In his history of the RCSI, physician Charles Cameron writes that he has been unable to learn anything about Woodroffe’s parents or his early life.
Woodroffe is appointed assistant-surgeon to Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in 1763, and resident surgeon from 1765, an office which he holds until his death. In 1780 he becomes surgeon to the House of Industry Hospitals in Dublin and remains so for the rest of his life. In 1769 he is living in Crow Street. He moves to Fownes Street in 1774, and in 1784 he is living in St. Andrew’s Street.
Woodroffe is one of the founding members of the Dublin Society of Surgeons that later becomes the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is one of those to whom the first charter is granted in 1784. In 1786, he follows William Dease as treasurer to the college, and holds the office for eight years. He is president of the college in 1788. His appointments also include surgeon to the Blue Coat School, the Foundling Hospital, and the Hospital for Incurables, Lazar’s Hill (now Townsend Street). Several notable surgeons such as Abraham Colles are apprenticed to him. Colles takes over as resident surgeon at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital after Woodroffe’s death.
Woodroffe dies on June 4, 1799, in St. Andrew’s Street, and is interred in St. Andrew’s churchyard.
Rynne’s father is Stephen Rynne, a writer, broadcaster, author and wit, while his mother, Alice Curtayne, is a writer, hagiographer, lecturer, linguist and scholar. He attends Prosperous National School from 1947 to 1951 and Ring College Waterford from 1951 do 1952. From 1961 to 1968, he attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. After graduation, he emigrates to Canada with an internship with Hamilton Civic Hospital.
Rynne starts his general practise in Mitchell, Ontario, from 1968 to 1973, where he is introduced to vasectomy. In 1970, he is appointed as the coroner for Perth County, Ontario. In January 1974, he returns to Ireland and establishes a general practise in Clane, County Kildare.
In 1975, Rynne joins Irish Family Planning Association and starts doing vasectomies for them. In 1984, he sells condoms as an act of civil disobedience and gets fined £500. In the following year, he becomes the Chairman of IFPA. In the same year, he founds Clane General Hospital with the opposition from the Catholic Church and the local supporters.
In 1990, Rynne is shot by a man on whom he had carried out a vasectomy eight years previously. According to Rynne, the gunman fires six or seven times with a .22 Long Rifle and shoots him in the right hip. The incident is the subject of a short film The Vasectomy Doctor by Paul Webster.
After the Anglo-Irish truce of July 1921, Cooney is appointed Officer Commanding (O/C) of the 1st Kerry Brigade, IRA, reorganising it and forming a flying column. Opposing the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, he does not immediately break with GHQ, who sends him to organise the 1st Eastern Division. Later in January 1922, the Chief of Staff, Eoin O’Duffy, asks him to become O/C of the 3rd Eastern Division, but later rescinds the appointment. In March 1922 he is appointed O/C of the 1st Eastern Division of the anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.
That same year he is captured by Free State forces and interned in Mountjoy Prison, where he becomes O/C of the prisoners in C Wing. He accepts responsibility for an attempted escape bid on October 10, 1922, in which a fellow prisoner, Peadar Breslin, is killed and another man is wounded. After sojourns in Newbridge and Arbour Hill Prison, he is moved with the other leaders to Kilmainham Gaol, where he spends forty-one days on hunger strike. Removed to Harepark Camp, the Curragh, on January 1, 1924, he is among the last to be released on May 29, 1924.
Cooney succeeds Frank Aiken as Chief of Staff of the IRA on November 18, 1925. Central to the reorganisation scheme he puts in place is the need to secure American funds for the IRA and to combat Frank Aiken’s fundraising work in the United States since December 1925 on behalf of the embryo Fianna Fáil organisation. Receiving permission on April 21, 1926, he departs on a fund-raising trip to the United States, but returns to Ireland in October. He resigns as chief of staff in favour of Maurice Twomey, but retains his position as chairman of the IRA executive until November 21, 1927, when he obtains leave to complete his medical studies.
