Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Ulster is 50 and so am I... by the hospital's first baby

The Ulster Hospital being built in 1961
Frances with her mum Margaret
The Belfast Telegraph from 1962 with a picture of newborn Frances with a nurse

The first baby to be born at one of Northern Ireland’s biggest hospitals has spoken of her honour and pride as they both celebrate their 50th birthdays.

Five decades ago on Sunday the Ulster Hospital opened its doors in Dundonald for the first time.

And it wasn’t long before the hospital’s midwives were welcoming the first of tens of thousands of babies who would be born into their care over the years.

Frances Fitzsimons, from east Belfast, had the honour of being the first Ulster baby when she was born on November 5, 1962 — a week after the hospital opened.

For her parents Patrick and Margaret Fitzsimons, the birth marked the arrival of the fourteenth child out of 20 they would eventually have.

Frances, now a retired grandmother of 12 living in the US, grew up in the Bryson Street area of Belfast and was the first Fitzsimons child not to be born in the family home.

The Belfast Telegraph covered the special arrival, with a picture of Frances being held by a nurse.

Speaking 50 years on from her home in America, Frances said her late mother Margaret would have been thrilled to hear that their part in the history of the hospital is being celebrated. “I am so chuffed the Belfast Telegraph has been in touch,” Frances said.

“Mum would have loved to see this being acknowledged. She told me about being the first baby born at the Ulster Hospital when I was old enough to understand.

“The nurses and doctors wanted me to be called Donna — because the hospital was in Dundonald — but I got Frances instead.

“The lady mayoress visited my mother at the time and presented her with a package of baby blankets and christening robes.”

Twelve of Frances’ siblings are still alive, but she is the only one in the States.

“I live in Illinois, just outside Chicago, and the rest still live in Belfast,” Frances said.

She is enjoying retirement with her American husband Tim, who she met when he was investigating the Northern Ireland links in his family tree.

“Tim is also a Fitzsimons,” Frances said.

“We met when he contacted the Fitzsimons in Co Down as part of his family research.

“We fell in love and got married. We could be related, if you look back to 1177!”

Frances will be celebrating her 50th birthday next Monday, November 5.

“My kids are tormenting me about my birthday,” she said.

“I think they have something planned.

“They all think it’s great my little part in the history of the hospital is being celebrated.

“I will be famous for the day.”

Facility has come a long way since 1962

Staff were celebrating the 50th birthday of the Ulster Hospital site on Monday with recognition of its long and colourful history.

Staff and former staff from each of the five decades gathered at the Dundonald hospital to mark the landmark occasion.

A photographic exhibition of the history and early days of the Ulster is on display, and cake was sent to as many wards and departments as possible.

Monday marks the beginning of a year of celebrations.

The Ulster has come a long way since it first opened its doors at a new Dundonald site in October 29, 1962 — and even longer since it saw patients at various other locations from the late 1800s on.

It was founded in 1873 as a charity children’s hospital at Chichester Street in Belfast. In 1876 it outgrew the building and moved to Fisherwick Place, and in 1882 began to admit women also.

In November 1891 the Ulster Hospital for Children and Women moved to Templemore Avenue, where a purpose-built building was opened in 1912. It was known locally as “the wee hospital”.

But on May 4, 1941 a direct hit was scored by the Luftwaffe on the roof of the hospital. It was decided that east Belfast needed a General Hospital and a building fund was launched.

Following the introduction of the NHS, a site for the hospital was identified in Dundonald.

The original building still stands but has been added to by more modern wings.

The days of the original block are numbered, however, as it will soon make way for a new inpatient ward with a completion date of 2016. The final phase of an on-going building programme will conclude shortly after.

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