Archival Showcase – Mater Misercordiæ Archives

In our interview with archivist, Helen Madden, we introduce you to one of Ireland’s history of science, medicine and technology archives.

What is the name of your collection?

Mater Misericordiae University Hospital Archive

Overview of collection(s) (materials present, who does it relate to, etc).

The collection contains the papers of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital from its opening in 1861 to the early 2010’s. The material is extremely wide-ranging and highlights the foundation and day-to-day running of the hospital. It includes mainly administrative, financial, nursing records, and hospital project development papers created by the hospital, but also some patient records, clinical education records, and material relating to the hospitals’ culture. There is also a large collection of photographs of previous staff, students, and buildings, as well as a collection of ephemera, medical equipment, and various objects and signage relating to the Maters’ history.

The collection is divided into nine main series – Administrative Papers (1861-2013) which currently contains annual reports; the minute books of the Mater’s Medical Board, Executive Committee, and Executive Management Committee; select minute books of the various Sub-Committees of the Executive Committee; material relating to the hospital constitution and various related hospitals annual reports. The Financial Papers (1861-1970) contain a series of general financial account books, mainly debit and credit general ledgers including the receipts and Expenditure of Medical Board; cash books, and annual accounts.

The collection also contains material on Patients’ Records (1861-1924); these include patient admission and discharge registers, operating theatre registers, and a small selection of various other patient records including an autopsy register, an early gynaecological patient register and a volume of [?Dr Thomas Hayden’s] case notes/patient notebook. Due to the sensitive personal information contained within some of these records, special permission needs to be obtained to view records under 100 years old. For full details of access rules see the MMUHA Access Policy.

The Nursing (1891-2015) series contains administrative records which include registers of probationer nurses from the opening of the original School of Nursing in 1891 until 1960, although due to some of these containing personal information, only registers dating up to 1920 are available for general research (again, for full details of access rules see the MMUHA Access Policy); material on the College of Nursing which includes nursing certificates and badges; records relating to College of Nursing commemorative events; the Mater Nurses Home and some Bord Altranais material such as reports and newsletters. There is also a large collection of photographs relating to the School and College of Nursing including prize giving and graduation classes, reunions, retirements and assorted College events (1956-[c2015]).

The Education (1861-2012) series includes pupil registers from the opening of the Mater in 1861 to the mid twentieth century, and student and clinical teaching staff attendance books from 1886 until the 1950’s. Only pupil registers dating up to 1920 are available for general research; for full details of access rules see the MMUHA Access Policy.

There is also a large series on Hospital Premises and Project Development (1935-[c1995]) currently containing information on the construction of the Mater Hospital during the late 1850’s-1860’s; the 1937 Chapel build; and the re-development of the Eccles Street Mater Hospital properties.

The Hospital Culture & Ephemera (1961-2014) series contains material relating to the social and cultural life of the Mater hospital; namely material published by the Mater including various published books on the history of the hospital; and a set of newsletters produced by the hospital staff and management containing news and social events from 1966-2014.

The Audio-Visual (1897-2000) series currently contains black and white and colour photographs of the Mater campus as well as a series of the Mater Rugby Football Club teams. See the Nursing series for a large collection of photographs relating to the College of Nursing. Finally, the Objects [c1939]-present) series contains a small selection of medical equipment including the Edward T Freeman collection, and the Commemorative Objects/Glassware subseries currently containing presentation glassware presented to mark special Hospital events or as retirement gifts.

Partial records of the Mater Private Nursing Home, currently the Mater Private Hospital, are also contained in the MMUH archive. These consist primarily of financial records, namely general Private Hospital financial accounts (1959-1978); patient account ledgers (1956-1975); salary records (1959-1979); and patient admission registers (1925-1959).

Due to the previous destruction of many of the former records, there are unfortunately significant gaps in the chronology of much of the archival material.

Collection highlights (especially interesting material, overlooked sections, etc.)

The various sets of patient admission registers, registers of probationer (student) nurses and of medical students are highlights of the collection.

The large collection of photographs of the hospital buildings, staff, and of Eccles Street and the former Dominican School and convent are an amazing visual record.

The surviving financial records are a somewhat overlooked treasure trove of information as to how a large hospital was ran from the late 19th century onwards. The various registers list all receipts and expenditures including all provisions (i.e. meat, eggs, tea, vegetables etc.) bought; surgical and dispensary supplies such as X-Ray films, drugs and chemicals and dressings and bandages; through to various necessities such as bedding and linens; coal and gas; postage and stationary; rents, rates, taxes and insurance; and staff salaries. Many of the local businesses and companies listed are no longer in operation such as the Mountjoy Brewery, Becker Bros (Groceries – Tea), Millar and Beattie (Furniture), M Clarke (Meat), Centenary Co-Op Dairy, M Costello (Fishmongers), and J Downes (bread). There are reflections of national and global events via listings for the [British] War Office – for wounded soldiers maintenance (1915-1919); payment from Dublin Corporation for Influenza cases, and a donation to the Dublin Castle Red Cross Hospital (1919); income from a grant from the National Relief Fund, Irish Committee towards the war deficits of the Voluntary hospitals (1921); and payments towards Air Raid Precautions in the Mater (1949). There are also recorded the various charitable bequests to the Mater in order to contribute towards funds for its own upkeep.

The Medical Board Cash Book (1861-1902) gives insights not only of the income and expenditure of the Medical Board of the Mater but also into the medical student’s social and recreational life. The Board contributed towards the entry to the Dublin Hospitals Cup rugby competition, club equipment and trophy shields; a hockey club subscription and an Irish Language society subscription. The series of later salary books for all medical, surgical, nursing, paramedical and domestic staff from 1939 onwards provide an invaluable record of staff names, particularly concerning the domestic and maintenance staff which are under-represented in the archival collection.

There is also a casebook seemingly belonging to one of the Senior Physicians Dr Thomas Hayden dating from [c1865-1869] with patients names, wards, and all medicines prescribed by Dr Hayden for the patients; a very interesting addition to the history of 19th century Irish medicine.

What is your favourite item in the collection?

Bending the rules slightly, the set of early Patient Admission registers for 1861-1878. They provide a record of forgotten people, occupations and streets and lanes of Victorian Dublin and Ireland. The registers are also valuable for epidemiological tracing as during the various typhoid, cholera and smallpox epidemics in the city all patients’ addresses were recorded, providing a map of the outbreaks.

Honourable mentions go to a printed Admission card for the hospital [c1890’s]; the Morbid Specimens’ register for the Pathology Museum (1903-1906) written mainly by hospital Pathologist Prof. Edmond McWeeney; and an original lotion bottle from the hospital [c1920’s].

What collection/section receives the most requests?

A tie between the early Patient Admission registers for 1861-1878 and the set of Medical Board Minutes for 1861-1970.

How can this archive be accessed by researchers?

Contact the Archivist Helen Madden at or phone 01 860 7590 to book an appointment date and time in our research room.

Why is this collection significant? What is driving this collection of materials?

This collection is significant as it is unique to a major Dublin-based, and nationally serving, Irish hospital which contains diverse sources relating to and illustrating the development of a large medical institution, as well as its development and contribution to Irish medical and surgical history.

Is your catalogue digitised? If so, could you provide the URL?

There is an online catalogue for the Mater Archive listing all currently available records, very kindly hosted by the R.C.P.I. Heritage Centre on their website. Search for the collection reference number “MMUHA” in their online catalogue to view; go to to search.


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