seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Noël Christopher Browne, Irish politician

Noël Christopher Browne, Irish politician who serves as Minister for Health from 1948 to 1951 and Leader of the National Progressive Democrats from 1958 to 1963, is born at Bath Street in Waterford, County Waterford, on December 20, 1915. He holds the distinction of being one of only seven TDs to be appointed to the cabinet on the start of their first term in the Dáil.

Browne grows up in the Bogside area of Derry. The Browne family also lives in Athlone and Ballinrobe for a period of time. His mother Mary Therese (née Cooney) is born in 1885 in Hollymount, County Mayo. His father Joseph Brown, an Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sergeant, later works as an inspector for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and, partly as a result of this work, all of the Browne family becomes infected with tuberculosis. Both parents die of the disease during the 1920s. His father is the first to die, leaving only £100 behind to support a wife and seven children. Fearing that if she and the children remain in Ireland they will be forced into a workhouse, Mary sells all their possessions and takes the family to London. Within two days of their arrival, Mary is dead, later buried in a pauper’s grave. Of her seven children, six contract tuberculosis. Noël is only one of two Browne children to survive into adulthood after those bouts with TB.

In 1929, Browne is admitted free of charge to St. Anthony’s, a preparatory school in Eastbourne, England. He then wins a scholarship to Beaumont College, the Jesuit public school near Old Windsor, Berkshire, where he befriends Neville Chance, a wealthy boy from Dublin. Neville’s father, the eminent surgeon Arthur Chance, subsequently pays Browne’s way through medical school at Trinity College Dublin.

In 1940, while still a student, Browne suffers a serious relapse of tuberculosis. His treatment at a sanatorium in Midhurst, Sussex is paid for by the Chance family. He recovers, passes his medical exams in 1942, and starts his career as a medical intern at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, where he works under Bethel Solomons. He subsequently works in numerous sanatoria throughout Ireland and England, witnessing the ravages of the disease. He soon concludes that politics is the only way in which he can make an attack on the scourge of tuberculosis.

The poverty and tragedy that had shaped Browne’s childhood deeply affects him. He considers both his survival and his level of education a complete fluke, a stroke of random chance that saved him when he was seemingly destined to die unknown and in poverty like the rest of his family. He finds this completely distasteful and is moved to enter politics as a means to ensure no one else would suffer the same fate that had befallen his family.

Browne joins the new Irish republican party Clann na Poblachta and is elected to Dáil Éireann for the Dublin South-East constituency at the 1948 Irish general election. To the surprise of many, party leader, Seán MacBride, chooses him to be one of the party’s two ministers in the new government. He becomes one of the few TDs appointed a Minister on their first day in Dáil Éireann, when he is appointed Minister for Health.

A ‘White Paper’ on proposed healthcare reforms had been prepared by the previous government, and results in the 1947 Health Act. In February 1948, Browne becomes Minister for Health and starts the reforms advocated by the Paper and introduced by the Act.

The health reforms coincide with the development of a new vaccine and of new drugs (e.g., BCG and penicillin) that help to treat a previously untreatable group of medical conditions. Browne introduces mass free screening for tuberculosis sufferers and launches a huge construction program to build new hospitals and sanitoria, financed by the income and accumulated investments from the Department of Health-controlled Hospital Sweeps funds. This, along with the introduction of Streptomycin, helps dramatically reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in Ireland.

As Minister for Health Browne comes into conflict with the bishops of the Catholic Church and the medical profession over the Mother and Child Scheme. This plan, also introduced by the 1947 Health Act, provides for free state-funded healthcare for all mothers and children aged under 16, with no means test, a move which is regarded as radical at the time in Ireland, but not in the rest of Europe. Virtually all doctors in private practice oppose the scheme, because it would undermine the “fee for service” model on which their income depended.

The Church hierarchy, which controls many hospitals, vigorously opposes the expansion of “socialised medicine” in the Irish republic. They claim that the Mother and Child Scheme interferes with parental rights, and fear that the provision of non-religious medical advice to mothers will lead to birth control contrary to Catholic teaching. They greatly dislike Browne, seeing him as a “Trinity Catholic,” one who has defied the Church’s ruling that the faithful should not attend Trinity College Dublin, which had been founded by Protestants and for many years did not allow Catholics to study there.

Under pressure from bishops, the coalition government backs away from the Mother and Child Scheme and forces Browne’s resignation as Minister for Health. Following his departure from government, he embarrasses his opponents by arranging for The Irish Times to publish Taoiseach John A. Costello‘s and MacBride’s correspondence with the Catholic hierarchy, which details their capitulation to the bishops.

The controversy over the Mother and Child Scheme leads to the fall of the coalition government in which Browne had served as a Minister. But Church opposition to socialised medicine continues under the subsequent Fianna Fáil-led government. The hierarchy does not accept a no-means-test mother-and-infant scheme even when Fianna Fáil reduces the age limit from sixteen years to six weeks, and the government again backs down.

After his resignation as Minister for Health, Browne leaves Clann na Poblachta, but is re-elected to the Dáil as an Independent TD from Dublin South-East in the subsequent election.

Browne joins Fianna Fáil in 1953, but loses his Dáil seat at the 1954 Irish general election. He fails to be selected as a candidate for the 1957 Irish general election and he resigns from the party. He is re-elected at that election for Dublin South-East as an Independent TD.

