Saturday, 12 December 2015

Medical Practitioners in Early Modern Irish Wills by John Cunningham

The destruction of the Public Records Office of Ireland in the conflagration of 1922 took with it almost all records on the administration of English government in Ireland from the thirteenth century. In this month's blog post, John Cunningham, an Associate Research Fellow on the Wellcome Trust funded project, 'The medical world of early modern England, Wales and Ireland, c. 1500-1715', demonstrates how alternative extant sources can yet throw light on the world of medical practitioners in early modern Ireland.

The Four Courts in Dublin in flames during the Battle of Dublin,
30 June 1922. National Library of Ireland: NLI: HOG57. The Irish
Four Courts was occupied by IRA irregulars from April 1922.
Marking the beginning of the Irish Civil War, on 28 June, Irish
Free-State forces began shelling the Four Courts. On 30 June 1922,
the Public Record Office of Ireland, part of Four Courts Complex,
was destroyed in a massive explosion of stored munitions.
Information relating to the lives and occupations of medical practitioners can be found scattered across a broad range of sources for the history of early modern Ireland. Given the fact that almost all Irish wills were destroyed in 1922, it could be reasonably assumed that the surviving material of this type is of very limited use for the study of practitioners. Fortunately, however, the availability of some useful indexes and the large number of extant abstracts and notes made by genealogists and others allows for the identification of hundreds of medics active in Ireland between the mid-sixteenth century and 1750.

Early Modern Practitioners Project

As part of my work for the Early Modern Practitioners Project at the University of Exeter, I have recently been exploring surviving wills and other testamentary materials. This research will help to inform the Irish content of our project database, which will contain information on many thousands of medical practitioners in early modern England, Ireland and Wales. In this blog post, I will discuss some of the research challenges posed by Irish wills and briefly highlight a number of ways in which they can serve as a useful source for the history of medicine in Ireland.

Irish Wills as a Historical Source

Although the body of fragmentary will data that has survived for early modern Ireland is dwarfed by the sources of that nature extant for England, wills nonetheless constitute a vital source for the study of many aspects of Irish society in that period. At the same time, it must be recognised that will-making was very far from being a universal activity in early modern Ireland, and that women and persons of lower social status are inevitably under-represented. Moreover, many wills from this period had already been lost before the nineteenth century, when greater efforts were made to preserve such documents and to compile useful indexes

Will Index

Title Page of Vicar's Index to
Prerogative Wills.
Post-1922, our insight into a large portion of early modern Irish wills has been confined to index entries. Such indexes are most useful where occupational labels are included alongside names, addresses, and dates, such as in Sir Arthur Vicar's Index to the prerogative wills of Ireland, 1536-1810.1 Roughly 180 medical doctors, apothecaries, barber-surgeons and surgeons are listed in Vicars for the period up to 1750. For diocesan wills, however, the available indexes often contain little or no occupation data. Here, the Dublin wills index published in 1894 forms a notable and valuable exception, listing the names and occupations of around 115 medics active prior to 1750.2

A will index entry can serve as a useful reference point around which to assemble further information relating to individual practitioners, whether from a related will abstract or from a variety of other sources. James Field M.D. provides a useful early example. His will is indexed in Vicars under the year 1624, with his address given as Dublin.3 A corresponding abstract can be found in Sir William Betham's MSS, giving the names of Field's wife and children, and this information is complemented by the further details given in Field's funeral entry.4 This individual can also be found as 'James Fildeus' in the register of medical graduates at Rheims in 1606, the earliest record of a Hibernus occurring in that rich source.5 Some context for Field's involvement in medicine is provided by the fact that his surname was an anglicised form of Ó Fithcheallaigh, a Gaelic hereditary medical family active in west Munster.6 For example, 'William Fihilly of Limerick, physician' had received a grant of 'English liberty' in 1557.7 Another member of this family, Dr John Field, was among those implicated in the 1641 rebellion in Co. Kerry; his estate outside Tralee was confiscated as a result.8

Master of the Barber-Surgeons' Guild

Entry in Vicars for William Kelly (1597).
There are at least two practitioners in Vicars who pre-dated Dr James Field: William Kelly, 'gent', who died in 1597; and John Morphy, 'alderman', who died in 1603.9 Kelly was master of the barber surgeons' guild in Dublin in 1576, the same year that he took on Morphy as an apprentice.10 Morphy in turn became master in 1588, and was elected alderman of Dublin in 1596.11 These examples illustrate one of the pitfalls of relying on will indexes for an era when labels of status and occupation could be both fluid and multiple. Fortunately, details of the lives and deaths of both Kelly and Morphy can be recovered from other sources, not least the records of the barber-surgeons guild preserved in the library of Trinity College Dublin.12 The latter source also sheds some light on the career of Stephen Cradocke, a barber who features in the Dublin diocesan will index under the year 1577.13

Dublin Wills entry for Stephen Cradock, a barber.

'Inventory Attached But No Interesting Names'

When moving from indexes to study more detailed will abstracts and copies, it is necessary to keep in mind the extent to which the latter body of material has been shaped by the priorities of nineteenth and early twentieth-century genealogists and other researchers. A brief note attached to an abstract of a Cloyne will from 1727 is illustrative: 'Inventory attached but no interesting names'.14 My colleague Alan Withey has shown how probate inventories for apothecaries's shops can be used to explore the 'medical marketplace' in early modern Wales. The absence of equivalent material for Ireland is unfortunate.15

Pages from of one Sybil Kirkpatrick's eight notebooks in which
she copied the wills of Irish medical men from originals once
held in the Public Record Office. Royal College of Physicians of
Ireland, Heritage Centre, TPCK/5/3/1.
In most of the relevant manuscripts, it is necessary to pick out the medical wills from among those made by gentlemen, clergymen, merchants, widows, and others. An exception to this is provided by Sybil Kirkpatrick's notebooks preserved in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), which contain transcripts of medical wills alone. Kirkpatrick's transcripts, made in the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1910-11, have preserved extensive details of forty pre-1750 wills.16 Most of these relate to prominent Dublin-based physicians. They thus complement the rich materials compiled by Sybil's better known brother, Thomas Percy Claude Kirkpatrick, also preserved in the RCPI.

