By Sarah Larkin, All Hallows Archivist, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth
Following the closure of All Hallows College, Dublin in 2016, its archives (dating back to its foundation in 1842) were transferred to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. The archives are currently being catalogued so that they can be opened to researchers. One of the many interesting items I have catalogued so far is a photo album which documents one of All Hallows’ past president’s time as a patient in a TB clinic in the Black Forest in Germany (AHC/4/1/2).
Fr William Purcell, CM was born in Tipperary in 1891. He was ordained a Vincentian priest on 25 May 1918. His first appointment was to All Hallows College in Dublin, where he taught history and was also responsible for keeping an eye on the younger students who walked to Earlsfort Terrace for classes each day. Fr Purcell would be seen commuting back and forth on a bicycle, and during those commutes he witnessed many memorable scenes in the turbulent city. He later recalled:
‘The nearest I got to a graveyard was when an ambush took place on Tolka Bridge which I half saw from my window. I stood on Butt Bridge, too, when the Customs House was burning. And, of course, I was in Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. I should get a medal for that, because I took home a little child I met outside the gate!’
In 1927, Fr Purcell was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lung. In the early decades of the 20th century, TB was a serious and very prevalent illness in Ireland. Consumption, as it was called, claimed thousands of lives annually. In October of that year Fr Purcell set out for Nordrach Sanatorium in the Black Forest in Germany, where he spent eighteen months as a patient. The photo album contains 34 black and white photographs taken in 1928. They show Fr Purcell and the other patients at the clinic, in the picturesque scenery surrounding it, and in the nearby town of Nordrach. Fr Purcell served as President of All Hallows College from 1948 until his death on 24 May 1961.
The Nordrach Sanatorium was established in the late nineteenth century by Dr Otto Walther, for the treatment of advanced tuberculosis. The rooms of the clinic were some 460 metres above sea level, with windows to expose patients to the refreshing winds. Nordrach thrived as a clinic throughout the early 1930s. Dr Walther, as a Jew, came under increased scrutiny as the Nazis came to power in Germany, and the sanatorium was eventually forced to close.
This pencil portrait of Fr Purcell, which was inserted into the photo album, is signed at Badenweiler, another TB sanatorium in the south of Germany. It was drawn shortly before Fr Purcell returned to Ireland in 1929.
However, after only a short time at home in Ireland, he was again obliged to return to a clinic for medical treatment, this time in Switzerland. By the 1950s, TB was being treated effectively with antibiotics, and many of the European sanatoriums previously devoted to it began to close.
All Hallows Annual (1929-1930): http://allhallows.ie/cms/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/1922-1930-Annuals.pdf Accessed October 2018.
All Hallows Annual (1962-1963): http://allhallows.ie/cms/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/1962-1963-Annuals-vol-38.pdf Accessed October 2018.
Buckley, Dan, ‘The silent terror that consumed so many’ Irish Examiner (24 August 2010): https://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/health/the-silent-terror-that-consumed-so-many-128709.html Accessed October 2018.