In 1958, Browne founds the National Progressive Democrats with Jack McQuillan. He holds onto his seat at the 1961 Irish general election, but in 1963, he and McQuillan join the Labour Party, disbanding the National Progressive Democrats. However, he losess his seat at the 1965 Irish general election.

Browne is re-elected as a Labour Party TD at the 1969 Irish general election, again for Dublin South-East. He does not seek a nomination by the Labour Party for the 1973 Irish general election, but instead wins a seat in Seanad Éireann for Dublin University. He remains in the Seanad until the 1977 Irish general election, when he gains the Dublin Artane seat as an Independent Labour TD, having again failed to get the Party nomination.

In 1977 Browne is the first Irish parliamentarian to call for law reforms in regards to homosexuality, which is illegal at the time, and in 1979 is one of the few Irish politicians to attend the opening of the Hirschfeld Centre, Dublin’s first full-time LGBT community space.

Upon its formation, Browne joins the new Socialist Labour Party and is briefly its only TD, securing election for Dublin North-Central at the 1981 Irish general election. He retires from politics at the February 1982 Irish general election.

In 1990, a number of left-wing representatives within the Labour Party, led by Michael D. Higgins, approach Browne and suggest that he should be the party’s candidate in the presidential election due later that year. Though in failing health, Browne agrees. However, the offer horrifies party leader Dick Spring and his close associates for two reasons. Firstly, the leadership had secretly decided to run Mary Robinson, a barrister and former senator. Secondly, many around Spring are “appalled” at the idea of running Browne, believing he has “little or no respect for the party” and is “likely in any event to self-destruct as a candidate.” When Spring informs Browne by telephone that the party’s Administrative Council has chosen Robinson over him, Browne hangs up the telephone.

Browne spends the remaining seven years of his life constantly criticising Robinson who had gone on to win the election, thus becoming the seventh President of Ireland, and who is considered highly popular during her term. During the campaign he also indicates support for the rival Fine Gael candidate, Austin Currie.

After retiring from politics, Browne moves with his wife Phyllis to Baile na hAbhann, County Galway. He dies at the age of 81 in the Regional Hospital, Galway, on May 21, 1997. He is buried in a small graveyard near Baile na hAbhann.


2 Comments

Death of Patrick O’Callaghan, Olympic Gold Medalist

Patrick “Pat” O’Callaghan, Olympic gold medalist and world record holder, dies on December 1, 1991, in Clonmel, County Tipperary.

O’Callaghan is born on September 15, 1905, at Derrygallon, Kanturk, County Cork. He attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin and qualifies as a doctor at the age of 20. He joins the Royal Air Force Medical Services in 1926 on a short-service engagement, before moving to Clonmel in 1931 to work as an assistant medical officer in St. Luke’s Hospital, later setting up as a general practitioner in the town. He continues to practise there until the late 1980s.

While in university, O’Callaghan develops an interest in the hammer, having seen the country’s top hammer-throwers practise at the University College Dublin (UCD) grounds, then at Terenure College. At home in Cork for the summer, he does not have access to a hammer, so he collects an old cannon ball from Macroom Castle which he feels might approximate to the required 16 lb. (7.25 kg) weight, has it drilled at a foundry in Mallow and fitted with a handle and wire, and uses it to train at the family farm. In 1926 he wins the Munster title in the 56 lb. (25.4 kg) shot and follows that with an Irish hammer title in 1927. Victory the following year in that same championship qualifies him for the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, which he enters as a complete unknown with a previous best of 166 ft. 11 in. (50.87 m), as against three other contenders who have each thrown well over 170 ft. (51.8 m). The hammer event is staged on July 30, 1928, and, lying third after four rounds, he throws 168 ft. 7 in. (51.38 m) with his penultimate attempt, to defeat the Swedish favourite, Ossian Skiöld, by 4 inches (10 cm), with the American contenders Edmund Black and Frank Conner, still further behind. He becomes the first athlete from the Irish Free State to be crowned Olympic champion. Less than a fortnight later, he wins the Tailteann Games with an Irish record throw of 170 ft. 2 in. (51.87 m).

Over the following years O’Callaghan wins events across Ireland and Europe and continues to achieve pioneering feats, not least in 1931, when he wins six Irish titles in one afternoon: hammer, shot put, discus, high jump, 56 lbs. without follow, and 56 lbs. over-the-bar. On August 1, 1932, he defends his Olympic title at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. With just one throw left in the competition, he trails second behind the Finnish champion, Ville Pörhölä. With his last throw, he claims the event with a distance of 176 ft. 11 in. (53.92 m), becoming the only Irish person in history to win two gold medals at the Olympic games. He seems in prime condition to defend his title for a third time at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, but a dispute in the athletics world brings the suspension of the National Athletic and Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). The subsequent decision not to send a team to Berlin by the Irish Olympic Council denies him the opportunity to win a hat-trick of gold medals.