Social Networks

Wills do not usually reveal extensive details about the nature and extent of an individual's medical practice. They can, however, contain useful information on aspects such as social networks, status and wealth, patron-client relationships, book ownership, and succession planning. The latter issue unsurprisingly features in some wills made by members of the Gaelic hereditary medical families. The 1663 will of Gerald Fennell, 'Doctor of Phisicke', demonstrated his concern to ensure that his cousin and namesake would be able to continue the family's long tradition of service to the Butlers. He used his will to recommend the younger doctor to the duke and duchess of Ormond, stating that he bad been 'bredd by me for the service of their house'.17 Similar concern for his family's medical future was shown in the 1728 will of Dr Patrick Shiel of Breandrum, Co. Mayo. He directed that 'unbyassed men' were to decide which of his two nephews, Owen or Patrick, was 'of a superior genius' for the study of medicine. These men were to take account of 'capacity of learning ... gravity of life, probity of manners, good humour and other virtuous qualities'. Shiel's will also reveals marital ties between his family and the Dunlevy or Ultagh family, who had been hereditary physicians to the O'Donnells of Tyrconnell. Shiel himself was closely involved with that branch of the O'Donnells who had relocated to Co. Mayo, in the previous century; he listed Colonel Manus O'Donnell among his 'trusty well beloved friendes'.18

Dublin College of Physicians

Wills can be helpful too for piecing together the relationship that existed between medics. In his will made in 1677, Dr William Hickey mentioned Dr Thomas Connor.19 Other sources show that Connor was Hickey's son-in-law, and that both men were active in the Dublin College of Physicians in the 1670s.20 Hickey's will also made reference to the surgeon Nicholas Gernon, who evidently provided him with medical care in his final illness. Gernon was a native of Dublin who had been admitted to freedom in 1644.21 When he in turn died around 1692, his widow Bridget remarried to Francis Dempsey, another Dublin surgeon.22 Another of those active in the College of Physicians in the 1670s was Dr Edmund Meara.23 Decades earlier, in 1638, he had been one of the witnesses to the will of John Verdon, MD, of Dublin.24 A decade earlier again, Verdon and Edmund's father, Dr Dermot Meara, had been involved in efforts to establish a college of physicians in Dublin.25 Another of the witnesses to Verdon's will in 1638 was the barber-surgeon Simon Cullen, while the apothecary Stephen Hore was appointed executor. Little is known of Verdon, but his surname suggests that he originated in Co. Louth, a likelihood reinforced by the reference he made to his 'loving cousin Sir Christopher Bellew'.26

Medical Witnesses

Extract from Ferrar's description of Dr Hall's Alms House.
History of Limerick (1787).
One of the trends evident across the period is the appearance of medics as beneficiaries, as executors, or as witnesses to wills of persons of high social status. Given that medics were trusted by their patients and that they were likely to be present when wills were being made shortly before death, this phenomenon is not surprising. A mid-sixteenth century example is provided by the will of Morrough O'Brien, first earl of Thomond, whose 1551 will was witnessed by 'Master Doctor Nelan'.27 Other instances involving noble families include James Fennell, a physician who witnessed the earl of Ormond's will in 1614, and Dr Jeremie Hall, who witnessed the earl of Orrery's will in 1681 and was subsequently appointed an executor by the dowager countess in 1688.28 A full transcript of Hall's will also survives; it provided for the foundation of almshouses and schools both in Limerick and in Boothtown, Yorkshire. This document, containing extensive details relating to his building plans, his books, legacies to Trinity College, Lord Powerscourt and the earls of Orrery, Donegall and Stafford, and various other matters, would have taken some time to compose.29 It certainly lacks the urgency of the will of the Cromwellian Lieutenant-Colonel John Grey, made as he lay dying of wounds following the failed assault on Clonmel in May 1650. Those present included the surgeon John Hoggsfleshe, to whom Grey left £5.30 An episode of altogether more intense medical care is suggested by the 1715 will of Henry Meredith Esq., of Newtown, Co. Meath. It was witnessed by three fellows of the King and Queen's College of Physicians of Ireland: Duncan Cuming; William Smith; and Edward Worth.31

Obscure Practitioners

While figures such as Cuming and Worth are relatively well-known, wills and related data can also provide vital evidence for the existence of far more obscure practitioners who may not have left any other trace in the archive. Loughlen Keaghry, 'Dr of Physicke', made his will at Laragh Beg near Athenry in November 1730; unfortunately, I have not yet come across any other reference to him.32 The Hugh Fergus who witnessed his will was presumably the MD of that name, a member of another of the Gaelic hereditary medical families that remained active into the eighteenth century.33 Another of the obscure individuals to whom I have so far only found one reference is Millisent Alwright, a Dublin midwife who died around 1740.34 It is likely that Keaghry and Alwright will remain among the very many practitioners about whom very little can now be discovered. In many other cases, however, the combination of will data with material drawn from a wide variety of other sources can enable us to learn more about the practitioners who populated the medical world of early modern Ireland.

Can You Help?

