you can see its site marked ‘PC’ (Presbyterian Church) on the map above and it is also visible as the building the rear of which is very close to the Four Courts below.

In 1802 the Ormonde Bridge downriver at Charles Street (the ruins of which are shown on one of the images above) was destroyed in a storm and it was decided to erect a replacement bridge closer to the Four Courts at Mass Lane.

Subsequently, to faciliate access to this bridge, all the houses on the west side of Mass Lane above including the adjacent building and the chapel behind, were acquired by the Wide Streets Commissioners. The Commissioners walled around the now-vacant site and let it out on a temporary basis. As you can see below, this resulted in a somewhat uncomfortable arrival onto Inns Quay for those crossing the new bridge!

By the mid 19th century Chancery Place has been finally built and this vacant area beside the Courts fully incorporated within the Four Courts site behind a neat barrier which – in one shape or another – remained in place until 1922.

I wonder what would be found if we dug around the edges of the East Wing today?

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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