O’Callaghan remains a dominant force in athletic circles, however. In 1934 he sets the record for the hammer on European soil with a throw of 186 ft. 10 in. (56.95 m) at Enniscorthy, County Wexford. He later achieves an unofficial world record in the hammer in 1937 in Fermoy, County Cork, with a remarkable throw of 195 ft. 5 in. (59.55 m), breaking the old record by more than 6 ft. (1.83 m). As the IAAF still refuses to sanction the NACAI, the record is not ratified, ensuring that the then twenty-four-year-old record of his compatriot, Patrick Ryan, who competes for the United States, remains in place. In total, as well as his two Olympic gold medals, he also wins six Irish championships in the hammer, four Irish championships in the 56 lb. shot, three Irish championships throwing the 56 lb. weight over-the-bar, and one Irish championship in the discus. He also wins the American hammer championship in 1933 and the British championship in the same event the following year. Despite his size, he jumps 6 ft. 2 in. (1.88 m) in the high jump and is Irish champion on three consecutive occasions (1929–31).

After an accident in which a child is killed by a flying hammer, O’Callaghan emigrates to the United States just before World War II and takes up professional wrestling. Attempts are made to set up a match with world wrestling champion Dan O’Mahoney, but this never occurs. He has a high profile, however. Samuel Goldwyn offers him the film role of Tarzan and he plays handball with Bing Crosby before returning home to Clonmel, where he becomes a prominent member of Clonmel Commercials Gaelic football club and manages that club’s senior team to three county championships (1965–67). He is later chairman and honorary president of the club. In 1984 he is made a Freeman of Clonmel, a town where he is known as “the doc” or “Dr. Pat” and revered as a humble, charming, jovial man, with a reputation for particular kindness to his poorer patients. At 6 ft. 1 in. (1.855 m) and sixteen stone (101.6 kg), he is a larger-than-life figure and the focal point of innumerable stories confirming his status as a living legend. In 1960 he is the first person voted into the newly conceived Texaco Hall of Fame. He lives for many years at Roseville, Western Road, Clonmel, and dies there on December 1, 1991.

O’Callaghan is survived by three sons and one daughter. His younger brother Con represents Ireland in the decathlon at the 1928 Olympic games and wins that event at the third Tailteann games in 1932.

(From: “O’Callaghan, Patrick (‘Pat’)” by Paul Rouse, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


Leave a comment

Death of Abraham Colles, Professor & President of the RCSI

Abraham Colles, Professor of Anatomy, Surgery and Physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the President of RCSI in 1802 and 1830, dies on November 16, 1843. A prestigious Colles Medal & Travelling Fellowship in Surgery is awarded competitively annually to an Irish surgical trainee embarking on higher specialist training abroad before returning to establish practice in Ireland.

Descended from a Worcestershire family, some of whom had sat in Parliament, Colles is born to William Colles and Mary Anne Bates of Woodbroak, County Wexford, on July 23, 1773. The family lives near Millmount, a townland near Kilkenny, County Kilkenny, where his father owns and manages his inheritance which is the extensive Black Quarry that produces the famous Kilkenny black marble. His father dies when he is 6 years old, but his mother takes over the management of the quarry and manages to give her children a good education. While at Kilkenny College, a flood destroys a local physician’s house. He finds an anatomy book belonging to the doctor in a field and returns it to him. Sensing the young man’s interest in medicine, the physician lets him keep the book.

Colles goes on to enroll in Trinity College Dublin in 1790 and is indentured to Philip Woodroffe, studying at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, The Foundlings’ Hospital and the House of Industry hospitals. He receives the Licentiate Diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1795 and goes on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, receiving his MD degree in 1797. Afterward, he lives in London for a short period, working with the famous surgeon Sir Astley Cooper in his dissections of the inguinal region.

Following his return to Dublin, in 1799, Colles is elected to the staff at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital where he serves for the next 42 years. In October 1803, he is appointed Surgeon to Cork-street Fever Hospital, and subsequently becomes Consulting Surgeon to the Rotunda Hospital, City of Dublin Hospital, and Victoria Lying-in Hospital. He is a well-regarded surgeon and is elected as president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in 1802 at the age of 28 years, subsequently also serving as president in 1830. In 1804, he is appointed Professor of Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery at RCSI.

In 1811, Colles writes an important treatise on surgical anatomy and some terms he introduces have survived in surgical nomenclature until today. He is remembered as a skillful surgeon and for his 1814 paper On the Fracture of the Carpal Extremity of the Radius. This injury continues to be known as Colles’ fracture. This paper, describing distal radial fractures, is far ahead of its time, being published decades before X-rays come into use. He also describes the membranous layer of subcutaneous tissue of the perineum, which comes to be known as Colles’ fascia. He also extensively studies the inguinal ligament, which is sometimes called Colles’ ligament. He is regarded as the first surgeon to successfully ligate the subclavian artery.

In 1837, Colles writes “Practical observations on the venereal disease, and on the use of mercury” in which he introduces the hypothesis of maternal immunity of a syphilitic infant when the mother has not shown signs of the disease. His principal textbook is the two-volume Lectures on the theory and practice of surgery. His writings are important, though not voluminous. Some of his papers are collected and edited by his son, William Colles, and published in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. Selections from the works of Abraham Colles, chiefly relative to the venereal disease and the use of mercury, comprise Volume XOII. of the Library of the New Sydenham Society, published in 1881. They are edited and annotated by one of the most distinguished Fellows of the RCSI, Robert McDonnell. His Lectures on Surgery are edited by Simon McCoy, and published in 1850. In tribute to his distinguished career, he is awarded a baronetcy in 1839, which he refuses.