To date, my efforts to gather data relating to practitioners have been supported by a number of scholars of early modern Ireland, who have given advice on sources or kindly shared the findings of their own research. As it is not possible for one individual to consult every source, such collective endeavour is essential to maximising the value of our project database, which will be open access and fully available online. I would be very happy to hear from anyone who wishes to contribute advice or information. I can be contacted at

Dr John Cunningham

Dr John Cunningham is an Associate Research Fellow on the Wellcome Trust funded project, 'The Medical World of Early Modern England, Wales and Ireland, c. 1500-1715'. His research focus on this project is on medical practitioners in early modern Ireland. John previously held an Irish Research Council CARA Postdoctoral Mobility Fellowship, during which time he spent two years at the University of Freiburg and a year at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). His project was entitled 'Ireland and Bohemia in the seventeenth century'. He completed his PhD at NUI Galway in 2009. His dissertation was entitled 'Transplantation to Connacht, 1641-1680: theory and practice'. John has taught history in Galway and Dublin, including a seminar course at TCD called 'The Nobility in Early Modern Ireland'. His research interests include early modern Britain and Ireland, the history of medicine, and Central Europe in the early modern period.

Project Podcast

You can listen to a podcast about the project, 'The Medical World of Early Modern England, Wales and Ireland, c. 1500-1715', for BBC History Magazine, from 29 November 2012.

1 Arthur Vicars (ed.), Index to the prerogative wills of Ireland, 1536-1810 (Dublin, 1897).
2 Deputy Keeper of Public Records in Ireland (hereafter DKPRI), Twenty-sixth report (Dublin, 1894).
3 Vicars (ed.), Prerogative wills, p. 166.
4 National Library of Ireland (hereafter NLI), Genealogical Office (hereafter GO) MS 225, p. 39; NLI, GO MS 79, p. 117.
5 List of Rheims Graduates, kindly supplied by Professor Laurence Brockliss.
6 Nollaig Ó Muraile, 'The hereditary medical families of Gaelic Ireland', Irish Texts Society Seminar, University College Cork, 7 November 2015. I am grateful to Dr Marc Caball and Dr Declan Downey for their insights into the Field family.
7 Fiants of Philip & Mary, no. 140, in DKPRI, Ninth report (Dublin, 1877), p. 73.
8 Deposition of Stephen Love, 2 February 1644, TCD MS 828, fos 124r-127v; Field, Dr John, The Down Survey of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin (2013).
9 Vicars (ed.), Prerogative wills, pp 264, 337.
10 Barber surgeons, Book of enrolment of apprentices and journeymen, 1530-1607, TCD MS 1447/6, fos 30v-31r.
11 Ibid., fo. 40v; Calendar of the ancient records of Dublin, ed. John T. Gilbert and Rosa Gilbert (19 vols, Dublin 1889-1944), ii, 306.
12 Barber surgeons, Book of enrolment of apprentices and journeymen, 1530-1607, TCD MS 1447/6; NLI, GO MS 65, pp 6, 82; NLI, GO MS 225, pp 188, 264; Fiants of Elizabeth, no. 3747, in DKPRI, Thirteenth report (Dublin, 1881), p. 143.
13 DKPRI, Twenty-sixth report (Dublin, 1894), p. 196; NLI, GO MS 290, p. 70.
14 NLI, GO MS 534, p. 62.
15 Alun Withey, '"Persons that live remote from London": apothecaries and the medical marketplace in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Wales', Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 85 (2011), pp 222-247.
16 Sybil Kirkpatrick will notebooks, Heritage Centre, RCPI, TPCK 5/3/1.
17 Prerogative will book, 1664-84, NAI, MFGS 41/1, fos 99A-100B.
18 Prerogative will book, 1728-9, NAI, MFGS 41/4, fos 359B-364A.
19 Sybil Kirkpatrick will notebooks, Heritage Centre, RCPI, TPCK 5/3/1, i, p. 71.
20 Account book beginning 21 January 1672, Heritage Centre, RCPI, MS 3/3/1; NLI, GO MS 257, p. 143; NAI, RC 6/3, p. 23.
21 'Nichus Gernon', Ancient Freemen of Dublin Database, Library and Heritage, Dublin City Council.
22 NLI, GO MS 258, p. 70.
23 Account book beginning 21 January 1672, Heritage Centre, RCPI, MS 3/3/1.
24 NLI, Reports on private collections, no. 32, pp 547-548.
25 Marian Lyons, 'The role of the graduate physicians in professionalising medical practice in Ireland, c. 1619-1654', in James Kelly and Fiona Clark (eds), Ireland and medicine in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Farnham, 2010), p. 25.
26 NLI, Reports on private collections, no. 32, pp 547-548.
27 Brian Ó Dálaigh, 'A comparative study of the wills of the first and fourth earls of Thomond', North Munster Antiquarian Journal, 34 (1992), pp 57-59.
28 T. Blake Butler, Ormond Deeds, viii(Typescript in NLI MSS Reading Room), D3580; NLI, GO MS 532, pp 24-26.
29 Sybil Kirkpatrick will notebooks, Heritage Centre, RCPI, TPCK 5/3/1, i, pp 40-57.
30 NLI, GO MS 530, p. 142.
31 Registry of deeds: abstracts of wills, ed. P. Beryl Eustace (3 vols, Dublin 1954-84), i, no. 101.
32 NLI GO MS 425, p. 109.
33 Vicars (ed.), Prerogative of wills, p. 165; Diarmaid Ó Catháin, 'John Fergus MD: eighteenth-century doctor, book collector and Irish scholar', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 118 (1988), pp 139-162.
34 NLI, GO MS 257, p. 225.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Adolescence in Modern Irish History

Adolescence in Modern Irish History
September of this year marked the timely arrival of a new and fascinating edited collection, Adolescence in Modern Irish History, published by Palgrave Macmillan - the latest addition to the publisher's impressive and well-received series, Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood. Edited by Catherine Cox, (Director and co-founder of CHOMI, UCD) and Susannah Riordan, (School of History, UCD), the volume is the first of its kind to address the question of adolescence in Irish history. Its chapters draw together new archival sources and research findings by nine emerging and established scholars working at the cutting edge of research into Irish adolescence. 

