In 2005 two doctors bought a former orthopedic hospital in the small County Westmeath village of Coole, with the intention of turning it into a substantial medical facility, borrowing substantial sums of money from Ulster Bank to do so. As sometimes happens, the two partners disagreed over the development of the site, as plans came to include provision not only of a medical centre and ancillary facilities, but also a number of residential units (the entire country was then entering peak-Celtic Tiger era when housing schemes were ubiquitous). One of the pair accordingly exited the scheme, and the other remained involved. Then, as so often happened, in the aftermath of the economic crash, the entire project foundered and in 2012 the property went into receivership. Two years later the original Ulster Bank loan was transferred to a large investment company called Promontoria (Aran) Limited (a subsidiary of the American private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management). In 2017 Promontoria sought to recover some of its money by offering the place for sale. A medical centre still operates from the site.
The core of what became St Joseph’s Orthopaedic hospital dates from 1897 and was developed by Teresa Dease whose family lived close by in a house called Turbotstown (see https://theirishaesthete.com/tag/turbotstown/). The Deases were resolutely Roman Catholic, never wavering from the faith of their forebears even during the years of Penal legislation, yet managing to hold onto their ancestral lands. It was here, on a site adjacent to the church built by her grandfather, that Teresa Dease established what was initially intended to be a school to train young girls for a life in domestic service by teaching them such skills as housekeeping, cookery, needlework and laundry work. However, after a number of years, she closed the school and in 1916 passed responsibility for the building to an order of nuns, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who ran the place as an orthopaedic hospital for boys. It continued in operation until 1981, and thereafter the buildings sat empty and deteriorating until acquired in 2005 by the aforementioned pair of doctors. In the aftermath of its closure, and the revelation of widespread abuse in institutions run by religious orders, a great deal of disturbing information emerged about practices in St Joseph’s Hospital although here – as elsewhere – the relevant documentation disappeared, making it difficult for those who deservedly sought recognition and compensation for what they experienced to pursue their claims.
As mentioned, a medical centre operates on part of the site formerly occupied by St Joseph’s Hospital, from a range constructed for this purpose. But the ambition of the intended development is visible in other buildings left incomplete, roads leading nowhere, and in particular the condition of the original property erected in 1897 and, it appears, used as the nuns’ residence. Old photographs show this was formerly linked to other parts of the hospital, in particular a chapel in Hiberno-Romanesque style built in the mid-1930s. This still stands but many of the other extensions were taken down, seemingly at the onset of the redevelopment. The interior of the convent building was completely gutted, with only the old staircase surviving in a partially mangled state. And then the enterprise stalled, and the place was abandoned. And so it has remained ever since; a reminder more than a decade later of how not all Celtic Tiger ambitions were realized.