Upon Colles’s retirement as Professor of Surgery, the Members of RCSI pass a resolution which includes “We have also to assure you that it is the unanimous feeling of the College, that the exemplary and efficient manner in which you have filled this chair for thirty-two years, has been a principal cause of the success and consequent high character of the School of Surgery in this country.”

Colles dies on November 16, 1843, from gout. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

In 1807, Colles marries Sophia Cope. His son William follows in his footsteps, being elected to the Chair of Anatomy in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1863. Another of his sons, Henry, marries Elizabeth Mayne, a niece of Robert James Graves. His grandson is the eminent music critic and lexicographer H. C. Colles. His granddaughter Frances marries the judge Lord Ashbourne and her sister Anna marries his colleague Sir Edmund Thomas Bewley.


Leave a comment

Bridget Dirrane Featured in the Guinness Book of Records at Age 104

Bridget Dirrane, who was imprisoned with Kevin Barry and who canvassed for John F. Kennedy in the United States, celebrates her 104th birthday on November 15, 1998 with news that she is to be featured in the new edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Earlier in the year, she receives a Master of Arts honorary degree from NUI Galway which makes her the oldest person in the world to be awarded a degree.

Dirrane is born in Oatquarter in the townland of Kilmurvey on Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway on November 15, 1894. She is the youngest child of Joseph Gillan and Maggie (née Walsh). Her father is a weaver of flannel cloth and has a small farm. She has four brothers and three sisters. Her oldest brother is a fisherman, who dies at age 21 in 1901, and her father dies before 1911. Despite this hardship, all of the children go to school, with one of her brothers becoming an Irish teacher, and later an Irish inspector. The family speaks Irish at home, but they are all bilingual with English. She is schooled at the national school in Oatquarter until the age of 14. She leaves to work in local homes, looking after children. When she writes her memoirs late in life, she claims to have met Joseph Plunkett, Éamonn Ceannt, Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Ashe and Patrick Pearse when they visited the island, visiting a house where she looked after the children, discussing politics and plans for the Easter Rising with them. She is a republican, becoming a member of Cumann na mBan in 1918 while she is working for Fr. Matthew Ryan as a housekeeper. She is involved in drilling and assisting fugitives from the authorities. Because of their known republican sympathies, the Black and Tans raid the Gillan family homes.

Dirrane moves to Dublin in 1919 to train in Saint Ultan’s Children’s Hospital as a nurse. She is still under surveillance, being arrested alongside her employer, Claude Chavasse, when she is working as a nurse in his house. She is held in Dublin’s Bridewell Garda Station for two days before being transferred to Mountjoy Prison. In the time of her imprisonment, she is not charged or put on trial. Her refusal to speak English angers the guards, culminating in her going on hunger strike for a number of days in 1920 until she is released. She takes part in the Cumann na mBan vigil outside of Mountjoy Prison in November 1920, when Kevin Barry is hanged.

Dirrane works in Richard Mulcahy‘s house for two years, before emigrating to the United States in 1927 to continue her career as a nurse. She works in Boston where she is an active member of the Irish emigrant community alongside former neighbours from the Aran Islands and some relatives. She works in a hotel for a time, but returns to nursing after her marriage to Edward ‘Ned’ Dirrane in November 1932 in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. Ned, a labourer in Boston and also from Inishmore, dies from heart failure in 1940. Dirrane continues her career nursing in hospitals and as a district nurse. On May 13, 1940, she naturalises as U.S. citizen. During World War II, she works as a nurse in a munitions factory, and at a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber base in Mississippi. She canvases for John F. Kennedy in the Irish community in South Boston when he runs for president in 1960. Jean Kennedy Smith visits Dirrane in 1997 in Galway to acknowledge her contribution. She also meets Senator Edward Kennedy.

Following her retirement, Dirrane lives with her nephew, but she returns to the Aran Islands in 1966 at age 72. There she lives with her brother-in-law, Pat Dirrane, a widower with three grown sons. They marry in a private ceremony on April 27, 1966. She continues to live on the island after Pat’s death on February 28, 1990, living with her stepson. She eventually moves into a nursing home in Newcastle in the suburbs of Galway. When she celebrates her 100th birthday, she funds a statue of Our Lady Mary at a holy well in Corough on Inishmore. At age 103, the matron of her nursing home arranges for a local writer, Jack Mahon, to record her memories and collate the information into a book. The book, A Woman of Aran, is published in 1997 and is a bestseller for several weeks. She is awarded an honorary degree, an MA honoris causa, from NUI Galway in May 1998, the oldest person to ever receive one.

Dirrane dies at age 109 on December 31, 2003, in Galway. She is buried on Inishmore.


Leave a comment

St. Patrick’s Hospital for the Insane Opens in Dublin

Having been funded by a bequest from author Jonathan Swift following his death in 1745, St. Patrick’s Hospital for the Insane, Dublin, opens on September 19, 1757. The hospital is a psychiatric facility located near Kilmainham and the Phoenix Park.

Today, St. Patrick’s University Hospital, known for the innovative care of its patients, provides “Ireland’s largest, independent, not-for-profit mental health services.” When founded in 1745 it is the first psychiatric hospital to be built in Ireland mandated for the care of “Idiots and Lunaticks.”

