Life at Garden Hill

Garden Hill was part of the South Dublin Union where Alex became master. Below a map of the Union in 1907, the year before Alex’s death. You can see Garden Hill on the left.

. Picture from the website The Workhouse” The Story of an Institution by Peter Higginbotham. It is an interesting and informative website. If you are interested in the duties of the Master and Matron of the workhouse you can see them here.

If Agnes was Matron, she would be responsible for the care and welfare of the female inmates.  She would also be having her own family which in the end, came to a total of 8. When her sister Sarah died, she took in her three children. Her last pregnancy was difficult. She was carrying twins but miscarried one at 6 months.

Alex spent most of his life trying to improve conditions at the Union. Things had certainly improved since the idea of “the Union” had been implemented but money was always the bottom line. In 1895, the workhouse was visited by a “commission” from the British Medical Journal investigating conditions in Irish workhouse infirmaries. Their report noted that South Dublin had separate infirmaries for Roman Catholic and Protestant patients, staffed respectively by nuns (Sisters of Mercy) and deaconesses, with a large number of pauper inmates acting as nursing assistants. Although some of the deaconesses had been trained at Tottenham Hospital, the nuns lacked any formal nursing training. The nuns also only worked during the daytime, and acted only in a supervisory role in the male wards. A total of thirteen nuns and around half a dozen deaconesses had charge of more than a thousand patients, with some wards being “distinctly overcrowded”. Further details are available in the full report. The BMJ’s revelations contributed to the introduction of significant improvements in the standard of Irish workhouse nursing, with the employment of pauper inmates as nurses ending ending after the passing of 1898 Local Government Act.” (From the Workhouse website) It may very well be that Alex called for this inspection. As time went by and the unions were disbanded, the workhouse was converted into St. James Hospital where they discovered a part of it in the Trinity College additon in 2002. . In 1908, Alex fell while getting out of a car and broke his knee. The ensuing pneumonia killed him. He was only 57.

Two Obituaries for Alex Fraser:

Fraser Alex Obit Irish Times

Fraser Alex Obit Freemans Journ

Both obituaries show that Alex was held in “high esteem” in Dublin, the Irish Times commenting on his business ability and “unvarying courtesy”. The Freeman’s Journal shows us what family was in attendance (the woman didn’t attend, we don’t know why), church officiates, including John Holmes, his former teacher and the man who performed his wedding ceremony. Other attendees included the Board of Guardians and clerics for the Union, the Medical staff, even members of the public. It is a veritable who’s who of the city.

6 thoughts on “Life at Garden Hill

  1. Hi Yolanda, my colleague and I were very interested to read your blog about the Fraser family and their lives at Garden Hill, South Dublin Union (now St. James’s Hospital). We have worked in Garden Hill house (now offices) for over 20 years. We are terribly interested to find out more about the history of the families who liven in Garden Hill and indeed more about the house itself, including photos. Sadly the house is due for demolition next year to make way for a new paediatric hospital so any information you have will be of great interest to us and vice-versa I hope. Thank you.


      • I am probably a bit late coming to this table but my Grandfather Edward Doyle was Master of the Union and almost certainly took over from Alex after his death , the family were certainly living in Garden Hill at the time of the Easter Rising . I have some interesting tales handed from those times. I would be pleased to share stories and associated knowledge with anybody who may be interested.


      • Hi Edward, I would be very interested in the tales and information you may have in relation to Garden Hill House. I worked there for 24 years. Sadly it was demolished in 2016 to make way for the building of the new national children’s hospital.


  2. Hi Edward,
    I am just wondering if you are still in a position to share the stories on Garden Hill house and indeed any photographs?
    Kind Regards,


  3. I don’t know how I came across this, but I attended Garden Hill in the early 1970’s, for reasons I still don’t know. I had a pronounced lisp which may have been the reason I was there. My memories are vague, but I remember it being like a day ward. There was a lot of toys and presses, which we weren’t allowed to pull to one side – there was more toys in there, so naturally our curiosity was piqued. The staff would also play records – one, about a train “coming around the corner” is still stuck in my head, but I still can’t find the song anywhere. We were also, on occasion, allowed to sleep in beds, but no one did; once one child started shouting, we all followed suit. I also remember a very kind doctor, who came in once a week and asked me to read a random book. She also gave me word searches and puzzles to play around with and, her colleague, would get the children to fill in workbooks. There was several, with each having a different coloured banner – depending on the difficulty level. I recall all of the children working quickly through them. I don’t know when I stopped attending. Both my parents are long passed on and my mother was always reluctant to answer questions when I asked, except to say it wasn’t a creche and the local GP referred me onto it, because I “read too fast” (not a joke). If anyone can enlighten me, I’d really appreciate it. I have children now and they often ask about my life growing up and I’d like to tell them about it. For many years I walked through the hospital and wondered where it was – expecting the building had been long torn down. Then, about eight years ago, I wandered down and found it. It was much smaller than I remembered and I’m sorry to hear it’s gone now. Anyway, thanks for reading.


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