Spanning the birth of the 'affective revolution' in the early nineteenth century up to the genesis of the teenager in 1960s Ireland, the essays in this collection explore the emergence of Irish adolescence in its social, economic, political and literary contexts. Engaging with the extensive international literature on the subject, the editors argue that Irish adolescence both resembled and diverged from the British, American and continental European experience during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Adolescence in Ireland was particularly shaped by its demography, tied as that was to practices of late marriage, permanent celibacy, large families and the extensive emigration of young people. Coupled with Ireland's limited industrial development and the persistence of the pre-industrial family economy, these conditions strongly informed the possibilities of Irish adolescence in terms of adolescence autonomy, educational opportunities, and employment prospects.

Naturally, the long-shadow of Ireland's apparently troubled relationship with institutions looms large across this volume with a chapter on Irish borstal offenders, extensive treatment of industrial schools, and the confinement of unmarried mothers. Yet Riordan, at least on the question of the young unmarried mother, cautions against the often axiomatic conclusion that the carceral and unforgiving approach to problematic female sexuality so favoured in Ireland can best attributed to clerical actors. Indeed, she finds that in the newly independent Irish state of the 1920s and 1930s, a 'social work lobby', comprising feminist, religious and social work organisations, sought the introduction of protective legislation against the sexual exploitation of the sexually-compromised adolescent who they characterised as typically innocent and subject to seduction and betrayal by older and more powerful men. More punitive perspectives on unmarried, adolescent motherhood were instead more typically the preserve of traditional practitioners of the law and medicine.

Editors: Adolescence in Modern Irish History

Catherine Cox, Director and co-founder of the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI), University College Dublin (UCD).

Susannah Riordan, lecturer in Modern Irish History, School of History, UCD, and an associated staff member of CHOMI. 

2010 Workshop

This collection emerged from a workshop in January 2010, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Centre for the History of Medicine, University College Dublin, and the UCD Humanities Institute. 


Catherine Cox and Susannah Riordan

Robert Hyndman's Toe: Romanticism, Schoolboy Politics and the Affective Revolution in Late Georgian Belfast

'A Sudden and Complete Revolution in the Female': Female Adolescence and the Medical Profession in Post-Famine Ireland

The 'Wild Irish Girl' in Selected Novels of L.T. Meade

'The Most Dangerous, Reckless, Passionate .. Period of Their Lives': The Irish Borstal Offender, 1906-1921

An Irish Nationalist Adolescence: Na Fianna Éireann, 1909-1923

'Storm and Stress': Richard Devane, Adolescent Psychology and the Politics of Protective Legislation 1922-1935

'How Will We Kill the Evening?': 'Degeneracy' and 'Second Generation' Male Adolescence in Independent Ireland

A Powerful Antidote? Catholic Youth Clubs in the Sixties

The Emergence of an Irish Adolescence: 1920s to 1970s

Thursday, 8 October 2015

AIDS and History by David Kilgannon

In this month's blog post, David Kilgannon, a Wellcome Trust funded PhD candidate in the Department of History, NUI Galway, looks at the response of two voluntary organisations, Gay Health Action and the Irish Haemophilia Society, to the arrival of AIDS in 1980s Ireland. In 2015, David completed his Wellcome Trust funded MA on the history of AIDS activism in Ireland at the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, University College Dublin.

First Reported Cases of Aids

Report on the appearance of Kaposi's 
Sarcoma and Pneumocystis Pneumonia 
among homosexual men in New York 
and California, Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report3 July 1981.  Published
by the Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention. Public domain.

The first clinical observed cases of AIDS arose among a group of homosexual men in Los Angeles in 1981. All five men presented with Pneumocystis pneumonia, a rare form of pneumonia, which is usually successfully fought off by the human immune system. The increasing prevalence of gay men with impaired immune systems throughout 1981-82 led the US Centers for Disease Control in June 1982 to classify this new disease as Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). However, this model was soon found to be inadequate when non-homosexual patients, including women and children, presented with GRID symptoms. This resulted in the reclassification of the condition as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, in August 1982.

AIDS: State Response & Policy Failure 

Yet, the initial appearance of AIDS among gay men and intravenous drug users, and its continuing association with these socially marginalised groups was incredibly influential in shaping what were often desultory state responses to the syndrome, with the reaction of national healthcare systems to the incipient epidemic often appearing apathetic and lethargic. For example, in the United States it took a full three years after the first identification of the condition for the Department of Health and Human Services to produce and distribute their first AIDS information booklet for the public. While state responses were often insufficient, the appearance of AIDS instigated a substantial response by voluntary and activists groups. Roy Porter identified this phenomenon as one of the seminal features of the response to the spread of AIDS from the 1980s onwards.