After internship in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, Cooney finds temporary employment in London, but remains in touch with GHQ. On September 27, 1929, he marries the German-educated Frances (‘Frank’) Brady, daughter of a wealthy Belfast linen family and former Cumann na mBan activist and hunger-striker. The marriage is not a success. Failing to secure employment due to police harassment and the loyalty test then in force, he and his wife are obliged to emigrate to London, where he practises as a GP, still maintaining his IRA links. Their only child, Seán, is born there in 1931. He returns to Ireland in August 1932, after Fianna Fáil’s accession to power.
An intimate friend of Maurice Twomey, who is still Chief of Staff, Cooney remains in the upper echelons of the IRA and attends its conventions. Signifying his standing in republican circles, he is chosen to unveil, inter alia, the Fenian memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery and the Seán Treacy plaque in Talbot Street, Dublin, and is a regular speaker at commemorations. In March 1940, he attempts to intercede with Éamon de Valera on behalf of hunger-striking republicans, and is later arrested, but released.
After the discovery of a German spy ring in the hospitals commission’s subsidiary, the Dublin Hospitals Bureau, Cooney is forced to resign in April 1942 on refusing to take a loyalty pledge to the state. He returns to private practice. He becomes active in the unsuccessful campaign to save Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff, from being hanged in 1944. In anticipation of emigrating, he finally resigns from the IRA in 1944, though military and police surveillance continue until March 1945.
Appointed a part-time member of the hospitals commission by the inter-party government in September 1949 and in severe financial straits, Cooney emigrates alone to the United States on December 2, 1950, and never returns. While employed in a tuberculosissanatorium in New Jersey, he obtains by examination his licence to practise medicine in Maryland on January 14, 1954. Admitted a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, again by examination, on November 23, 1954, he secures, at the age of 57, his first ever permanent post in medicine, in a similar hospital in Pikesville, Maryland. His republican activities continue through Clan na Gael during his U.S. years, and he is a frequent speaker at commemorative events.
(Pictured: Liam Lynch with some of his Divisional Staff and Officers of the Brigades, including the 1st Southern Division, who attend as delegates to the Army Convention at the Mansion House, Dublin, on April 9, 1922. Cooney is first on the right in the 3rd row back.)
Wilde is born in March 1815 at Kilkeevin, near Castlerea, County Roscommon, the youngest of the three sons and two daughters of a prominent local medical practitioner, Thomas Wills Wilde, and his wife, Amelia Flynne. His family are members of the Church of Ireland, and he is descended from a Dutchman, Colonel de Wilde, who came to Ireland with King William of Orange‘s invading army in 1690, and numerous Anglo-Irish ancestors. He receives his initial education at the Elphin Diocesan School in Elphin, County Roscommon. In 1832, he is bound as an apprentice to Abraham Colles, the pre-eminent Irish surgeon of the day, at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin. He is also taught by the surgeons James Cusack and Sir Philip Crampton and the physician Sir Henry Marsh. He also studies at the private and highly respected school of anatomy, medicine, and surgery in Park Street (later Lincoln Place), Dublin. In 1837, he earns his medical degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In the same year, he embarks on an eight-month-cruise to the Holy Land with a recovering patient, visiting various cities and islands throughout the Mediterranean. Porpoises are flung on board the ship, Crusader, and Wilde dissects them. Taking notes, he eventually composes a two-volume book on the nursing habits of the creatures. Among the places he visits on this tour is Egypt. In a tomb he finds the mummified remains of a dwarf and salvages the torso to bring back to Ireland. He also collects embalmed ibises.
Wilde runs his own hospital, St. Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital for Diseases of the Eye and Ear, in Dublin and is appointed to serve as Oculist-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. At one point, he performs surgery on the father of another famous Irish dramatist, George Bernard Shaw.
Wilde is awarded a knighthood in a ceremony at Dublin Castle on January 28, 1864, more for his involvement with the Irish census than for his medical contributions, although he had been appointed medical commissioner to the Irish census in 1841. In 1845, he becomes editor of the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science, to which he contributes many articles.
Wilde marries the poet Jane Francesca Agnes Elgee on November 12, 1851, who writes and publishes under the pen name of Speranza. The couple has two sons, William (Willie) and Oscar, and a daughter, Isola Francesca, who dies in childhood.