Although new theories of madness and more therapeutic approaches to treatment are being proposed in the late 1700’s, during most of the eighteenth century society views the lunatic as one who has literally lost his reason, “the essence of his humanity,” and therefore “his claim to be treated as a human being.” Treatments, designed “to weaken the animal spirits that were believed to be producing madness,” still include restraints with chains, bloodletting, emetics, purging, and beating.

Confinement rather than cure is the focus of the earliest institutions in Great Britain. They resemble prisons with cells and keepers to control the inmates. Bethlem Hospital in London is the first to include lunatics in 1377. By the eighteenth century it has become infamous as “Bedlam” and has a reputation for cruelty, neglect, and poor living conditions, with an inadequate diet, rough clothing, and inactivity. Even worse, the mad in Bedlam are displayed as entertainment — a “freak show,” a “spectacle,” a “menagerie” from which “both provincial bumpkins and urban sophisticates could derive almost endless amusement” for a fee.

The earliest biographers of Jonathan Swift report that he had chosen to found St. Patrick’s Hospital because he had become insane himself at the end of his life. One writer even claims that he is the first patient to die there. Neither of these conclusions is accurate. It is his philosophical views and personal experiences that influence Swift’s decision to leave his estate for the establishment of St. Patrick’s.

Throughout the eighteenth century, medicine, politics, and literature all debate the relation between reason and madness, a subject that greatly interests Swift. In his most powerful satires, including Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and A Modest Proposal (1729), he sometimes explores the Lockean theory that “any person could fall into madness by the erroneous association of ideas.”

But the stronger motivation for Swift’s legacy grows from his involvement with the day-to-day problems of the Irish people, not only as an individual but also as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a position he holds from 1713 until his death. At mid-century there are no provisions specifically for lunatics. If not being cared for by their families or found wandering the countryside, lunatics would sometimes be confined with criminals in prisons, with the poor in a workhouse, or with the sick in a hospital. Swift has firsthand knowledge of these conditions since he served as a governor of the workhouse and as a trustee of several hospitals. In 1710, after a visit to Bedlam, he gets himself elected a governor there in 1714. By 1731 he has decided on his legacy, intending his hospital to be charitable and more humane than Bedlam.

Another strong motivation may have been Swift’s ability to empathize with the sufferers of madness. Not mental illness but recurring attacks of Ménière’s disease (MD) afflict him for over fifty years, beginning at age twenty-three. The debilitating bouts of vertigo, nausea, tinnitus, and deafness worsen by the late 1730’s, and he complains of memory loss and difficulty in reading and writing. When he finalizes his will in 1740, he refers to himself as sound in mind but weak in body. In 1742, following a sudden decline in his health, his friends have him judged incompetent and appoint a guardian. Probable dementia increases his helplessness until his death on October 19, 1745.

Swift leaves an estate of about 12,000 pounds. In his will he lists details as to where St. Patrick’s should be built and how it should be run by his board of governors. Although they first meet in 1746, the asylum does not open until 1757. The governors need to acquire the site, oversee the plan and construction of the building, and ensure available money for operating expenses. Insufficient funds are the main obstacle, even after adding money from rents, donations, subscriptions and Parliament. Finally, St. Patrick’s has to accept paying patients to offset the costs of its charity cases.

Richard Leeper, who is appointed Resident Medical Superintendent in 1899, introduces a series of important initiatives including providing work and leisure activities for the patients. Norman Moore, who is appointed Resident Medical Superintendent in 1946, introduces occupational therapy, including crafts and farm work to the patients.

After the introduction of deinstitutionalisation in the late 1980s the hospital goes into a period of decline. In 2008 the hospital announces the expansion of its outpatient services to a series of regional centres across Ireland. A mental health facility for teenagers, known as the Willow Grove Adolescent Inpatient Unit, opens at the hospital in October 2010.

The hospital is affiliated with Trinity College Dublin, and has 241 inpatient beds.


Leave a comment

First Voluntary Smallpox Inoculations in Ireland

Five Dublin children receive the first voluntary smallpox inoculations in Ireland on August 26, 1725.

Smallpox is an acute and infectious disease caused by a virus. It is characterized by high fever and large sores on the body that leaves scars. The disease is estimated to have killed up to one-third of its victims. Those who are not killed are left with pock-marked skin or even blind. The name “smallpox” is coined in the 15th century to distinguish it from the “great pox,” better known as syphilis. However, smallpox’s history on earth is believed to date back thousands of years.

In 1980 the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declares smallpox eradicated. After ten years and $300 million, used on a global vaccination program, the disease is gone. The last recorded death from this disease is in Somalia in 1977.

In Ireland, the spread of smallpox from the 1600s onward inspires dread. Ireland’s poverty and ignorance of infectious disease, at the time, sees typhoid and dysentery ravage communities. Between 1661 and 1746 smallpox is believed to be the cause of 20% of all deaths in Dublin and a third of all children deaths in the area. This highly infectious disease does not discriminate as the rich, as well as the poor, are badly affected.

By the 18th century, hope emerges and an inoculation technique is found. Since the 10th century, the Chinese had been inoculating people, by using a small dose of the disease. This technique does not arrive in Europe for almost 800 years. This technique is first tried on prisoners in Cork Jail in 1721, presumably against their will. Four years later five children in Dublin voluntarily receive the inoculation on August 26, 1725.

Over the years this technique shows its effectiveness. The rich begin to infest and inoculate their families. Throughout the 18th century, as the disease has periodic epidemics, the richer families are less affected. By the middle of the 18th century, the inoculation is in widespread use. The South Infirmary, in Cork, even initiates a program to inoculate the poor.

