Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children

Coordinates: 54°35′28″N 5°57′29″W / 54.591088°N 5.958002°W / 54.591088; -5.958002
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Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
Construction work at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children
Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is located in Northern Ireland
Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children
Location in Northern Ireland
LocationBelfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Coordinates54°35′28″N 5°57′29″W / 54.591088°N 5.958002°W / 54.591088; -5.958002
Care systemHealth and Social Care in Northern Ireland

The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is a specialised government children's hospital and medical centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is managed by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and is the only hospital in Northern Ireland dedicated to children.[1]


The building in Queen Street in use as the Children's Hospital from 1879 to 1932

The initial meeting of the founders of the hospital was held at 25 King Street, Belfast, in 1873.[2][3] A board of management was set up to establish funding and run the resulting medical practice. The main focus was to provide healthcare to the impoverished in a time where government assistance was unknown. The building and general running costs had to come from the public. In deference to this, the original writing which spanned all three storeys on the front of the finished hospital would read: Erected A.D.1878 By Voluntary – Subscriptions And Donations – Belfast Hospital For Sick Children.[4]

Some of the more prominent founding board members were: Lord O'Neill (President),[a] William Robertson (chairman), Herbert Darbishire (Honorary Secretary), Robert S Craig (Honorary Treasurer), Sir Thomas Dixon (Patron) and Lady Edith Dixon (Patron).[4]

Darbishire once said of that first meeting;

"...a few gentlemen of intelligence and earnestness met in a small dusty room in King Street. The speeches were short, but there was the right ring in what was said; it meant work; it meant success."[4]

The fundraising process began with a citywide distribution of flyers and by 1876 they had managed to raise £2,000 and the board decided that this was sufficient for work to begin.[5] The new hospital was designed by Thomas Jackson in the Baroque style and built by William McCammond in Queen Street in April 1879.[6]

From 1885 onwards several new medical roles were created, including dental specialist, assistant physician, assistant surgeon, external sister, and pathologist. This caused such a strain on funding that the hospital was compelled to stop offering free out-patient medicine as of 1897, opting for a discounted prescription model instead. There was an immediate and catastrophic drop off of out-patient activity and Lord O'Neill repeatedly requested that the decision be reversed.[4] The hospital continued operating despite funding deficits, lack of expansion space, wartime inflation, and the deaths of both Robert O'Neill and Joseph Nelson in 1910.[4] The hospital moved to a new building designed by Tulloch & Fitzsimmons and built by H. & J. Martin in the Falls Road in April 1932.[7]

On 20 December 1996, the Irish Republican Army entered the hospital and shot and injured a Royal Ulster Constabulary police officer who was there to guard Democratic Unionist Party secretary Nigel Dodds (who was there visiting his son). During the incident, a shot hit an empty incubator in the hospital's intensive care unit.[8][9]

The hospital moved to more modern premises on the same site in December 1998.[10] In 2013 Finance Minister Simon Hamilton announced that a new children's hospital would be built on the same site at a cost of £250 million.[11]

Notable medical staff[edit]

Notable medical staff include:

  • Joseph Nelson – Eye and ear specialist. He was reputed to have a larger than life, eccentric personality. He marched with Garibaldi in Italy, ran a tea plantation in India, and was a president of the Ulster Medical Society.[12]
  • Brice Smyth – Founding physician. Ex-president of the British Gynaecological Society. He was honoured with a wall plaque outside the medical ward.[5]
  • John Fagan – Founding surgeon. Instrumental in the invention of the first practical air-filled tyre along with John Dunlop.[13] He stopped practicing in 1897 after inadvertently cutting the wrong limb off a patient.[14] His dedication plaque was placed outside the surgical ward close to Lord O'Neill's plaque.[5]
  • Jessie Lennox – Founding matron. An ex-student of Florence Nightingale's school of nursing, she kept in contact with Nightingale regularly.[15] She also assisted with the planning and research for the hospital's design, and was reported to be generally less than accommodating to the involvement of the Ladies League. Miss Lennox resigned in 1891 due to failing health. The Board found her to be almost irreplaceable.[4]

"Will you kindly accept a little sum to help in things which must be always cropping up, that you want to do among your little ones? Please tell me when you write how is going on the boy that bought the pig for his family with the money given him for his own wooden leg. God bless you again and again."

~ excerpt from a letter by Florence Nightingale to Matron Lennox – December 1885[16]


  1. ^ There was a marble tablet installed above the main door to the surgical ward dedicated to his efforts. The presidency passed to his son Robert after his death in 1883.


  1. ^ "The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children". Belfast Health and Social Trust. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  2. ^ Kennedy, Andrew James. "The health of young children and the foundation of British children's hospitals, c.1830 –1860" (PDF). University of Central Lancashire. p. 159. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  3. ^ "A short history of Swanston House". History Hub Ulster. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Calwell, H G (1971). "The History of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children – The Queen Street Days". Ulster Medical Journal. 40 part 2 (2): 85–110. PMC 2385275. PMID 4948493.
  5. ^ a b c Calwell, H G (1969). "The Foundation and Early Development of the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children". Ulster Medical Journal. 38 part 2 (2): 101–118. PMC 2385016. PMID 4899282.
  6. ^ Calwell, HG (1971). "The history of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. The Queen Street days". The Ulster Medical Journal. 40 (2): 85–110. PMC 2385275. PMID 4948493.
  7. ^ "NIEA Intention to List Buildings" (PDF). Belfast City Council. 11 March 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  8. ^ McKittrick, David (21 December 1996). "IRA shoots police guard in hospital". The Independent. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
  9. ^ Grogan, Dick (21 December 1996). "RUC detective is injured in shooting in Belfast hospital". The Irish Times. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
  10. ^ "Memorandum submitted by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland". UK Parliament. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  11. ^ "£250m children's hospital for Belfast announced". BBC. 21 October 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  12. ^ Hunter, Richard (1934). "A History of the Ulster Medical Society" (PDF). Ulster Medical Journal. 5: 190 – via The Ulster Medical Society.
  13. ^ Mulvihill, Mary (2002). Ingenious Ireland. Simon and Schuster. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-684-02094-5.
  14. ^ Froggatt, Peter. "The British Medical School 1835–1985" (PDF). Unknown – via Ulster Medical Society.
  15. ^ "Florence Nightingale Museum". Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  16. ^ McDonald, Lynn (7 April 2011). Florence Nightingale: Extending Nursing: Collected Works of Florence Nightingale. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. ISBN 978-1-55458-746-9.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]