Distraught husband said doctor was drunk

Rural Ireland could be fraught with danger. After the Great Famine a state-funded dispensary system was established, to provide free medical aid to the poor sick. This service was funded by local taxation and subsidised by the Local Government Board.

Rural Ireland could be fraught with danger. After the Great Famine a state-funded dispensary system was established, to provide free medical aid to the poor sick. This service was funded by local taxation and subsidised by the Local Government Board.

On October 2 1876 Patrick Barrett of Ballynahalia, wrote a long letter to Dr T Brodie, the Local Government Board inspector, bitterly complaining about Doctor James Connolly, who failed, ‘through drunkenness’, to promptly attend his heavily pregnant wife. Barrett demanded a sworn inquiry into the whole sorry business, causing a row that fiercely divided the community of Moycullen, where old loyalties silenced witnesses from giving evidence, leading to a stunning finale of bribery and corruption that would turn the one street county Galway village into a Ken Bruen landscape. Barrett, accompanied by his brother-in-law Tom Conneely, set out briskly to call Dr Connolly, the local dispensary doctor, as his wife, Anne, was dangerously ill in child labour. The doctor’s housekeeper told them the doctor was gone into Moycullen, and not expected home till around 10pm. The two men walked to Moycullen as fast as they could. Just as they passed John Turner’s public-house they saw the doctor standing by the wall. The doctor began to move off towards John Geraghty’s pub, when Barrett asked him to come to his home immediately as his wife was very ill. The doctor asked: ‘Have you a ticket? (at that time for a doctor to make a home-visit a ticket had to be got from Mr Griffin, the Relieving officer for the area ), Barrett said ‘No’, but if the doctor came he would get a ticket later. The doctor then asked Barrett to give him one shilling for his fee, to which Barrett replied that he had no money. Doctor Connolly turned away saying: ‘Go to the devil, or to the poor-house’, followed by abusive and derogatory language too unseemly to be included in the report. The doctor walked away leaving Barrett ‘excited’, and at the point where he almost lost his temper; but instead, he thought he would have the law on him. ‘Do I have to go into Galway to get a doctor?’ he asks.

‘My day is coming’

Barrett and Tom Conneely then went as fast as they could to the Relieving officer’s house and knocked on the door. Mr Griffin was in bed, but when he heard about Barrett’s wife immediately gave him a ticket. Back to the doctor’s house and knocked on the back door. The housekeeper opened and Barrett handed her the ticket. The housekeeper ran upstairs and when she returned she told the men that they were to go home and the doctor would follow. Barrett wrote to the Local Government Board, that the doctor was unable to come with him, because he was drunk. The two men went back to Barrett’s house. The doctor did not turn up until morning, at which time Mrs Barrett was struggling with pain, and would later deliver a still-born child. Barrett was angry and heart-broken. He asked the doctor if he was feeling better after the night, to which the doctor replied that he was not sick at all. Barrett attributed his dead child to the ‘drunkenness and other causes’ of the doctor, and warned him: ‘I will not part with you as easy as you think; my day is coming yet’. He urged the Board to proceed with a sworn hearing into the whole affair.

‘A hostile committee’

It appears that the inspector of the Local Government Board, Dr Brodie, immediately called Dr Connolly to a meeting which he must have hoped would quickly resolve the complaint against him. Also at the meeting were members of the Dispensary Committee, John Kyne, Chairman, and Poor Law Guardian, with members Timothy Kyne, John Madden, William Madden and Patrick Kyne. But if Brodie had hoped of a quick settlement, he totally underestimated Dr Connolly. Instead of an expected apology and some excuses made for his behaviour, Dr Connolly created a terrible scene. On entering the room Connolly immediately stated that ‘he was surrounded by a hostile committee’ and when the chairman, John Kyne took exception to that remark, Connolly advanced on him ‘pushing himself against the chairman' saying ‘Are you going to strike me?’ and ‘If I had you out in the yard!’ while at the same time ‘hurriedly searching his pockets as if he was searching for some weapon to use on the chairman…’

Is the doctor safe?

Needless to say chairman John Kyne was furious to have been assaulted in this manner. Directly the meeting was over he wrote to Dr Brodie, in no uncertain terms, saying his committee ‘solemnly declare’ that it is determined to bring Connolly to ‘a strict account before the proper authorities for his base and unfounded assertion', ‘that he was surrounded by a hostile committee’. Kyne further stated that his committee ‘respectfully ask whether it is safe for the public, or for the poor, whose servant we presume the medical officer to be, to repose any confidence in a medical officer comporting himself after such a fashion and in the presence of the Local Government inspector?’ Dr Brodie replied that he has requested a written explanation from Dr Connolly for his conduct at the meeting, and for his treatment of the original complainant Patrick Barrett and his wife.

Silent witness

Meanwhile the Local Government Board received another letter from Patrick Barrett. This time he is furious at the slander being put about that the reason Dr Connolly did not attend his wife that night was because he (Barrett ) ‘threatened to take his life as soon as I would get him out of the house’. Barrett says that this slander was totally without foundation, and he had a witness with him, his brother-in-law Tom Connelly. However, Tom Conneely worked part-time for the publican John Geraghty (who was a friend of Dr Connolly ), and probably the most powerful man in Moycullen. As well as owning a pub, Geraghty was also the post master, and the poor-rate collector. Barrett was convinced that Geraghty put pressure on Conneely not to give evidence on his behalf, and was now prepared to swear that Barrett made a threat to kill Connolly on the night his wife was ill. Barrett is concerned that his chances of getting a fair deal ‘are rather slender.’

In the next few weeks Dr Connolly will rue the day he misjudged the ‘men of the world’ on the Dispensary Committee; but in the meantime he turns on the charm, and offers a ‘perfectly reasonable’ explanation for his behaviour, and expresses his sincere regret if, at any time, he ‘forgot himself’. A surprise witness tells the sworn inquiry that the doctor is next to saintliness, for his skill and good manners.

Sources: Moycullen Dispensary - Correspondence between Local Government Board and members of the Moycullen Dispensary Committee etc, published House of Commons May 8 1878. Information gleaned from ’A Hopeless and Thankless job’, the Dispensary Doctor in Ireland, by John Dorney, Irish History December 2019.

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