There’s a house across the road from us at home that I’ve coveted for years. As kids, me and my mate would sneak in the back, through the fields, and try to get as close to it as possible before the caretaker caught us and frog-marched us home to whatever punishment awaited us as repeat offenders. We never learned. It was a place of intrigue, somewhere forbidden.
In 1917 it was used as a military hospital to treat the wounded from WWI. In 1928 it became a TB sanatorium where those with the dreaded affliction also known as the white plague and consumption came to enjoy the restorative fresh air of the countryside and ultimately meet their death. It is said that the mortality rate in Firmount House in the 1920s and 1930s was 100%. One former nurse, still living, said recently that in the 1950s, with the cure for TB discovered, things got better and they only lost, say, one patient a week.
As kids, we knew that the place had been a sanatorium for those with tuberculosis. But instead of making it less appealing for our adventurous forays, it drew use closer. Death was just one of those things that happen, eventually, to us all. And whether we go of TB or cancer or in a car accident or in our sleep, it is inevitable. I knew enough, even then, to know that there are worse things than death and for many it can come as a blessed relief.
The house was taken over by the Department of Defense in 1964. Watching members of the FCA (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, as the Army Reserves were known back then) walking up the road on their way to the village became a hobby. Like the house itself, they, too, were exotic.
I’ve always wanted to see inside and this weekend, I had my chance. The local history group was giving a talk and I went along to see what I’d missed in not buying the place when it was on the market (it went for 250k and while I might have scraped together a deposit, the renovation costs would have needed a lotto win).
For years and years and years I’ve wanted to live there, to look out those windows onto the fields and hills and to enjoy the relative seclusion offered by the long avenue leading up to the house. And I never once thought of the hundreds who had died there over the years from TB. I was gutted when I heard it had finally sold and my plans to turn it into an artists’ retreat or a shelter for victims of domestic violence went with it (a big difference I know – but them’s the swings and roundabouts my dreams enjoy).
This week, I’m grateful, in a weird way, that the house has sold and that that particular dream has vaporised. One fewer focal points might narrow my choices a little and render decisions about the future a little easier. And, with due consideration for the TB patients of old, I’m extremely grateful to be healthy.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52