Life Sentence

St Marys Dublin

Life Sentence

 The PhoenixPark in Dublin is home to many stately residences, namely Aras an Uachtarain, Farmleigh House, the Residence of the American Ambassador. But nestled in a corner of the park there is another residence, state-owned but not stately.  St Mary’s hospital in the Phoenix Park is home to hundreds of elderly patients who will live out their final days within its ancient walls. The unit for the long-term male residents is housed at the top of the building. There are three flights of stairs, 48 steps to climb to this unit with bars on the banisters and gates on the stairs so that no resident wanders or falls. There is no view for the residents from the windows; they are set too high in the walls.

It is a number of years now since I visited the hospital and I would like to think that something has changed and I hope that it has, but it is in the light of the controversy surrounding our health minister and his interest in private nursing homes that I feel it necessary to comment on this one nursing home in state care. How can government ministers have commercial interest in luxurious private hospitals and homes when the hospitals and homes directly under their care are so seriously neglected? It was what made me write this poem .


Life Sentence

They moved me upstairs,

Past bars to the ceiling,

Gates on the stairs,

So that no-one could fall down,

Three floors below,

And enter heaven,

From the depths of hell,

Before their time.

I heard someone say

It was for life.

Not in so many words –

Just until you die.

I wondered what my crime could be,

To spend my days,

In a room three floors up,

Past bars to the ceiling

And gates on the stairs.

Had it anything to do I wondered

With how I’d said my prayers?

When can I get out? I asked

As they hurried too and fro

Always on the go.

When can I smell fresh air?

And watch the lilies grow?

I’m used to open fields

And hedges in a row.

Not bars on banisters,

So I don’t fall three floors below.

I never understood the reason,

Though they said it many times,

In many different ways.

You’re old

You’re sick.

You need a stick.

You need a frame,

You need a chair,

You’re legs are weak,

You’re walk is slow.

How could you think

You’d ever go?

Eithne Reynolds ©


10 thoughts on “Life Sentence

  1. Wonderful Eithne! I read it to my eighty-six year old mother and she commented, “How right she is!”. I tried to post this comment on your blog page but there seemed to be some kind of error on the page and it didn’t show your post. x Angela Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2012 19:09:47 +0000 To:

  2. So poignant Eithne, both your introduction and your poem have left me with a lump in my throat! Your phrase ‘state-owned but not stately’ captures so much. Well done!

  3. – ‘enter heaven from the depths of hell’ –

    My father used to visit his brother-in-law Sean up in Saint Mary’s. They had never particularly liked each other but dad visited out of respect for his late sister Marie. When he’d come home he’d say he dreaded ending up there and he actually prayed to be spared a lingering death in a state run nursing home. His prayers were heeded and dad passed away in his sleep twelve years ago whereupon I took over the visiting. Eithne, you captured the utter, utter despair of the place. One night Sean escaped from his bed and made his way to an empty ward where he was found banging on the windows and crying to be let out. Inevitably, he fell and was confined to his bed for the remainder of his life. Visiting him was upsetting, as was not doing so, seeing him lying terrified in his bed was appalling.

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