AIDS Activism in Ireland

Number of cases of Sero-positivity in Ireland, 1985-1990
The historical study of AIDS, and AIDS activism in particular, has received sustained historical analysis in the United States and the United Kingdom. However, it has yet to be examined in Ireland. This lacuna is striking, as Ireland arguably presents a distinctive national context relating to AIDS. Three features are particularly notable. The principal prophylactic advocated for AIDS prevention, the condom, had limited availability in Ireland until 1985. Under the Health (Family Planning) Act (1979), anyone wishing to purchase a condom required a doctor's prescription. Secondly, the largest constituent group affected by AIDS in the United States, the gay community, was effectively criminalised in Ireland until 1993. Thirdly, in the 1980s the Irish health service underwent a period of drastic reductions in capacity, losing over a third of hospital beds during this decade. Taken together, these factors make a study of AIDS activism in Ireland particularly worthy of analysis in relation to its counterparts in the broader Anglophone world. My research attempted to examine two such examples of this phenomenon in Ireland. Namely, the activist responses from the gay and haemophilia communities to AIDS, as exemplified through the work of Gay Health Action and the Irish Haemophilia Society. 

Gay Health Action

Number of AIDs cases in Ireland, 1983-1990
The work of Gay Health Action was explored through an examination of their records found in the Irish Queer Archive held at the National Library of Ireland. These sources indicate that Gay Health Action's activism was directly influenced by the international impact and context of AIDS. Articles from the National Gay Federation's magazine Out reveal a community that was quite aware of the devastation of the gay community in other countries. This awareness played a key role in instigating the foundation of Gay Health Action in January 1985 even though AIDS was not yet then a prominent public health threat in Ireland. At that point, only eleven deaths had been attributed to the syndrome in Ireland. Gay Health Action worked to raise awareness by disseminating information on the disorder, producing information leaflets and running education seminars. The group organised itself within the existing structures of the gay community, using already established methods of information dissemination within the community and establishing a telephone helpline that had clear antecedents to earlier forms of gay activism. This led Gay Health Action to take an increasingly prominent role in the management of all matters relating to AIDS in Ireland, speaking as experts on the condition to media and running an information service that superseded the role of the state's Health Education Bureau.

Irish Haemophilia Society

Number of AIDS related deaths in Ireland, 1982-1990
Yet, this form of activist response was not replicated among the varied voluntary groups representing communities that were directly impacted by the advent of AIDS in Ireland. The Irish Haemophilia Society, many of whose members became afflicted with AIDS due to the use of imported blood products which were infected with HIV,  took a quite different approach. As a reading of Lindsay Tribunal Report, the Irish Haemophilia Society's proceedings transcripts, and the society's newsletters reveals, they only began to seriously grapple with the challenge of AIDS following the infection of more than a third of their members. This fact meant that the preventative, public education role fulfilled by an organisation such as Gay Health Action was less relevant to the Irish Haemophilia Society and its members. Instead the organisation focused primarily on providing pastoral care to infected Irish haemophilia sufferers, including supports that assisted those dying from AIDS.

The Voluntary Sector and Epidemic Disease

By examining previously unstudied responses by voluntary groups to an epidemic disease in 1980s Ireland, this project aspires to add greater depth to our knowledge of Irish health policy and the role of the voluntary sector in addressing the challenges associated with an epidemic disease.

David Kilgannon is a PhD researcher in the Department of History in the National University of Ireland (Galway). His project, which is co-supervised by Dr Kevin O'Sullivan and Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley, examines the changing treatment of the disabled in twentieth century Ireland and is funded by the Wellcome Trust. His Master's dissertation, 'How to survive a plague': AIDS activism in Ireland, 1983-1989', examined voluntary sector efforts against the AIDS virus in 1980s Ireland. It was completed in the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, School of History, University College Dublin under the supervision of Dr Catherine Cox.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI) Seminar Series, Semester One, 2015-2016

Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI), Seminar Series

Semester One, 2015-2016

Thursday 17 September 2015
Dr Georgina Laragy (Queen's University, Belfast)
'Children, welfare and space in the industrial city: Belfast 1880-1939'

Thursday 8 October 2015
Dr John Cunningham (Trinity College Dublin)
'Medicine in early modern Ireland: identifying and locating practitioners'

Thursday 5 November 2015
Dr Ciarán McCabe (Maynooth University)
'"Contagion is supposed to have been introduced from the country": civic and charitable responses to the 1817-19 fever epidemic in Dublin city'

Time: 5 pm (for all seminars)
Location: Room K114, School of History and Archives corridor, Newman Building, Belfield, UCD, Dublin 4.

Download CHOMI Seminar Series Programme

Friday, 28 August 2015

A Question of Authority: the Management of Shell Shock at the Irish War Hospitals during the Great War by Peter Reid

In this month's blog post Peter Reid, MLitt research student at the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI), UCD, looks at the treatment of shell shock in Ireland during the Great War. He argues that the formation of a rational medical service for these soldiers in Ireland was undermined by the antagonistic relationship between military and civilian medical authorities.

Queen Street, Dublin.
Image provided courtesy of Peter Holder,
Irish Historical Picture Company
On 22 July 1929, John Kelly, an ex-British soldier, fell from a window of his residence in Dublin's Queen Street and later died from his injuries while being treated at the Richmond Hospital. His wife did not witness his fatal fall, but said that her husband, 'had been in ill-health since his discharge from the army in 1919, suffering from paralysis and shell shock.1

Until recently, there had been relatively little research undertaken on the management of shell shock in Irish institutions during the Great War. In the case of Britain, Peter Leese has shown that army and military concerns dominated over those of civilian medical experts.2 This post argues that a similarly asymmetrical relationship between asylum and military medical personnel was one of the key factors inhibiting the development of a well-coordinated shell shock treatment system in Ireland.

