Our healthcare professionals have always been the most essential workers on the front line of everyday life. They have been there through birth, sickness, and loss. The true nature of their role in our lives has never been so clear as it has throughout the COVID 19 pandemic.
Over the two years, countries all over the world have paid homage to their brave, tireless healthcare workers who put their lives on the line everyday, putting their own needs last and staying apart from their own families so as to protect them. However, the difficulty of their position is nothing new. Let us look back at the doctors and nurses of days gone by who faced epidemics, starvation, and poor sanitation to heal the sick and comfort the dying.
Peter Callan was born in 1845, though it is not known for certain whether he was born in Ireland or America. So his place of birth could be either Cavan or New Jersey. He studied medicine in New York City, graduating in 1867, after which he was employed as a house surgeon at the Charity Hospital in New York. His career took him to Europe when he served in the U.S. navy as an assistant surgeon.
Dr Callan later went on to specialise in treatment of the eyes. It was in this regard that he gained some notoriety. An article published in the New York Times on the 18th of October, 1911 describes an incident where the sight of two young boys was saved by the intervention of Dr Callan. The boys had been playing with dynamite which they found at an excavation when an explosion damaged their eyes and left them completely sightless. However after a surgical procedure carried out by Dr Callan and a colleague, the boys reported being able to see glimmers of light, and so it was hoped that they would eventually fully recover their sight.
Dr Callan died in 1932, and is perhaps best remembered for his contribution to the development of an instrument called the ophthalmoscope.
Dorothy Stopford Price was born in Dublin in 1890. She came from a medical family, as her maternal grandfather was the master of the Rotunda Hospital. When Dorothy was only 12 years old, her father died of typhoid fever and the family relocated to London where she received an education at St Paul’s school for girls.
Dorothy returned to Ireland in 1915 to study medicine at Trinity College, graduating in 1922. The newly qualified Dr Stopford moved to Cork where she was employed at the Kilbrittain Dispensary, eventually becoming the medical officer to her local branch of the IRA. Dr Stopford would have become sympathetic to the Irish Nationalist cause during her time at Trinity, as she was studying during the events of the Easter Rising, the Dublin Lock Outs, and the War of Independence.
In 1925 Dr Stopford resigned from her position in Cork and moved back to Dublin with her new husband, Liam Price. There she went on to work at a number of the city’s hospitals. It was at this time that Dr Stopford Price began to study the vaccine for tuberculosis, the BCG. TB had decimated Ireland, wiping out entire families. It was thanks to Dr Stopford Price’s research and campaigning that a comprehensive vaccine programme was introduced in Ireland. When the National BCG centre was established in 1949, Dr Stopford Price was rightly appointed as the chairman.
Dr Stopford Price died in 1954. Her legacy is the success of the BCG programme for which she was awarded the Leon Bernard Prize by the World Health Organisation for outstanding service in the field of social medicine.
Catherine Black was born in 1878 in County Donegal. The daughter of a successful business owner, Catherine had the means to travel to London where she underwent her nursing training at the Royal London Hospital. Upon completing her training, Nurse Black stayed at the Royal London Hospital where she was employed as a private nurse. However, all that was about to change with the outbreak of World War I.
Nurse Black wasted no time in enlisting for service as a military nurse. She was placed with Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service. She began her military nursing career in England, treating returned soldiers for shell shock. She was later sent to Belgium and later France where she remained treating wounded soldiers until the end of the War.
The most notable point in Nurse Black’s career came in 1928 when she was appointed as the private nurse of King George V. She had her own chambers at Buckingham Palace where she remained until the King’s death in 1936. She was affectionately known as ‘Blackie’ to the royal family, and it was to her that the King’s last words were spoken.
Nurse Black died in 1949. Her life story is recounted in her autobiography, ‘King’s Nurse, Beggar’s Nurse’ which details her career in the healthcare service.
A Debt of Gratitude
These three figures from our past are just a small sample of the medical professionals who paved the way for today’s healthcare workers. The debt which we owe these brave souls for putting their own lives at risk to keep us safe can never be repaid, but perhaps by showing our gratitude and remembering the doctors and nurses of days gone by, we can begin to show our appreciation.
The IrelandXO Chronicles bring to life the heritage of a community by documenting the people, the buildings and the events that existed at any time in the history of the parish. We invite all people of Irish ancestry, both in Ireland and around the world, to bring to life the heritage of every Irish community by recording what they know about our ancestors, the buildings they lived in and the events that shaped their lives.