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


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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.


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Death of Sir Thomas de Rokeby, Justiciar of Ireland

Sir Thomas de Rokeby, a soldier and senior Crown official in fourteenth-century England and Ireland, who serves as Justiciar of Ireland, dies on April 23, 1357. He is appointed to that office to restore law and order to Ireland, and has considerable early success in this task, but he is recalled to England after the military situation deteriorates. He is later re-appointed Justiciar, and returns to Ireland to take up office, but dies soon afterwards.

The Rokebys are a prominent landowning family from Mortham in North Yorkshire. He is probably the son of Thomas de Rokeby, who dies in 1318. His nephew, also named Thomas, the son of his brother Robert, is closely associated with him in his later years and the elder Thomas is often called “l’oncle” to distinguish him from his nephew.

Rokeby first comes to public attention in 1327 when, after his return from prison in Scotland, he receives the thanks of the new King Edward III for being the squire who had first pointed out the approach of the Scots army during the invasion of the previous July. As a reward he is knighted and given lands worth £100 a year. He sees action against the Scots regularly between 1336 and 1342 and has charge of Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle while they are held by the English. He is High Sheriff of Yorkshire from 1342 to 1349. He is one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, and it is said, “gave the Scots such a draught as they did not care to taste again.” He is then entrusted with bringing King David II of Scotland as a captive to London, and he receives further grants of land as a reward for his good services.

In 1349 Rokeby is appointed Justiciar of Ireland, and given a large armed retinue to accompany him, as it is recognised by the English Crown that “Ireland is not in good plight or good peace.” While there is some surprise at the appointment of an old soldier to such a sensitive political position, the more informed view is that Rokeby is well suited to the task of enforcing justice by military force. He arrives in December and makes a quick circuit of the south of Ireland, mainly to keep watch on the powerful but troublesome magnate Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond.

Rokeby is praised by his contemporaries for his regard for justice and his zeal in checking extortion by Crown officials. He undertakes a general overhaul of the Irish administration, aimed particularly at the detection and prevention of corruption and the removal of incompetent officials. Arguably he shows excessive zeal in arresting and imprisoning the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, Robert de Emeldon, a man who enjoys the King’s personal regard. Admittedly the charges against Emeldon are very serious, including rape, robbery and manslaughter, but the King, out of regard for their long friendship and Emeldon’s record of good service to the Crown in Ireland, had already pardoned Emeldon for killing one Ralph de Byrton, a knight, in 1336. Emeldon is once more pardoned and quickly released.

In November 1351 Rokeby holds a Great Council at Kilkenny. It deals partly with the problem of official corruption already mentioned, partly with the problem of defence of the Pale, and partly with the question of intermarriage and other close contacts between the Anglo-Irish and the Old Irish. Otway-Ruthven notes that little of the legislation is new, apart from the application to Ireland of the English Statute of Labourers of 1351, and that much of it is repeated in the better-known Statutes of Kilkenny of 1366.

In 1353 the Clan MacCarthy of Muskerry, the dominant clan in central County Cork, who had until then been loyal to the English Crown, rebels. Rokeby shows considerable skill in crushing the uprising and succeeds in replacing the rebellious head of the clan, Dermot MacCarthy, with his more compliant cousin Cormac. Cormac’s descendants gain great wealth, extensive lands and the title Earl of Clancarty.

This promising state of good order does not last long. A rebellion by the O’Byrne Clan of Wicklow in 1354 is followed by a general uprising headed by the MacMurrough-Kavanagh dynasty. Although Muirchearteach MacMurrough-Kavanagh, the self-styled King of Leinster, is captured and executed, Rokeby suffers several military defeats. He is unable to suppress the O’Byrnes’ rebellion, and other risings take place in Tipperary, Kildare and Ulster.

Rokeby, now an ageing and discouraged man, is recalled in 1355. His replacement, rather surprisingly, is that Earl of Desmond whom it had been one of his main tasks to keep in check. Desmond dies a year later on July 26, 1356. Rokeby is reappointed Justiciar, and returns to Ireland, only to die soon afterwards on April 23, 1357 at Kilkea Castle.

Rokeby is married and his wife is named Juliana, but little else is known of her. They have no children, and his estates pass to his nephew, the younger Thomas.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Thomas de Rokeby, painting by Godfried Schalcken)


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Birth of James Molyneaux, Northern Irish Politician

james-molyneauxJames Henry Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead, Northern Irish unionist politician and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from 1979 to 1995, is born in Killead, County Antrim on August 27, 1920. He is a leading member and sometime Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club. An Orangeman, he is also Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1971 to 1995. He is an unrelenting though peaceful supporter of the Protestant cause during the factional conflict that divides Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the early 21st century.

Molyneaux is educated at nearby Aldergrove School. Although he is raised an Anglican, as a child he briefly attends a local Catholic primary school. He leaves school at age 15 and works on his father’s poultry farm. When a Catholic church near his home is burned down by Ulster loyalist arsonists in the late 1990s, he helps to raise funds for its rebuilding.

In World War II Molyneaux serves in the Royal Air Force between 1941 and 1946. He participates in the D-Day landings in FranceFrance and in the liberation of the Belsen-Belsen concentration camp, and occasionally gives interviews about what he sees there. On April 1, 1947, he is promoted to flying officer.

After demobilization Molyneaux establishes a printing business with his uncle, and in 1946 he joins the UUP. He is first elected to local government in 1964 and enters Parliament six years later. He staunchly opposes all power-sharing deals, notably the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, which gives Dublin an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and paves the way for devolution.

Molyneaux lacks the firebrand public image of his longtime rival Ian Paisley, who in 1971 breaks with the UUP to form the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). He never acquiesces to the Good Friday Agreement, which calls for the devolution of Northern Ireland’s government from London to Belfast, however, unlike Paisley and David Trimble, who in 1997 succeeds Molyneaux as the UUP leader and in April 1998 signs the devolution accord.

On retiring as UUP leader, Molyneaux is knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1996. The following year, after standing down as an MP at the 1997 general election, he is created a life peer on June 10, 1997 as Baron Molyneaux of Killead, of Killead in the County of Antrim.

James Molyneaux dies at the age of 94 in Antrim, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on March 9, 2015, Commonwealth Day.