The Irish War Hospitals

The Richmond War Hospital, 1916-1919.
Image provided courtesy of the
National Archives of Ireland.
In Britain, by 1916, demand had overwhelmed the capacity of treatment facilities for shell shocked soldiers. From the summer of that year, the first treatment centres in Ireland, which would include two war hospitals, began to open in the main urban centres of Dublin and Belfast. The first of the war hospitals, a thirty-two bed unit, the Richmond War Hospital, received its first patients in June 1916. This hospital was a separate block within the grounds of Dublin's Richmond District Lunatic Asylum, allocated by the asylum's board of governance for this purpose. It admitted only British Expeditionary Force soldiers, that is, those soldiers who had served overseas at the Western Front. The main Richmond Asylum itself, however, admitted non-British Expeditionary Forces - the home troops. The army paid a generous stipend to the Richmond Asylum for the care of both categories of soldier.

Belfast District Lunatic Asylum.
Image provided courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
In response to rising casualty numbers, the civil and military authorities agreed to relocate existing patients from the Belfast District Lunatic Asylum and use that facility as another war hospital. The Belfast War Hospital opened in May 1917 under the management of the existing District Lunatic Asylum Committee. It provided 500 beds for the use of both expeditionary and non-expeditionary British service personnel. Dr William Graham, the Medical Superintendent of the Belfast Asylum, remained in place as the medical authority running the new war hospital.

The evidence suggests that Dr William R. Dawson, already a leading figure in Irish medicine and highly regarded by the British army, played a key role in facilitating, if not initiating, both arrangements.

William R. Dawson, appointed by the War Office in 1915,
as a specialist in nerve disease to treat British service personnel in Ireland.
Image provided courtesy of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

The Resident Medical Superintendents and the Royal Army Medical Corp

King George V Hospital, built 1902
(St Bricin's Military Hospital), Arbour Hill, Dublin.
Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.
Tensions in the relationship between the Richmond Asylum's Medical Superintendent, Dr John O'Conor Donelan, and his military counterpart, Lieutenant Colonel Hearn, Officer in Charge, George V Hospital, Central Military Hospital Dublin, quickly became apparent. Hearn instructed Donelan by letter that as Officer in Charge of Central Hospital that he, Hearn, was ultimately responsible for all soldiers in the asylum, 'until such time as they are invalided out of the army'.3 Three days later, Hearn again wrote to Donelan and firmly reiterated the point that 'should a man in your opinion require to be moved to the General Asylum [from the Richmond War Hospital] he still remains a soldier until finally discharged from the service by recommendation of the Military Board'.4 
Dr John O'Connor Donelan, Resident Medical Superintendent,
Richmond District Lunatic Asylum, Dublin.
Image by kind permission of Dr Aidan G. Collins,
St. Vincent's Hospital, Fairview, Dublin 3.
The army's insistence on reserving the use of the war hospital solely for expeditionary soldiers, on prioritising their treatment over that of non-expeditionary soldiers, on maintaining their control over the admission and discharge of all military patients, and the complex bureaucratic needs of the military machine, served to insidiously undermine Donelan's authority. Donelan's dissatisfaction with the arrangement is evident in his asylum report of 1917 when he bemoaned the high number of discharges 'classified as only relieved'. He attributed this to 'the fact that a considerable proportion of these were soldiers under temporary treatment, who were removed by the Military Authorities to other asylums before recovery'.5 Donelan was implicitly criticising the military authorities for prioritising the needs of the army over the professional opinion of asylum medical officers, in particular himself.

When the Belfast War Hospital opened in May 1917, it was initially managed by the existing District Lunatic Asylum Committee. However, as Lieutenant Colonel J.B. Buchanan, Officer-in-Charge of Holywood Military Hospital, noted in 1919, 'this plan did not prove satisfactory'. When the Resident Medical Superintendent, Dr William Graham, died suddenly in November 1917, the Belfast War Hospital came under the direct control of the War Office.6

Consequences of an unsatisfactory relationship

Between 1916 and 1919, the Dublin and Belfast Irish war hospitals treated 1,577 soldiers. However, there were never enough beds in Ireland for emotionally traumatised soldiers such as John Kelly and, by 1921, the 'South Ireland Pension Area' - Ireland exclusive of the province of Ulster - had the longest waiting list in Britain and Ireland for treatment.7 The antagonistic relationship between medical and military actors was one factor contributing to this unfortunate situation.

Contemporary relevance

In a report issued in July 2015, the Mental Health Commission identified that a lack of cohesion and 'deep disharmony' between clinicians and managers had undermined clinical governance in Carlow/Kilkenny and South Tipperary and, in early 2014, was associated with a 'spike' in suicides in the region.8 This reflects the continuing importance not only of independent surveillance by bodies such as the Mental Health Commission and the Health Information and Quality Authority, but also of managerial and clinical relationships in the delivery of contemporary mental health services in Ireland.

Peter Reid completed a MA in the Social and Cultural History of Medicine at the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI), UCD, in 2014. The title of his MA dissertation was, 'The Institutional Management of Soldiers with Shell Shock in Ireland, 1916-19'. In September 2015, Peter will be commencing a MLitt at CHOMI, investigating the treatment of children with disability in early twentieth-century Ireland.