In addition to his children with his wife, Wilde is the father of three children born out of wedlock before his marriage: Henry Wilson, born in 1838, and Emily and Mary Wilde, born in 1847 and 1849, respectively, of different parentage to Henry. He acknowledges paternity of his illegitimate children and provides for their education, but they are reared by his relatives rather than with his wife and legitimate children. Emily and Mary both die in 1871 following a Halloween party at which their dresses accidentally catch fire.
From 1855 until his death in 1876, Wilde lives at 1 Merrion Square, now the headquarters of American College Dublin. The building is named Oscar Wilde House after William Wilde’s son, who also lives at the address from 1855 until 1878. There is a plaque at 1 Merrion Square dedicated to him.
Wilde’s reputation suffers when Mary Travers, a long-term patient of his and the daughter of a colleague, claims that he had seduced her two years earlier. She writes a pamphlet crudely parodying Wilde and Lady Wilde as Dr. and Mrs. Quilp, and portraying Dr. Quilp as the rapist of a female patient anaesthetised under chloroform. She distributes the pamphlets outside the building where Wilde is about to give a public lecture. Lady Wilde complains to Mary’s father, Robert Travers, which results in Mary bringing a libel case against her. Mary Travers wins her case but is awarded a mere farthing in damages by the jury. Legal costs of £2,000 are awarded against Lady Wilde. The case is the talk of all Dublin, and Wilde’s refusal to enter the witness box during the trial is widely held against him as ungentlemanly behaviour.
From this time onwards, Wilde begins to withdraw from Dublin to the west of Ireland, where he had started in 1864 to build what becomes Moytura, his house overlooking Lough Corrib in Connemara, County Galway. His health deteriorates in 1875. He dies, likely of cancer, at the age of 61 on April 19, 1876. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.
(Pictured: Sketch of William Wilde by J.H. Maguire, 1847)
The Solomons come to Ireland from England in 1824. Solomons is the son of Maurice Solomons (1832–1922), an optician whose practice is mentioned in James Joyce‘s Ulysses. His grandmother, Rosa Jacobs Solomons (1833–1926), is born in Hull in England. His elder brother Edwin (1879–1964) is a stockbroker and prominent member of the Dublin Jewish community. His sister Estella Solomons (1882–1968) is a leading artist, and a member of Cumann na mBan during the 1916 Easter Rising. She marries poet and publisher Seumas O’Sullivan. His younger sister Sophie is a trained opera singer.
Solomons attends St. Andrew’s College, Dublin, where he is very interested in rugby. He earns ten international rugby caps for Ireland between 1908 and 1910. He studies medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, becomes a medical doctor, and is Master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin from 1926 to 1933, surprising those who felt that a Jew would never hold the post. When his term ends in 1933, his name is intimately linked with that of the hospital when James Joyce writes in Finnegans Wake, “in my bethel of Solyman’s I accouched my rotundaties.” He serves as president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) in the late 1940s and practices from No. 30 Lower Baggot Street.
In a biography of Solomons he is described as “World famous obstetrician & gynaecologist, Rugby international, horseman, leader of Liberal Jewry & of Irish literary & artistic renaissance.”
Solomons is a friend of the founder of Sinn Féin and TD, Arthur Griffith. He contributes to the purchase of a house for Griffith. He is a founding member and the first president of the Liberal Synagogue in Dublin. He establishes a dispensary for Jewish women with Ada Shillman. In retirement he is inspector of qualifying examinations and visitor of medical schools in midwifery for the general medical council. A volume of memoirs is published in 1956. He is an art collector, including the works of Jean Cooke.
Solomons dies on September 11, 1965, at his home, Laughton Beg, Rochestown Avenue, Dún Laoghaire. The Bethel Solomons medal is awarded annually to an outstanding student in midwifery at the hospital.
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 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.
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 TaoiseachJohn 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 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.
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.
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).
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 CommercialsGaelic 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)
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.
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.”
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 lexicographerH. C. Colles. His granddaughter Frances marries the judge Lord Ashbourne and her sister Anna marries his colleague Sir Edmund Thomas Bewley.
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 Forcesbomber 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.
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.