Medical services have been provided on this site for well over 700 years.
The first building here was St. Stephen’s Chapel, which was in existence from about 1230. By 1394, it had been converted into a Lazar House (Leper Hospital), which, together with a second Leper Hospital located in Townsend Street, provided much needed care for what was then a terrible affliction. Interestingly, both of the Lazar Houses were situated on the then outskirts of Dublin and were thought to be safe as they were sufficiently far from the Castle.
In 1724, a lady of the town, Mary Mercer, set up a “fine stone house” for the shelter of poor girls and the management of this was taken over approximately a decade later by a group of eminent physicians and surgeons who founded Mercer’s Hospital as a charitable institution. The original crest refers to the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Hospital motto was “Fac Similiter”, meaning “Do Likewise”. This Hospital attracted many eminent clinicians of the time, and was supported by the great and good of Dublin. Dean Jonathan Swift was on the first board of governors.
As a charitable institution, it showed considerable ingenuity over the years in terms of fundraising. In 1744, a benefit concert for the Hospital was held featuring an anthem composed for the occasion by William Boyce, Master of the King’s Music, entitled “Blessed is He that Considereth the Sick and Needy”. This event has been supplanted in popular memory by a much more important musical occasion the following year. On 13th April 1742, the world premiere of Handel’s Messiah was held in the Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Dublin, to raise funds for Mercer’s Hospital.
In anticipation of a large attendance, ladies were requested to come without hoops, and gentlemen without swords. In 1784, the College of Surgeons was founded and acquired its first premises in Mercer Street immediately adjacent to the Hospital, thus starting a long and fruitful relationship which continues to this day.
In 1904, another fundraising initiative was held. This was the Mirus Bazaar, a one week fête which proved wildly successful and is mentioned several times in James Joyce’s Ulysses, who was so taken with the event that he chose to move its date so that it fell on Bloomsday.
Over the years, the Hospital façade demonstrated many changes but eventually time took its toll and it closed as an acute general hospital in 1983. It was subsequently purchased by RCSI who spent several years restoring it to its former glory before re-opening it in 1991 as a clinical centre and medical library.
The medical centre has recently been refurbished thanks to generous funding from the Mercer’s Foundation, who continue to carry on the original legacy of the Hospital – to care for the ill and needy of Dublin.