1 Irish Times, 24 July 1929.
2 Peter Leese, Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War (Basingstoke and New York, 2002), 54-6, 98.
3 Letter to Resident Medical Superintendent, Richmond Lunatic Asylum from Lieutenant Colonel Hearn, King George Fifth Hospital, 1 August 1916, Richmond War Hospital Admission and Discharge Book, BR/Priv 1223, NAI.
4 Hearn to Resident Medical Superintendent, Richmond Lunatic Asylum, 4 August 1916.
5 Richmond Asylum Joint Committee Minutes, 1917, 17, BR/Priv 1223, NAI.
6 Medical History of the War: Report in Compliance with War Office Letter No. 24/General Number/6978 (A.M.D.2) 18 October 1919, WO 35/179.
7 Joanna Burke, 'Effeminacy, ethnicity and the end of trauma: the suffering of "shell-shocked" men in Great Britain and Ireland, 1914-39, Journal of Contemporary History, 35, no. 1 (2000), 69.
8 Irish Times, 22 July 2015.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Knight at the Theatre: the Adelaide Hospital and Denominational Divisions in Dublin's Voluntary Hospitals by Robbie Roulston

One of the characteristic features of Dublin's voluntary hospitals has been their long-standing denominational divisions. In this month's blog post Dr Robbie Roulston, UCD, writes about Dublin's Adelaide Hospital, the 'most anti-Catholic hospital in the whole of Dublin', and the government's consternation arising in 1950 when the Irish President, Séan T. O'Kelly, received an invitation to attend one of the hospital's fundraising events. 

Photograph shows Adelaide Hospital nurses in uniform standing on the hospital staircase , 1950s
Adelaide nurses, on the main
staircase of the hospital,1950s

Dublin's Adelaide Hospital

The Adelaide Hospital was founded in 1839 in Dublin for the treatment of poor Protestants in Ireland. As such, the royal charter it was granted placed denominational restrictions on the patients which should be admitted to the hospital. Similar restrictions applied to staff and management. However, what was unusual was the fact that this charter remained in place until 1980.

A 'bitter anti-Catholic reputation'

Such restrictive policies were not unknown to Irish policymakers and caused a considerable degree of tension. In June 1950, the Adelaide Hospital Society issued invitations to various dignitaries for the Gala American Concert, a fundraising event for the Adelaide at the Theatre Royal, in Dublin. Invitations were sent to the Taoiseach, Fine Gael’s John A. Costello, and his wife; to members of the Government; and to a number of Army Officers. All of these officials declined the invitation owing to what the Secretary to the Government described as ‘the bitter anti-Catholic reputation of the Hospital’.

A Knight of Columbanus

Photograph shows a group of medical students receiving instruction at the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, c. 1950s
Medical students, Adelaide Hospital, n.d.

When an invitation for the President of Ireland, Fianna Fáil’s Seán T. O’Kelly, arrived the government assumed that he too would refuse the invitation. O’Kelly had strong Catholic credentials. He had been one of the few Knights of Columbanus in Eamon de Valera’s cabinet and a proponent of Catholic morality in Irish medical ethics and foreign policy during his career. He had form in condemning restrictive policies in hospitals and twenty years earlier had condemned hospitals which employed religiously restrictive admissions procedures. He had argued then that ‘These barriers are a relic of bygone days and they should be a relic of bygone days.’

'Things had changed now'

Photograph shows American Ambassador (Mr. George Garrett); Lord Farnham (President of the Hospital); Mrs. George Garrett; The Irish President (Sean T. O'Kelly); Mrs. O'Kelly; and Mr. Edward Bewley (Chairman). In attendance at the Gala American Concert to launch the Adelaide Hospital Fundraising Campaign (1950), Dublin, Ireland
The President, Séan T. O'Kelly and Mrs. O'Kelly attend the Gala
American Concert to launch the Adelaide Campaign (1950).
L. to R.: The American Ambassador (Mr. George Garrett);
Lord Farnham (President of the Hospital); Mrs. George Garrett;
The President; Mrs. O'Kelly, Mr. Edward Bewley (Chairman).
The presidential O’Kelly, however, was mellower than his former self. When an official in his office approached O’Kelly on the subject, informing him that the Adelaide ‘has the reputation at the moment of being the most anti-Catholic hospital in the whole of Dublin’, O’Kelly responded that he was aware of this. He acknowledged that there was a time when a Catholic priest would not be allowed inside the hospital, but he pointed out that ‘things had changed now to the extent that Catholics are admitted and priests are permitted to see them and administer the sacraments.’

The government remained uneasy and the subject moved up the ladder of protocol when the Taoiseach raised it with O’Kelly the following day. O’Kelly remained firm and informed Costello that he had already accepted the invitation and had promised to go, and that he intended to honour that promise.

O’Kelly continued to attend Adelaide functions when invited and newspapers reported on him attending the Gala American Concert in 1950, a Joseph Szigeti violin recital in 1952, and an Arthur Rubinstein piano recital in 1954.

Cartoon titled: 'She would bid him take out his chequebook'. Shows an Adelaide Hospital nurse in profile descending a stairs with her arms  open in front of her. A well dressed man in a suit sprints towards apparently in the act of signing a cheque. This cartoon was made by an Adelaide Hospital doctor during the 1950s.
'She would bid him take out his cheque book'.
Cartoon of Adelaide Hospital nurse collecting funds.
Drawn by Adelaide doctor, n.d.

A slight against the President

All of this proved very uncomfortable for Irish officials. At the Rubinstein concert the order in which the dignitaries were listed was perceived by officials as a slight against the President – the British ambassador had been listed ahead of the Irish President! A series of notes were passed between the Office of the President, the Chief of Protocol in the Department of External Affairs, and the Irish Embassy in London to see what conventions held there. In the end it was ruled that the ‘the matter is one of tact and good taste rather than of a definitive rule.’ The officials concluded that the Adelaide Hospital erred in a lack of the former rather than by a breach of the latter.

It was decided that no formal protest should be made to the organisers of the concert, but that in future the President’s attendance at such events would be organised more closely with the Secretary to the President to ensure that protocol was followed more strictly.

