Passage East Quarantine Hospital

The quarantine station at Passage East was used in the past as a place where sick sailors could be held under observation, to ensure that the ports of Waterford and New Ross were protected from diseases such as Cholera.  I first heard of it as a child when fishing, as it was often mentioned as a placename, when we drifted downriver for salmon. The site is above the village of Passage on the Waterford side and it was little more than a step on the rivers edge in those days.  But the story had the power to scare, and I never once went near the location for fear of catching the plague!
OSI Historic map excerpt of the hospital
The stories I heard were of ships calling to the harbour being held at Passage and Ballyhack until they were cleared by customs to continue upriver to Waterford and New Ross. Captains were required to report the health of the ships company, and any sick sailors were expected to be declared, either to the custom officials directly or by the hoisting of a flag (the yellow jack) which led to a punt being rowed out to the vessel and the sailor, or sailors being taken ashore to the hospital. The ship was then anchored away from others to await news of the sailor in an area designated as “quarantine grounds”. In some cases it appears that ships coming from ports where illnesses had been reported, could expect to be detained. They would anchor away from others, and I had heard there was an actual spot near Buttermilk for excluding ships.

Passage Hospital via Paul O’Farrell and from an original via NLI
panoramic album photos circa 1907/8.

Quarantine has a long history, most probably originating with the black death in Europe in the 14th Century where it took millions of lives. The concerns for ship borne diseases grew and from the early 1700’s laws were enacted in the UK and Ireland to protect ports and citizenry. In some cases ships were used to guard harbours, here’s an example from Liverpool. Evidence about the local hospital however is scarce, and apart from the local folklore (always in my experience containing many grains of truth) little seems to be written about the building or its history. Online sources deal with the issue of quarantine in general, and highlight just how prevalent it was at all the major ports*.

The earliest mention I could find in the newspapers for Passage was from 1884 (1). Under a heading of Waterford Board of Guardians, we are told via a sub heading of a meeting of the board (best known for their overseeing of the workhouses and administering the poor laws). There are efforts afoot to take back control of the Quarantine Hospital, the keys of which were then in the hands of a builder who had refurbished the building at a cost of £200.(2)

Quarantine ship at Standgate Creek (Medway)
By Unknown – UK National Maritime Museum, Public Domain,
In June 1905 the Waterford Standard (3) covers another meeting of the Board, and the minutes reveal a letter received from the workhouse, seeking permission for sick children to be allowed attend Passage Hospital. The Board however, is no longer in charge. It passed to the control of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority in 1904.

HMS Hazard flying the yellow jack 1841
source: National Maritime Museum, London

In 1910 we learn of a dispute amongst members of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority where the building is referred to as an Intercepting Hospital(4). Following a cholera outbreak in Russia and three cholera incidents; on two separate ships in London (where a quarantine hospital is based close to Gravesend), and an incident in Italy, a circular has issued from the Local Government Board of Ireland urging the need for up to date disinfecting devices to treat the clothing and bedding of quarantined sailors. The article provides lots of heat, by way of argument, but not much light! Readers will be delighted to hear that a sub committee was to be formed, if any cases arose.

The most recent mention comes from 1949 (5), when we are told the Intercepting Hospital which was under the control of the Waterford and New Ross Port Sanitary Authority has passed to the control of the Health Authority.

To conclude what better than a memory from a member of the fishing community. Eamon Duffin shares this recollection with me from a fishing trip in the 1950’s;
I remember calling in there with my grandfather, Jimmy Duffin, on the way back from salmon fishing. There was a concrete landing stage with iron railings. The building was of rusting galvanised sheets. You could see old iron beds with bedclothes and pillows thrown on them and on the floor. There were bottles and jars and dressings strewn about also. That was as far as we got as my grandfather said that, “you wouldn’t know what you’d catch if you went in”.

The landing stage as it looks now

My thanks to Paul O’Farrell, John O’Sullivan, James Doherty, Bernard Cunningham, Pat Moran and Eamon Duffin for assistance with this piece

Since publication Paul O’Farrell sent on the following list of Irish quarantine stations on the Island of Ireland, from government papers dated 1828  –

  • Poolbeg in the harbour of Dublin
  • Warren point in the harbour of Newry
  • near Garmoyle in the harbour of Belfast
  • Tarbert in the River Shannon, harbour of Limerick,
  • Baltimore,
  • Passage on the River Suir, Harbour of Waterford,
  • White Gate, Cove of Cork
  • Green Castle, Lough Foyle and
  • Black Rock, Galway Bay

Also a link I have since found, dating an order for the establishment at Passage to 1824  This must have been a temporary station, or an area designated as a quarantine ground as a later blog post revealed that there was no hospital in place during a cholera outbreak in the country in 1832.