Sadly, of course, the unscrupulous see an opportunity to make money as people queue up to receive the treatment. In Donegal in 1781, all but one child of a group of 52 die when an unqualified practitioner supposedly inoculates the group.

While inroads are being made against smallpox, with the emergence of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845–49), the disease returns with a vengeance. This devastates even those who had found a way to make ends meet. Smallpox means that even if you survive the disease you will be unable to work for some time and many are pauperized by the lack of income and die eventually.

As Ireland emerges from the poverty and devastation of the Great Hunger, during the 1870s over 7,000 die in Ireland from the disease. It is only from the 1880s that smallpox becomes more earnestly eradicated in Ireland. By the 1910s the death rate is down to just 65 people. From 1901 to 1910 almost 1 million Irish are inoculated.

The last outbreak of smallpox in Ireland is in 1903. In Dublin, there are found to be 256 cases. Sadly elsewhere around the world even up to the 1960s smallpox is rampant, taking up to two million lives per year and leaving millions more disfigured and blind.

Thankfully by the 1980s, the WHO’s world vaccine program has done its work and now the world is free of this disease which plagued the earth for thousands of years.

(From: “On this day: In 1725 Dublin children received the first smallpox vaccination” by IrishCentral staff, http://www.irishcentral.com, August 26, 2020)


Leave a comment

Birth of Ophthalmologist Arthur Jacob

Arthur Jacob, Irish ophthalmologist, is born on June 13, 1790, at Knockfin, near Maryborough, Queens County (now Portlaoise, County Laois). He is known for founding several hospitals, a medical school, and a medical journal. He contributes to science and academia through his 41-year term as Professor of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and as the first Irish ocular pathologist. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864.

Jacob is the second son of John Jacob, M.D. (1754–1827), surgeon to the Queen’s County infirmary, Maryborough, by his wife Grace (1765–1835), only child of Jerome Alley of Donoughmore. He studies medicine with his father and at Dr. Steevens’s Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, under Abraham Colles. Having graduated M.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1814, he sets out on a walking tour through the United Kingdom, crossing the English Channel at Dover, and continuing his walk from Calais to Paris.

Jacob studies at Paris until Napoleon‘s return from Elba. He subsequently pursues his studies in London under Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, Sir Astley Cooper, and Sir W. Lawrence. In 1819 he returns to Dublin, and becomes demonstrator of anatomy under Dr. James Macartney at Trinity College Dublin. Here his anatomical researches gain for him a reputation, and he collects a museum, which Macartney afterwards sells to the University of Cambridge.

On leaving Macartney, Jacob joins with Robert James Graves and others in founding the Park Street School of Medicine. In 1826 he is elected Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), and holds the chair until 1869. He is elected President of RCSI in 1837 and 1864. He founds an Ophthalmic Hospital in Pitt (now Balfe) Street in 1829 and in 1832, in conjunction with Charles Benson and others, he founds the Baggot Street Hospital, Baggot Street, and later practices there after the opening of a dedicated eye ward. His younger rival, Sir William Wilde, subsequently founds the competing St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital in Lincoln Place (beside Trinity College) in 1844.

In 1839, with Dr. Henry Maunsell, Jacob starts the Dublin Medical Press, a weekly journal of medical science, and edits forty-two volumes from 1839 to 1859, in order “to diffuse useful knowledge… to instil honourable principles, and foster kind feelings in the breast of the student” among other desirable aims. He also contributes to the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. He takes an active part in founding the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland and the Irish Medical Association.

At the age of seventy-five Jacob retires from the active pursuit of his profession. His fame rests on his anatomical and ophthalmological discoveries.

In December 1860 a medal bearing Jacob’s likeness is struck and presented to him, and his portrait, bust, and library are later placed in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He dies at Newbarnes, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, on September 21, 1874. He is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

In 1819 Jacob announces the discovery, which he had made in 1816, of a previously unknown membrane of the eye, in a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. The membrane has been known since as membrana Jacobi and forms the retina. Apart from his discovery of the membrana Jacobi, he describes Jacob’s ulcer, and revives cataract surgery through the cornea with a curved needle, Jacob’s needle. To the Cyclopædia of Anatomy he contributes an article on the eye, and to the Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine treatises on Ophthalmia and Amaurosis.

In 1824 Jacob marries Sarah, daughter of Coote Carroll, of Ballymote, County Sligo. The marriage produces five sons. She dies on January 6, 1839.

(Pictured: Photograph of a marble bust of Arthur Jacob on the main staircase of the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, Ireland)


Leave a comment

Birth of William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, Surgeon

William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, surgeon, is born on May 9, 1879 in Dublin, fourth son among six sons and four daughters of William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, a distinguished doctor, and Frances Victoria Wheeler (née Shaw), cousin of George Bernard Shaw.

Wheeler is educated at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and loses an eye as a result of an accident but overcomes the disability. He wins a moderatorship, a medal, and prizes and graduates BA (1899) in anatomy, natural science, and experimental science and, following postgraduate study in Berne, an MB, B.Ch., and MD (1902). The following year he receives the Dublin University Biological Association’s medal for his paper Deaths under chloroform. He is appointed demonstrator and assistant to the professor of the TCD anatomy department before becoming honorary surgeon (1904–32) to Mercer’s Hospital, Dublin. He is also attached to several other institutions including the Rotunda Hospital and the National Children’s Hospital. An outstanding teacher, he attracts large numbers to his clinical classes and lectures in surgery to postgraduates at TCD.

