DESPITE a cold and rainy April day, a large crowd gathered in the grounds of St Fintan’s Hospital in Portlaoise for a memorial blessing in aid of people who died in Maryborough Mental Hospital between 1832 and 1898, and were not taken home for burial.
The memorial has four corners representing men and women from Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath.
After Mass, Msgr John Byrne PP and Reverend Stanley Monkhouse blessed the memorial which was erected by the Portlaoise Mental Health Association, with the help of the HSE. They were helped with the blessing by Christy Kiernan and John Graham of St Fintan’s Hospital.
“It is a lovely and fitting memorial, there was a lot of sadness but we can look to the future and and put memories to rest, and so move on”, said Reverend Monkhouse. Msgr Byrne shared the same sentiments.
“It is a marvellous achievement and credit is due to the Mental Health Association. It is a part of our past which is shameful, these people weren’t treated with the dignity they deserved.” He added that where the memorial stands is now sacred ground. “It redressess the neglect of past respect and care.” he said.
The Portlaoise Mental Association was formed 41 years ago. One of its members, Breda Cooley told the Leinster Express that members take the hospital patients on day trips among other things.
“We befriend them and bring them out, and we look after them at Christmas and Easter. There are nine people left in the association with an average age of 70,” she said.
There is also a friendly peoples’ club held every month where members play cards and meet socially.
“When we formed there were 450 patients in the hospital. Many of them had no visitors and no relatives so we meet them and help integrate them into the community. We also support those living in the community residents homes.”
The Portlaoise Mental Association do regular fundraising with flag days, church gate collections and whist. There are also branches in Tullamore, Birr, Portarlington and Rathdowney.