Ending religious restrictions

Photograph shows nurses receiving instruction at the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, c. 1950. Five student nurses sit at two rows of desks, facing a senior nurse seated at a larger executive desk with two other nurses at her shoulder. One desk is empty and the former occupant, a student nurse, is apparently reading something aloud to the other nurses.
Adelaide Hospital nurses in class, n.d.
In the end, the state’s real power to affect change in the management of the hospital would not lie in attendance or non-attendance at its functions or in furious memoranda on the finer points of protocol. Cash was king, and only as the Adelaide’s financial position slid from bad to worse could the state exact the concessions favoured by Irish policy makers and politicians, which was to open up admission and recruitment policies to all people irrespective of their religion. The Adelaide chose to ignore these demands while it was independent of state supports, but as it grew needy it softened its stance on various matters and relaxed most of its religious restrictions.

Dr Robbie Roulston's recently completed PhD thesis is entitled, "The Church of Ireland and the Irish State, 1950–1972: Education, Healthcare and Moral Welfare." He has taught on the history of Protestants in twentieth century Ireland in the UCD School of History and Archives. Currently, he holds a position with UCD's Academic Secretariat, working in the areas of higher education policy, governance, strategy.

Below, you can listen to Robbie's presentation at the CHOMI Seminar Series, 3 April 2014, on the Adelaide Hospital

CHOMI Seminar Series, Thursday 3 April 2014

Dr Robbie Roulston (University College Dublin)
"The most priceless possession of Protestants in this country”: the Adelaide Hospital and upholding Protestant healthcare in Ireland 1950-1972.
5 pm, K114, School of History & Archives, UCD.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850–2000

Prisoner Health Project: Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award

A major new research project in the history medicine has just been launched: 'Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850–2000'. This collaborative, five-year study, funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award, is being led by co-Principal Investigators, Professor Hilary Marland, of the Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick, and Dr. Catherine Cox, Director of the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, University College Dublin.

Strangely, the history of medicine, despite its strong focus on the history of institutions, has neglected the prison as a site of medical treatment. It's great to see that such an ambitious project is going to address this omission. That this is a comparative research project is also exciting; comparative historical analysis, despite its strong tradition in the social sciences and a limited recent resurgence, is long overdue a renewal.

Project aims

The co-Principal Investigators, Catherine and Hilary, are keen for the project's research to resonate with contemporary concerns in the prison service and they aim to tackle historical questions of prisoner health that are still relevant today. For example, they and their team are going to look at the high incidence of mental illness amongst prisoners, the health of women prisoners and the status of prison maternity services, as well as the response to prisoner substance abuse and the impact of HIV/AIDS. All of these topics are still major concerns in the medical management of contemporary prison populations in Ireland and England. 

Late nineteenth-century photographs of
prisoners in Reading Gaol
Berkshire Records Office P/RP1/5/2
Source: Berkshire Family Historian

Scope of project

Each of the different research strands within the project will cover the period from rise of the modern penal system during the mid-nineteenth century up to the present. Fundamental to the project is the comparative analysis of English and Irish prison services and the conceptual basis of prisoners' entitlement to health in both England and Ireland. 

Prisoner health and human rights

The project team is going to address the question of who advocates for prisoners' health, both within and without the prison service. They will also investigate the extent to which prisoners have been seen as entitled to health care and if human rights debates have had any influence on the provision of medical care for prisoners. Another principal area of historical inquiry is going to be the extent to which prison doctors have felt themselves to be constrained by dual and conflicting loyalties to the prison regime and to their prisoner patients. 

Policy workshops and public engagement

Hilary and Catherine have also said that the project is going to engage with policy makers and prison reform organisations, including the Howard League for Penal Reform. With that in mind, they are busily preparing several policy workshops and compiling a list of potential invitees. They also hope to engage with the general public and people working in the area of prisoner welfare through a series of outreach projects. Among the most interesting of these are their plans to commission both a theatrical production and a piece of artwork that will be based on their team's research findings. 

Project members

Dr. Catherine Cox, University College Dublin, Principal Investigator. 

Professor Hilary Marland, University of Warwick, Principal Investigator.

Both Hilary and Catherine are working on the relationship between the prison system and mental illness – a subject of acute contemporary relevance considering the high levels psychiatric morbidity amongst prisoners – and they are also looking at the impact of the prison on prisoner mental health. In addition, Catherine will focus on the evolution of the separate system in Ireland and its impact on mental health while Hilary will examine the question of women and mental health in the prison system.

Dr. Will Murphy, Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University, is researching the health of political prisoners and the impact they had in shaping attitudes and practices of health and medicine in Irish and English prisons.

Dr. Fiachra Byrne, University College Dublin, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (3 years), is working on the mental health of juvenile prisoners in England and Ireland.

Dr. Nicholas Duvall, University of Warwick (year 1), University College Dublin (year 2), Postdoctoral Fellow (2 years), is going to be supporting Hilary and Catherine in their research and will also develop his own project on the health of prison officers. 

Dr. Margaret Charleroy, University of Warwick, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (3 years), is working on the management of prisoner health, disease and chronic illness.

A further Postdoctoral Fellow, who will be researching the history of HIV/AIDS in prisons under the supervision of Professor Virginia Berridge at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is slated for appointment later this year (2015).  

Public Engagement Officers, at Warwick and Dublin, will be appointed in late 2015. They will have responsibility with implementing the project's arts and policy initiatives.

In 2016, there will be two PhDs appointed to the project. One, based at UCD, will work on prison reform movements; the other, based at Warwick, will investigate the health of women prisoners.

If you want to find out more about 'Prisoners, Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850–2000', you can visit the UCD project page or the Warwick project page. The project team have also announced their Advisory Board members and provide a list of recent and upcoming project activities.

For further project details or inquiries, you can contact Hilary by email at or Catherine at