Ambitious and abounding in self confidence, Wheeler dedicates all his indomitable energy and time to his work, is a frequent visitor to foreign clinics, becomes a skilled general surgeon and a specialist in orthopaedics, and earns an international reputation. During World War I he serves in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and from 1915 converts his private hospital, 33 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, into the Dublin Hospital for Wounded Officers and makes it available to the St. John’s Ambulance brigade and the British Red Cross. He acts as honorary officer in charge and is also surgeon to the Duke of Connaught‘s Hospital for Limbless Soldiers, and honorary surgeon to the forces in Ireland.

In 1916 Wheeler visits the western front, tours the hospitals in Boulogne, and is attached to a casualty clearing station at Remy Siding near Ypres. Returning to Dublin on the request of Robert Jones, he organises the Dublin Military Orthopaedic Centre, Blackrock, where he serves as surgeon (1916–21). His advice is widely sought and he serves on several committees, including the War Office Council of Consulting Surgeons (1917) and the Ministry of Pensions Medical Advisory Council on Artificial Limbs. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1918, he receives the General Service Medal and is twice mentioned in dispatches, having courageously treated wounded soldiers under fire during the 1916 Easter Rising. Appointed surgeon-in-ordinary to the lord-lieutenant, he is knighted in 1919.

Principal founder of the Dublin Hospitals’ Club (1922), Wheeler publishes two textbooks, A Handbook of Operative Surgery (1906) and Selected Papers on Injuries and Diseases of Bone (1928). He contributes numerous authoritative papers on a variety of surgical subjects to professional journals and edits the chapter on general surgery in the Medical Annual from 1916 to 1936. Inspector of examinations for the Medical Research Council of Ireland, he is external examiner to universities in Ireland and Scotland. Interested in hospital policy and nursing, he advocates the federation of the smaller hospitals and is chairman of the City of Dublin Nursing Institute. Fellow (1905) and council member (1906), he follows in his father’s footsteps and is elected president (1922–24) of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He is also president of the Dublin University Biological Association and of the surgical section of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, and is awarded an honorary ChM from Cairo University in 1928.

Troubled and bewildered by the political situation in Ireland, Wheeler is persuaded by Rupert Guinness, 2nd Earl of Iveagh, to accept the position of visiting surgeon (1932) to the new hospital at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, to which Iveagh had donated £200,000. The departure of such a leading figure in Irish medical circles is widely regretted. His posts in London include surgeoncies to All Saints Hospital for Genito-Urinary Diseases and to the Metropolitan Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital. The diversity of his interests and his general competence make him a valued member of the editorial staff of several journals including the British Journal of Surgery, the British Journal of Urology, and the American Journal of Surgery, Gynaecology, and Obstetrics. He is also a member of the American Editors Association. He enjoys many affiliations with America, where he is well known and honoured by being elected honorable fellow of the American College of Surgeons and selected as their John B. Murphy orator (1932), and by election as honorary member and president of the Post Graduate Assembly of North America. An active member of the British Medical Association, he is president of the Leinster branch (1925–26) and of the Orthopaedic section (1933), vice-president of the Surgical section (1930, 1932), and chairman of the council and president of the Metropolitan Counties Branch (1938). President of the Irish Medical Schools and Graduates Association, he is awarded their Arnott gold medal in 1935.

During World War II Wheeler serves as consultant surgeon to the Royal Navy in Scotland, with the rank of rear admiral (1939–43), and is posted to Aberdeen. Strong-minded, unconventional, and often controversial, he has a gift for friendship, is charming and good-humoured, and excels in the art of the after-dinner speech. Immensely proud of Dublin’s medical and surgical traditions, he always eagerly returned to Ireland, where he planned to retire and write his memoirs.

Wheeler dies suddenly on September 11, 1943 at his home in Aberdeen and is cremated at the Aberdeen crematorium. As a memorial to his father, he bequeaths his library and that of his father to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and also leaves a fund for the Sir William Wheeler memorial medal in surgery.


Leave a comment

The Rotunda Hospital Opens in Dublin

The Rotunda Hospital, legally the Hospital for the Relief of Poor Lying-in Women, Dublin, is opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford, on December 8, 1757. It is a maternity hospital on Parnell Street in Dublin, now managed by RCSI Hospitals. The eponymous Rotunda in Parnell Square is no longer a part of the hospital complex.

The hospital is founded by Bartholomew Mosse, a surgeon and midwife who is appalled at the conditions that pregnant women have to endure, in George’s Lane in March 1745. It is granted by Royal Charter on December 2, 1756 by King George II. Lying-in is an archaic term for childbirth, referring to the month-long bed rest prescribed for postpartum confinement. The venture is very successful and Mosse raises money through concerts, exhibitions and even a lottery to establish larger premises. The hospital moves to new premises, designed by Richard Cassels, where it becomes known as “The New Lying-In Hospital” in December 1757. The Church of Ireland Chapel is opened in 1762. Open to the public, it provides a healthy income to the hospital annually, Dr. Mosse successfully encouraging wealthy Protestant Dubliners to attend service there.

