By Dan Walsh
A large section of the once enclosed perimeter wall has fallen, scorched trees and discarded beer cans indicate the residue of anti-social behaviour and evidence of disrespect and neglect secretly spoils the small cemetery attached to the once existent St Senan’s Psychiatric Hospital at Killagoley, on the outskirts of Enniscorthy.
Nobody knows how many people are buried there and nobody knows their names. There is an exception. Rose Quinn, who was abandoned by her family and died in the Wexford District Lunatic Asylum, as St Senan’s used to be known, has not been forgotten.
A four-year investigation by her great-niece, Patricia Quinn-Murphy, brought Rose’s fate into the public arena. Patricia’s findings suggest that Rose was one of countless Irish people, mostly women, banished to asylums and erased from memory in the first half of this century.
Patricia, who lives in Wexford, first heard of Rose when she began to compile a family tree shortly before her father died in 1994. He listed his aunts and uncles, all familiar names, and then added: “And there was Rose.” It was the first time she had heard the name.
Her father went on to describe his recollection, as a six-year-old, of standing outside the parish church in Clongeen, Foulksmills, in 1906, as his mother tried to persuade Rose, then aged 35, to go through with an arranged marriage against her will.
All he knew was that Rose married the man but refused to live with him, was committed to an asylum and died within a year. “I decided I had to find out about her life, so I started trying to get information from St Senan’s.”
Initially the hospital was unable to assist and said records from the time were not available. It referred her to Wexford County Council, which at one time was responsible for health administration, but it, too, had no information. In the meantime, Patricia established that Rose was not buried with either her husband’s or her own family.
She did not become aware of the cemetery behind St Senan’s until September 1999, when she decided to call to the hospital and seek information directly. A staff member took her to the back of the hospital and showed her the small, private cemetery.
Some small white crosses were placed by a boundary wall, and a larger cross stood in the middle. But there were no names and nothing to mark individual graves.
Patricia Quinn wrote letters to local politicians, clergy, a local newspaper, anybody who might be able to help. Then a local researcher Margaret Hawkins took an interest in the issue, she produced a documentary and wrote the story in a book – Restless Spirit; The Story of Rose Quinn, published by Mercier Press, 2006) and real public progress commenced.
“Rose was admitted to the asylum on February 16th, 1907, with “melancholia”. This was three months after her marriage. She died, probably from TB contracted in the hospital, on May 4th the same year, less than six months after her wedding.
The records also show she had been transferred to the asylum from the workhouse at New Ross. The circumstances in which she went to the workhouse in the first place are not clear, but she could have been referred there by the asylum if it were overcrowded.
The cemetery at St Senan’s was used until the 1940s and probably became operational shortly after the asylum was opened in 1868. It is unknown how many people were buried there.
The dead of St Senan’s Hospital were remembered by staff and patients, and for about 30 years or so a Patron had been held at the cemetery each summer.
Patricia Quinn’s quest for answers came to a “happy end” when a monument was unveiled at the cemetery by the Bishop of Ferns, Dr Brendan Comiskey in October 2000. It carries the dedication: “Sacred to the memory of all the people who were laid to rest in this graveyard many years ago.” A committee was also established by the hospital to oversee the maintenance of the cemetery in the future.
The St. Senan’s Hospital site and land has been sold and the burial grounds just outside the walls of the St. Senan’s lands beside a public road and public access is open. Sadly, it appears that those who were laid to rest here without name and record, briefly remembered by Margaret Hawkin’s documentary and book and Patricia Quinn’s determination to find answers from the past, are once more neglected and forgotten.