Bethel Albert Herbert Solomons, gynaecologist and international rugby player for the Ireland national rugby union team, is born into a prominent Jewish family, one of the oldest continuous Jewish families in Ireland, at 32 Waterloo Road, Dublin, on February 27, 1885. He is also a supporter of the 1916 Easter Rising.
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.”
Following a brief courtship, Solomons marries Gertrude Levy, who had studied with his sister Sophie at the Royal Academy of Music, London, in the liberal synagogue in London in 1916. His second son, Dr. Michael Solomons (1919–2007), is a distinguished gynaecologist, a pioneer of family planning in Ireland, and a veteran of the bitter and divisive 1983 constitutional amendment campaign.
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.