Records indicate that around 1781, “when the hospital was imperfectly ventilated, every sixth child died within nine days after birth, of convulsive disease; and that after means of thorough ventilation had been adopted, the mortality of infants, within the same, in five succeeding years, was reduced to one in twenty.” This issue is not limited to the Lying-In-Hospital. In the era, ventilation improvement is a general issue in patient care, along with other issues of sanitation and hygiene, and the conditions in which surgeons such as Robert Liston in Britain and elsewhere, have to operate. Florence Nightingale famously works on the design of safe and healthy hospitals.

The first Caesarean section in Ireland is undertaken at the hospital in 1889.

The eponymous Rotunda is a rotunda designed by James Ensor, which is completed just in time for a reception hosted by James FitzGerald, Marquess of Kildare, in October 1767. The extensive Rotunda Rooms, designed by Richard Johnston and built adjacent to the rotunda, are completed in 1791. By the early 19th century the hospital has become known as the Rotunda Hospital, after its most prominent architectural feature. The Rotunda becomes a theatre, where the Irish Volunteers first public meeting is held in 1913, and later the Ambassador Cinema. The Rotunda Rooms now house the Gate Theatre.

The Rotunda Hospital, as both a maternity hospital and also as a training centre (affiliated with Trinity College, Dublin) is notable for having provided continuous service to mothers and babies since inception, making it the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world. It is estimated that over 300,000 babies have been born there.

In 2000 the Rotunda is one of two Dublin maternity hospitals found to have illegally retained organ tissue from babies without parental consent. The tissue removed in postmortem examinations is retained for some years. The Rotunda Hospital admits that that permission should have been sought for this process to be allowed to take place.

A medical negligence award is approved in 2020 for a young boy who develops cerebral palsy as a result of complications with his delivery at the hospital in 2004.


Leave a comment

Birth of Thomas Heazle Parke, Physician, British Army Officer & Author

Thomas Heazle Parke FRSGS, Irish physician, British Army officer and author who is known for his work as a doctor on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, is born at Clogher House in Kilmore, County Roscommon on November 27, 1857.

Parke is brought up in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. He attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1878. He becomes a registered medical practitioner in February 1879, working as a dispensary medical officer in Ballybay, County Monaghan, and then as a surgeon in Bath, Somerset, England.

Parke joins the British Army Medical Services (AMS) in February 1881 as a surgeon, first serving in Egypt during the final stages of the ʻUrabi revolt in 1882. As a senior medical officer at a field hospital near Cairo, he is responsible for treating battle casualties as well as the deadly cholera epidemic that afflicts 20% of British troops stationed there. In late 1883, he returns to Ireland, where he is stationed at Dundalk with the 16th The Queen’s Lancers. He arrives in Egypt once again in 1884 as a part of the Nile Expedition sent in relief of General Charles Gordon, who is besieged in Khartoum by Mahdists in neighbouring Sudan. The expedition arrives too late and Gordon is killed. Parke later negatively recounts this experience in an 1892 journal article titled How General Gordon Was Really Lost. Following the expedition, he spends the next few years stationed in Alexandria, where he notably introduces fox hunting to Egypt, becoming master of the Alexandria Hunt Club.

In January 1887, while in Alexandria, Parke is invited by Edmund Musgrave Barttelot to accompany him on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. The expedition is led by Henry Morton Stanley, and journeys through the African wilderness in relief of Emin Pasha, an Egyptian administrator who had been cut off by Mahdist forces following the Siege of Khartoum. He is initially rejected by Stanley upon his arrival in Alexandria, but is invited by telegram a day later to join the expedition in Cairo. On February 25, 1887, the expedition sets off from Zanzibar for the Congo.

The expedition lasts for three years and faces great difficulty, with the expedition of 812 men suffering from poor logistical planning and leadership. The rainforest is much larger than Stanley expected, leading much of the party to face starvation and disease. The expedition has to resort to looting native villages for food, escalating the conflict between the two groups. Parke, for his part, saves the lives of many in the party, including Stanley, who suffers from acute abdominal pain and a bout of sepsis. Stanley describes Parke’s care as “ever striving, patient, cheerful and gentle…most assiduous in his application to my needs, and gentle as a woman in his ministrations.” Parke also treats Arthur Jephson for fever, and nurses Robert H. Nelson through starvation. Furthermore, after a conflict with the natives, he has to save William Grant Stairs by orally sucking the poison out of an arrow wound.

During the expedition, Parke purchases from an Arab slaver a Mangbetu Pigmy girl, who serves as his nurse and servant for over a year.

After returning to Ireland, Parke receives an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is awarded gold medals from the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal Geographical Society. He publishes several books, including My Personal Experiences in Equatorial Africa (1891) and A Guide to Health in Africa.

In August 1893, Parke visits William Beauclerk, 10th Duke of St. Albans in Ardrishaig, Scotland. He dies during that visit on August 11, 1893, presumably due to a seizure. His coffin is brought back to Ireland, where he receives a military funeral as it passes from the Dublin docks to Broadstone railway station. He is buried near his birthplace in Drumsna, County Roscommon.

A bronze statue of Parke stands on Merrion Street in Dublin, outside the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History. He is also commemorated by a bust in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

(Pictured: Photograph of Thomas Heazle Parke by Eglington & Co., Wellcome Collection gallery)